Pope calls autistic teen who ‘corrected’ him on Sign of Peace

Pope calls autistic teen who ‘corrected’ him on Sign of Peace

Pope Francis preaches about the dignity of labor and justice for workers during his morning Mass on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker May 1, 2020, in the chapel of his Vatican residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae. (Credit: CNS photo/Vatican Media.)

Last week Pope Francis made a personal phone call to an autistic teen in the Italian town of Caravaggio in response to a letter the boy had sent inquiring about why the pope made the sign of peace during his daily Masses during the coronavirus.

ROME – Last Wednesday Maria Teresa Baruffi, who lives in the northern Italian town of Caravaggio with her family, received a surprising phone call while standing in line at the supermarket: It was Pope Francis, asking to speak to her son, Andrea.

Several days prior, Andrea, who is 18 and has autism, had sent a letter to Pope Francis to “correct” him because, during the time of the coronavirus, he invites those present inside the chapel for his daily livestreamed Masses to make the Sign of Peace, typically expressed with a handshake or a kiss.

According to Francis, the youth told him, “You say, ‘Peace be with you,’ but you can’t say that because in the pandemic we can’t touch each other.”

During his April 29 call to Baruffi, Francis explained that he wanted to give Andrea an answer. However, since Andrea was not with his mother at the supermarket, the pope said he would call back when she was at home, and he did.

This time both Andrea and Baruffi’s husband were there with her to take the call, which was put on speakerphone. The moment was video-recorded by another member of the family and published online.

During the call, Pope Francis said he told Andrea, “I am happy you wrote to me,” and said he would send Andrea a papalino, the white skullcap worn by the pope, which Andrea had asked for in the letter.

After getting a kiss from Andrea through the phone, Francis told the teen that during his Masses in the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta, where he resides, “the people do the sign of peace, but they don’t touch. They give each other a little greeting with the head. So, it’s all okay.” It was an answer that made Andrea smile.

Baruffi explained to the pope that Andrea is an adamant follower of his morning Masses and has a fascination with liturgical vestments.

“All our priests know him because he is extremely religious,” she said, calling her son “a blessing from heaven.”

Pope Francis then asked how many were in the family, and Baruffi said four – her husband, two sons and herself. She also asked for prayers for her elderly mother, who has Alzheimer’s, and said the priests at their parish, having heard he would call again, also sent their greetings and voiced their desire to see him in Rome.

“Very good. But when things are back to normal, no?” the pope said, referring to the coronavirus lockdown, because “Right now you can’t travel between regions.”

Pope Francis closed the call offering the family his blessing and asking for prayer, but not before making a small joke with Baruffi, who told him that, “We pray a lot for you, but you don’t need it, you are already a saint.”

Jesting, he laughed, and said, “Who knows, maybe we’ll see each other in hell?”, to which Baruffi said, “I think for you no, but us perhaps. We’re a little bit mean with everyone in this situation.”

After exchanging another laugh and getting another kiss from Andrea over the phone, the call was over.

Francis spoke of Andrea and his letter during his April 29 daily Mass, recounting the “correction” Andrea had wanted to make, adding, “the letters of boys, of children, are beautiful, because of their concreteness.”

It was also in Caravaggio that on May 1, the Italian bishops entrusted the nation to Mary, asking her to protect the country as it recovers from the coronavirus.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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