On Sunday, 3 December, the First Sunday of Advent, the Holy Father
celebrated Mass for the Jubilee of the Disabled at the Basilica of
St Paul-Outside-the-Walls. Thousands of the disabled from around the
world participated in the sacred liturgy as members of the assembly
and by proclaiming the Word of God, offering petitions and
presenting the gifts of bread and wine. In his homily the Pope told
his listeners that the Church "would like to draw closer to you
and to your families, knowing that inattentiveness sharpens
suffering and loneliness, whereas faith shown in love and generosity
gives strength and meaning to life". Here is a translation of
his homily, which was preached in Italian.
1. "Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption
is drawing neat" (Lk 21:28).
In the Gospel text offered for our meditation on this First
Sunday of Advent, St Luke highlights the fear that terrifies
human beings before the final upheaval. In contrast, however,
the Evangelist presents with far greater emphasis the joyful
prospect of Christian expectation: "Then", he
says, "they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with
power and great glory" (Lk 21:27). This is the message which
gives hope to the believer's heart: the Lord will come "with
power and great glory". This is why the disciples are asked not
to be afraid, but to look up and raise their heads, "because
your redemption is drawing near" (Lk 21:28).
Every year at the beginning of Advent the liturgy has us listen
once again to this "good news" which rings out in the
Church with extraordinary eloquence. It is the news of our
salvation: it is the announcement that the Lord is near. Indeed,
that he is already with us.
2. Dear brothers and sisters! I can feel this invitation to
serenity and hope echoing in my heart especially today, as I
celebrate the Jubilee of the Disabled with you. We are
celebrating it on the day dedicated to you by the United Nations,
which exactly 25 years ago published the "Declaration on the
Rights of the Disabled".
Advent spurs us to prepare for the Lord's second coming
I greet you with affection, dear friends, who have one or more
disabilities and wanted to come to Rome for this meeting of faith
and brotherhood. I thank your representatives and the director of
Italian Caritas for their addresses to me at the beginning of this
Holy Mass. I extend my cordial greetings to all the disabled, to
their families and to the volunteers who are celebrating their
Jubilee with their Pastors in the various local Churches on this
In your bodies and in your lives, dear brothers and sisters, you
express an intense hope of redemption. In all this is there not an
implicit expectation of the "redemption" that Christ won
for us by his death and resurrection? Indeed, every person marked by
a physical or mental difficulty lives a sort of existential
"advent", waiting for a "redemption" that will
be fully manifest, for him as for everyone, only at the end of time.
Without faith, this waiting can be tinged with disappointment and
discouragement; supported by Christ's word, it becomes a living and
3. "Watch at all times, praying that you may have
strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to
stand before the Son of man" (Lk 21:36). Today's liturgy
tells us of the Lord's "second coming"; that is, it
speaks of Christ's glorious return, which will coincide with what,
in simple terms, is called "the end of the world". It is a
mysterious event which in apocalyptic language appears for the most
part as an immense cataclysm. Like the end of the individual,
that is death, the end of the universe causes anguish at the
unknown, fear of suffering, along with questions filled with anxiety
about the "afterlife".
The season of Advent, which begins, today, spurs us to prepare
ourselves to welcome the Lord who will come. But how should we
prepare? This important celebration we are holding highlights the
fact that a concrete way to prepare ourselves for this meeting is by
closeness and sharing with those who, for whatever reason, are in
difficulty. By recognizing Christ in our brethren, we are
preparing to be recognized by him at his final return. This is how
the Christian community prepares for the Lord's second coming: by
focusing on those persons whom Jesus himself favoured, those who are
often excluded and ignored by society.
4. This is what we have done today by gathering in this basilica
to live the grace and joy of the jubilee with you who are disabled,
and with your families. By this action we intend to make your
worries, your expectations, your gifts and your problems our own.
In Christ's name, the Church is committed to making herself more
and more a "welcoming home" for you. We know that the
disabled person—unique and unrepeatable
person in his equal and inviolable dignity—needs
not only care, but first of all love which becomes recognition,
respect and integration: from birth to adolescence, to adulthood and
to the delicate moment faced with trepidation by so many parents, of
separation from their children the moment of "after us".
Dear friends we would like to feel that we share in your efforts and
in the inevitable moments of discouragement, in order to brighten
them with the light of faith and the hope of solidarity and love.
Society can and should do more for the disabled
5. By your presence, dear brother and sisters, you reaffirm that disability
is not only a need, but also and above all a stimulus and a plea. Of
course, it is a request for help, but even before that it is a
challenge to individual and collective selfishness; it is an
invitation to ever new forms of brotherhood. By your situation you
call into question those conceptions of life that are solely
concerned with satisfaction, appearances, speed and efficiency.
The Ecclesial Community also listens respectfully; it senses the
need to question itself about the strain in so many of your
lives, mysteriously marked by suffering and by the discomfort of
harmful events, whether congenital or acquired. It would like to
draw closer to you and to your families, knowing that
inattentiveness sharpens suffering and loneliness, whereas faith
shown in love and generosity gives strength and meaning to life.
On this solemn occasion, I would like to ask those who have
political responsibilities at every level to work towards ensuring
living conditions and opportunities such that your dignity, dear
disabled brothers and sisters, is effectively recognized and
protected. In a society rich in scientific and technical
knowledge it is possible and necessary to do more in the various
ways required by civil coexistence: from biomedical research for
preventing disabilities, to treatment, assistance, rehabilitation
and new social integration.
If your civil, social and spiritual rights must be
protected, it is nevertheless even more important to safeguard human
relations: relations of aid, friendship and sharing. That is why
it is necessary to encourage forms of treatment and rehabilitation
which take into account a complete vision of the human person.
6. "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to
one another and to all men" (1 Thes 3:12).
Today St Paul shows us the way of charity as the high road to
meeting the Lord who will come. He stresses that only through
sincere and disinterested love will we find ourselves ready "at
the coming of the Lord Jesus with all his saints" (1 Thes
3:13). Love is once again the decisive criterion, today and always.
In offering himself on the cross for our redemption, Jesus
delivered the judgement of salvation and revealed the Father's
merciful plan. He anticipates this judgement in the present time: by
identifying himself with "the least of these my brethren",
Jesus asks us to welcome him and to serve him with love. On the last
day he will say to us: "I was hungry, and you gave me
food ..." (cf. Mt 25:35), and he will ask us if we have
proclaimed, lived and borne witness to the Gospel of love and life.
7. How eloquent are your words for us today, Lord of life and
hope! Every human limitation is ransomed and redeemed in you. Thanks
to you, disability is not the last word on life. Love is the last
word; it is your love that gives meaning to life.
Help us to turn our hearts to you; help us to recognize
your face shining in every human creature, however tried by toil,
hardship and suffering.
Make us understand that "the glory of God is man fully
alive" (Irenaeus of Lyons, Adv. Haer., 4, 20, 7), and
grant that one day we will be able to enjoy in the divine vision,
together with Mary, Mother of humanity, the fullness of life
redeemed by you. Amen!