March 29th will mark a first in the history of papal audiences. On Saturday, Pope Francis will have a special audience for those who are deaf and blind. It will be held in the Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican. While it is true that popes in the past have had met individually with people who were deaf or blind, this will be the first official audience of its kind.
It will give special recognition to that part of the church’s family with special needs—and not just of a physical nature. Though the church has always provided assistance in various ways for those who cannot see or hear as well as everyone else, this audience will highlight those who do not often get much publicity, sympathy or understanding in today’s society. It will be in keeping with Pope Francis’ priority in focusing on those among us who are not as “well-off,” whether financially, emotionally or medically.
Such a meeting will follow the well-publicized embrace that Pope Francis had for the man with the disfigured face from a skin disease and the caress for the boy with cerebral palsy who was lifted up to him as he rode on the popemobile during an audience. If anything, it will make people pause and recall the Gospel of Mark whereby Jesus performed miraculous healings of two men with vision-sensory maladies: the story of the deaf-mute man from the region of the Decapolis, whom Jesus took aside, privately, away from the crowd, and healed him of his twin ailments, restoring speech and sight; and of the blind man from Bethsaida, who begged Jesus to “touch him,” which he did, and restored his vision.
While Pope Francis might not physically heal those who cannot see or hear, like Jesus did, he can do something just as important, and just as healing. By being with them and showing empathy, the pope can let his brothers and sisters in such situations know that while they may not seem valuable or important in the world, they matter to God, who sees and hears everything.
Joseph McAuley is assistant editor at America.