VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis scathingly decried the pursuit for perfect bodies on Sunday, saying such obsession leads to society hiding away the disabled to avoid offending sensibilities of what he termed "the privileged few."
In St. Peter's Square, Francis celebrated Mass dedicated to disabled people and their caregivers, then spent time chatting with and hugging many of them at the end of the service.
"It is thought that sick or disabled persons cannot be happy, since they cannot live the lifestyle held up by the culture of pleasure and entertainment," Francis said in his homily. "In an age when care for one's body has become an obsession and a big business, anything that is imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model."
Involved in the Mass were many of the disabled themselves. A blind woman, using Braille, read aloud to the faithful from the Bible; the liturgy was translated in sign language. And in a first for such Vatican ceremonies, mentally disabled people in costumes acted out a parable in the Mass's Gospel selection as it was being read aloud.
"The world does not become better because only apparently 'perfect' -- not to mention 'made-over' -- people live there," the pope said, but "when solidarity and mutual acceptance and respect increase."
Francis has used his papacy to champion the cause of those marginalized in societies where wealth and other financial achievements are prized over inner worth.
The pope decried the rationale that it is better to keep disabled people "apart, in some 'enclosure' -- even a gilded one -- or in 'islands' of pietism or social welfare, so that they do not hold back the pace of a false well-being."
Frances D'Emilio is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio