"Each flower has its unique beauty. And each one of us is beautiful in the eyes of God, who loves us," he said.
Pope Francis recently offered words of encouragement and acceptance to a group of children with autism and spectrum disorders. Meeting with members of Sonnenschein ("Sunshine in English) — an Austrian center for autism — in an audience at the Vatican on Monday, the pope told those gathered that the center's name evoked a flower-filled lawn in the sun. "Welcome to the Vatican! I am happy to see your faces, and I read it in your eyes that you too are happy to be here with me for a while," he told the group of 42, according to Vatican News.
Established in 1995, the Ambulatorium Sonnenschein or the Sunshine Outpatient Clinic, reportedly "combines diagnosis, advice, and therapy for children and adolescents with special needs under one roof." Speaking to the children, their parents, and caregivers from the center this week, Pope Francis explained that there's a special meaning behind the establishment's name. "Your house is called 'Sunshine,' a beautiful name! It is because your house is like a magnificent blooming meadow in the sunshine and you are the flowers of this 'Sunshine' house," the 83-year-old said.
This morning Pope Francis offered children with autism spectrum disorder some advice about prayer.https://t.co/AL4iFGFh1j— Luke Coppen (@LukeCoppen) September 21, 2020
"God created the world with a great variety of flowers of all different colors. Each flower has its unique beauty. And each one of us is beautiful in the eyes of God, who loves us," he added, reports the Associated Press. Pope Francis has always displayed a particularly soft spot for children, choosing to meet and greet them during public appearances even amid Coronavirus social distancing protocols. He often meets with groups of children and parents going through difficulties, offering them words of encouragement and prayer to ease them through sickness, disability, poverty, and other challenges.
"Thank you for this beautiful initiative and for your commitment to the little ones entrusted to you," he told the Sonnenschein group while concluding the meeting. "Everything that you have done for one of these little ones, you have done it to Jesus!" His heartwarming remarks to the group came just days after he extended words of encouragement and acceptance to another marginalized community within the Catholic Church. The pope met with a group of parents of LGBTQIA+ children on Wednesday, according to PEOPLE, where he told them that "God loves" their kids "as they are."
Pope Francis tells parents of LGBT children that 'God loves them as they are' https://t.co/RBXx1aMmbh— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) September 19, 2020
"The church loves your children as they are because they are children of God," he added during a brief encounter with some 40 Italian parents — who are part of an Italian LGBTQIA+ Christian association called Tenda di Gionata — after the public audience in the Renaissance courtyard of San Damaso in the Vatican, reports the Jesuit weekly America magazine. Mara Grassi, the vice president of the association, told the publication that she gave Pope Francis a booklet titled Genitori Fortunati ("Fortunate Parents") which documents the often-difficult experiences parents of LGBTQIA+ children face within the church.
"We consider ourselves fortunate because we had to change the way that we had always looked at our children. We found a new way of looking that enabled us to see in them the beauty and love of God," Grassi said she told the pope. "We wish to create a bridge to the church so that the church too can change its way of looking at our children, no longer excluding them but fully welcoming them." After listening carefully to what she had to say, Pope Francis reportedly reassured her that "The church does not exclude them because she loves them deeply."
I am grateful for the small ways Pope Francis had spoken directly to LGBTQ+ folk and reminded us of God’s love and acceptance of us as His children.— ً (@michael_tarui) September 20, 2020
Let us continue to pray for Pope Francis, LGBTQ+ people, and for a renewed spirit of understanding and compassion. 🙏🏼 https://t.co/2mcgEPMOr8
The pope's comments were widely praised on social media by those who appreciated his inclusiveness and willingness to address such issues. "2020 – I’m more into what the Pope is doing than political figures. These must be the end times," tweeted author Chris Brogan. "No, LGBT folks don’t come from Mars. Heterosexual parents have always created gay offspring, but we still have a way to go for this naturally occurring truth to be acknowledged, accepted, and fully celebrated in all religious circles. Pope Francis is trying to facilitate change," wrote Twitter user Vernal Scott.