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Pope praised for using wheelchair in public

pope francis in a wheelchair speaking to another wheelchair user

The Pope has been praised for using a wheelchair in public during his visit to Canada in July.

Amanda Martínez Beck, who uses a rollator (a walker with a seat), was touched when she saw Pope Francis being filmed holding a baby on his recent trip sitting in his wheelchair.

Beck, from Texas, told NCR: “Something is good that fulfils its purpose, and I believe that the purpose of the human body is relationship with God and others.

"To see Pope Francis, having relationships, doing his papal duties (using a wheelchair or a cane) it just reminds me of the goodness of a weak body like mine, because this is one of the holiest people in the world able to love and serve from a wheelchair."

The Pope has been seen in public using a wheelchair since early May, something other leaders - including Queen Elizabeth II - have tried to hide.

“There is this belief that physical weakness yields moral or leaderly weakness," said Beck. "A lot of people, I have learned, view mobility devices (sic) as giving in or being lazy."

Eddie Murphy (no not that one!), from Cambridge, Massachusetts, has used a wheelchair all his life.

She echoes Beck’s words saying seeing the Pope out in a wheelchair "definitely normalizes disability, which I think is great."

Murphy added: "It's so valuable to have disabled bodies out there because there's a lot of power in seeing people who look like you, and to know that you can be a leader in the church, and you can be an integral part of the church. But when you don't see disabled bodies, it's hard to imagine being a leader or having a role in the church.

"I hope that having the pope show that one can have a disability and lead the church will lead to a greater respect for persons with disabilities in the church," 

In most Catholic churches the lectern and sanctuary areas are on a raised level, making it inaccessible for wheelchair users like Murphy who has no other option but to sit towards the back.

"I'm very obviously not sitting with the body of Christ, and that is really bothersome to me," she said.

Pope Francis started using accessible devices after suffering from knee pain which triggered rumours he may be stepping down from his role.

Such hearsay has disappointed people like Amy Smith, who has autism, she believes the stories are doing “ a disservice to people who acquire disability.

Smith, from Parramatta, Australia, said: "It can perpetuate this idea that if you have any kind of medical condition or disability, and you have to adapt to those circumstances, that you're basically going to become a shut-in, and that's all you're guaranteed to be. You're going to be at death's door at any point. You're going to have to give up everything that you're passionate about."

In 2019 Pope Francis, who had a small part of his lung removed when he was younger and struggled with sciatica for years, addressed his country on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities saying:  "Our concern should be not only to care for them but to ensure their 'active participation in the civil and ecclesial community.' 

"We need to have 'the courage to give a voice to those who are discriminated against due to their disability, because sadly, in some countries even today, people find it hard to acknowledge them as persons of equal dignity.'"

Pope Francis is the first Latin American to lead the Roman Catholic church.

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