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‘He’s close to us’: Wheelchair users in Africa are waiting for the Pope. WGN Radio 720

GOMA, Congo (AP) — When Pope Francis arrives in Congo and South Sudan next week, thousands will pay special attention to the grounded gesture rather than the sign of the cross. You will sympathize with how he uses his wheelchair.

Pope Francis, who has been using a wheelchair since last year, has visited two countries where long-standing conflicts have left many people with disabilities, and where accessibility and understanding are most difficult to find in the world. is one of His visits have inspired both Catholics and non-Catholics.

“We know it’s painful, but it’s also comforting to see a grand figure like the Pope in a wheelchair,” said dozens of armed groups threatened. said Paul Mitemberezi, a sesame market vendor in the heart of the eastern region of Congo. “Sometimes it gives me the courage to hope that this isn’t the end of the world and that I can survive.”

His Catholic father, Mitembeleji, has been disabled since the age of three due to polio. He works to support his family because he cannot imagine a beggar’s life. On his way to the market, his tricycle crushes stones on the dirt road. Without a ramp at his home, he would have to leave his brightly painted car outside, at risk of theft.

Every morning before he leaves for basketball practice, he makes sure the chair is still there, then crawls out the front door. “It’s my feet that help me live,” he said. He attaches a bicycle pump to his wheels and sets off, pushing through traffic of bikes and trucks.

Pope Francis is still adjusting to the life that Mitemberezi has long accepted. The pope was first seen in public in May in a wheelchair with his aides pushing him, the Pope, at his 86th birthday, never propelling himself. He sometimes walks with a cane, but uses a chair for long distances and a wheelchair lift to get on and off planes.

Francis argues that his mobility restrictions do not affect his ability to become Pope, saying he “leads with his head, not his knees.” I lament that I underestimate the He makes a point of visiting places that serve people with disabilities when he travels abroad, and routinely spends time greeting wheelchair users at the end of general audiences.

In his annual message for the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities in December, Mr. Francis said, “Whether a disability is temporary, acquired or permanent, we are the only children of our father and are treated with the same dignity.” He said that people of different abilities enrich the Church and teach it to be more human.

Such a message is eagerly awaited by wheelchair users in South Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of people have died in five years of civil war. As in Congo, data on the number of people disabled due to conflict or other reasons are lacking.

The road leading to the Vatican embassy in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, was paved this month by city officials to make it easier to navigate, but residents using wheelchairs have easy access to schools, health centers, toilets and other public facilities. He said he had been unable to for a long time. Facility.

South Sudan, unlike Congo, has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, both countries face major challenges, including lack of funding, poor infrastructure and conflicts that leave many disabled people vulnerable. According to the United Nations, even concentration camps and shelters are often inaccessible and wheelchairs are not always available.

Discrimination is another matter. James Moses, who heads a local organization for the disabled in South Sudan and uses crutches after being injured in a landmine, said: “People think people who use wheelchairs are useless. .

He and others called on the South Sudanese government to take special care during the Pope’s visit and hoped that Francis would advocate for them. ‘ said Susan Samson, a wheelchair user and mother.

They hope to have the opportunity to greet the Pope at the airport with a congratulatory message and flowers. User Semerad Michael urged.

Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican’s ambassador to the Congo, believes the sight of the Pope in a wheelchair could be a powerful educational moment in a culture where disability is often viewed with suspicion and superstition. There is

Families often abandon children with disabilities, he said.

Balestrero said seeing someone like the Pope suffer would make Francis more approachable to people during his visit. doing.”


Machol reported from Juba, South Sudan. Anna reports from Nairobi, Kenya. Roman Girlfriend contributed by Nicole Winfield.


AP’s religious coverage is supported through a partnership between AP and The Conversation US with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

https://wgnradio.com/news/international/ap-hes-close-to-us-wheelchair-users-in-africa-await-pope/ ‘He’s close to us’: Wheelchair users in Africa are waiting for the Pope. WGN Radio 720

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