VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Parishes and Catholic organizations must be “pastorally inclusive” of the fragile and sick, who are a “spiritual resource” and not simply the object of Christian charity, Pope Francis said.

Especially at a time when modern societies seem so intent on “hiding physical frailty and seeing it only as a problem,” he said, Catholic parishes and associations must help the sick and physically challenged feel “fully part of the life and mission of the church.”

The pope made his comments Nov. 9 during a meeting with several thousand people involved in an Italian Catholic pilgrimage association. The group, known by its Italian acronym UNITALSI, brings the sick and volunteers together for prayer and pilgrimages to Lourdes and other Marian shrines.


“We must truly value the presence and witness of fragile and suffering people, not only as the objects of evangelization work but also as active subjects of apostolic activity,” the pope said.

“You have a place, a specific role in the parish and in every sphere of the church,” Pope Francis told the sick and those with disabilities. “Your presence, which is silent but more eloquent than most words, your prayers, your daily offering of your suffering in union with that of Christ crucified for the salvation of the world, and your patient and even joyful acceptance of your condition, are a spiritual resource.”

“Never be ashamed of being a precious treasure for the church,” the pope said before spending more than an hour talking to and blessing individual members of the group.

Pope Francis said UNITALSI volunteers don’t turn away when they see someone in pain or difficulty. “On the contrary, you try to be a gaze that welcomes, a hand that helps and accompanies, a word of comfort and an embrace of tenderness.”

“Continue to give your time, your smile and your love to brothers and sisters in need,” the pope said. “May every sick and fragile person see the face of Jesus in your face, and may you recognize the body of Christ in those who are suffering.”

Children involved in UNITALSI drew portraits of Pope Francis, which they copied, enlarged and bound into two supersized books. During the audience, he autographed the copy they will keep.