VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Meeting a leading Italian campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities, Pope Francis promised to encourage greater support for the parents of young people with disabilities and to support efforts to make churches and church buildings accessible.

Ileana Argentin, a member of the Italian Parliament, had written to Pope Francis, asking to speak with him about the problems facing people with disabilities. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope responded quickly and the 30-minute meeting Jan. 11 was the result.


One of the key themes of the conversation, Father Lombardi said, was “the support that must be given to the parents of seriously disabled persons,” because the parents live with growing concern about dying and leaving their children without appropriate care and love.

Argentin, who has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair, told Vatican Radio that meeting the pope was “magic, if I can use that term.”

“He’s exactly what you see on television: a person who is human, real,” she said.

Argentin said she asked to meet the pope to get his support for her ongoing efforts to defend the rights of people with disabilities.

“I am Catholic and I’ve always believed, but Pope Francis really has made a difference for the handicapped,” she said. When, just a couple weeks after his election, images went around the world of him holding and kissing an 8-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, “the first wall — that of prejudice — fell,” Argentin said.

In addition to securing a papal promise to personally support efforts to make church buildings handicap accessible, Argentin said they spoke “about the mothers of disabled children and the fear they have of dying and leaving their children alone.”

“He told me it is important to talk about this because the more we talk about this the more people will understand that the parents of someone with a disability don’t even have the ‘luxury of dying,'” she said.