ROME — Pope Francis on Wednesday praised the “spontaneity and freedom” of children after a young boy approached him during his weekly general audience and motioned that he wanted the pope’s white skullcap.

A good-humored Francis kept the boy by his side, and the head of the papal household, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, gave up his chair so the clapping child could sit next to the pontiff for a bit.

The crowd of thousands in the Vatican auditorium then erupted in applause when at the end of the episode, the boy left the stage with an extra white skullcap of his own. Vatican News said his name was Paolo Jr.

At the end of the audience, Francis praised the sense of freedom that Paolo had shown to “come close and move around as if he were at home.” He said all the faithful should sense such freedom to get closer to God and not be afraid.

“I thank this boy for the lesson he has given us all,” Francis said.

Then noting the child appeared to have an intellectual disability, Francis added: “May the Lord help him in his limitation, in his growth, because he gave us this witness, which came from the heart. Children don’t have an automatic translator from the heart to life: the heart just goes forward.”