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One by one, Pope greets hundreds in wheelchairs, laments society's rejection of the disabled

  • Vatican-Pope-170

    Pope Francis, right, greets faithful at the end of his meeting with volunteers of the UNITALSI (Italian National Transport Union of ill to Lourdes and International Sanctuaries), in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Vatican-Pope-171

    Pope Francis blesses a faithful at the end of his meeting with volunteers of the UNITALSI (Italian National Transport Union of ill to Lourdes and International Sanctuaries), in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Vatican-Pope-UNITALSI

    Pope Francis, right, greets the faithful at the end of his meeting with volunteers of the UNITALSI (Italian National Transport Union of ill to Lourdes and International Sanctuaries), in the Paul VI hall today at the Vatican.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

Vatican-Pope-UNITALSI

Pope Francis, right, greets the faithful at the end of his meeting with volunteers of the UNITALSI (Italian National Transport Union of ill to Lourdes and International Sanctuaries), in the Paul VI hall today at the Vatican.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has greeted hundreds of people in wheelchairs one-by-one — part of a special gathering in which rows of seats were removed from a Vatican auditorium to make room for the disabled visitors.

The pontiff, who has made championing the downtrodden a key plank of his papacy, lamented that society tends to “hide physical fragility” and reject the disabled. He encouraged those with physical disabilities to banish any feelings of shame, and become “protagonists” in society as well as the Catholic church.

Some 600 people in wheelchairs waited to have their time with Francis during the event today. He moved down the rows to greet each person, doling out hugs and kisses as well as chatting.

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