"I have something, you have another, and together we have something bigger and more beautiful. This is how we go forward."
Francis admitted that while some differences among individuals have painful causes rooted in illness, these also enrich, because they challenge us and help us to overcome our fears.
"We should never be afraid of diversity," he said, explaining that in order for this to happen we must learn how to connect with the things that we have in common. A concrete gesture that can get us started on this path, he said, is "extending the hand."
"When I extend my hand, I put in common what I have and what you have. If someone extends their hand sincerely, I give you what is mine and you give me what is yours."
Pope Francis also took a question from a priest, Fr. Luigi, who is in charge of catechesis in a parish in the south of Rome, on how to teach parish communities to welcome and listen to everyone who comes to them.
In his answer, Francis stressed the importance of welcoming everyone, without exception. If a priest doesn't do this, "what advice would the Pope give?" he asked, saying the answer would be to "Please, close the doors of the parish – either everyone, or no one!"
The role of the priest, assisted by the laity and catechists, is to ensure that everyone truly understands the faith, understands love and how to get along, even amid differences, he said.
He also stressed the importance of what he called "the pastoral of the ears," meaning to listen. While the Church does a lot of good things in her pastoral work, this is one thing everyone, but especially priests, "must do more."
Even though the stories might get old, it's not the same person telling them, he said, adding that "the Lord is in the heart of every person, and you must have the patience to listen, to welcome and to listen to everyone."
In his answer to the third question, posed by Serena, the Pope noted how disabled people are frequently discriminated against, even with "offensive words," and insisted that this shouldn't happen.
While some parish priests might say they are denying catechesis or the necessary formation to receive the sacraments to a disabled people because they aren't able to understand, this is no excuse, Francis said.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
"Each one of us has a different way of understanding things…but each of us has the ability to know God," he said, and pointed to St. Pius X's decision in 1910 to allow children aged 7 and older to receive Holy Communion.
"Many were scandalized" by the decision, saying that children weren't able to understand the mystery of the sacrament, Francis observed. However, St. Pius X "did something different, an equality, because he knew that children understood in a different way."
Each person has their own unique richness that is different from everyone else's, he said, but noted that in the Mass and in the sacraments, everyone is equal because we all have Christ and we all have the same mother, Mary.
Pope Francis then thanked those present for coming, and asked for prayers. He led the group in reciting the Hail Mary before spending several minutes greeting the elderly and disabled in the first few rows of the auditorium.