Pope Francis celebrates the International Day of Disabled Persons at the Vatican on Dec. 3, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2022 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis celebrated the International Day of Disabled Persons on Saturday at the Vatican with a group of children with disabilities and their families.

In a private audience inside the Apostolic Palace on Dec. 3, the pope greeted each of the families present and said: “Your witness is a concrete sign of peace, a sign of hope for a more humane and fraternal world for everyone.”

Pope Francis underlined his desire for all Christian communities to be true places of “belonging and inclusion.”

“There is no inclusion if it only remains a slogan, a formula to be used in politically correct speeches,” he added.

The pope said: “Promoting recognition of the dignity of every person is a constant responsibility of the Church: it is the mission of continuing over time the closeness of Jesus Christ to every man and woman, especially those who are most fragile and vulnerable.”

The United Nations proclaimed Dec. 3 the annual International Day of Disabled Persons 30 years ago.

More than one billion people, about 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability, according to the UN.

Pope Francis released an official message for the 2022 International Day of Disabled Persons in which he asked people to be “mindful of the sufferings of all those women and men with disabilities who live in the midst of war, or have been themselves disabled as a result of warfare.”

The pope also expressed gratitude for the participation of people with disabilities in the Church’s Synod on Synodality process.

“The Synod, above all by its invitation to journey together and to listen to one another, can help us understand how in the Church – also with regard to the disabled – there can be no us and them, but a single us, with Jesus Christ at the center, where each person brings his or her own gifts and limitations,” he said.

“This awareness, founded on the fact that we are all part of the same vulnerable humanity assumed and sanctified by Christ, eliminates arbitrary distinctions and opens the door to the participation of each baptized member in the life of the Church.”

Pope Francis added: “Encounter and fraternity break down the walls of misunderstanding and overcome discrimination; this is why I trust that every Christian community will be open to the presence of our brothers and sisters with disabilities, and ensure that they are always welcomed and fully included.”