On Wednesday, a 6-year-old boy interrupted Pope Francis' general audience at the Vatican by climbing onto the stage where the pontiff was sitting. The boy tugged on the sleeve of the Swiss Guard standing at attention there, and then ran around to the pope’s chair. Sitting next to the pope was Bishop Georg Ganswein.
The boy was later identified by the Associated Press as Wenzel Wirth. Shortly after the boy pranced on the stage, his mother ascended the steps and tried to retrieve him as thousands of onlookers observed. She explained to the pontiff that her son is profoundly autistic and could not speak. When the pope told the mother to "let him be, let him be," she retreated to the audience.
Pope Francis spoke to Bishop Ganswein, and joked that the little visitor “is an Argentine” and thus "undisciplined," according to AP. The pope is himself from Argentina.
The pope later spoke to the assembly, telling them in Spanish, “This child cannot speak." He told them, "He is mute, but he can communicate. And he has something that made me think: He's free. Undisciplinely and free, but he's free. It made me think, 'Am I so free before God?'"
"This boy has preached to us today," said the pope, who prayed for a "miracle so that this child may speak." The crowd of more than 7,000 erupted into applause.
After the audience, the boy's parents explained that Wenzel's performance was "not on the program" but is "one of those beautiful things that come from God." "Wenzel was a little bored and, even though we did not believe he would do so, we told him that he could go to say hello to the pope, if he wanted to. He did not think twice: he went!"
Wenzel's mother related that he has a "pretty severe and non-verbal form of autism." Even though Wenzel "never obeys" his parents, when he was jokingly told to greet the pope, he ran, the mother said. "I couldn't believe it. I went to grab him, and told the pope that we are Argentines and asked if he would bless him. He asked me to leave him there. But when I saw him running around, I told his sister to get him, but then the pope made signs to leave him be."
The family has lived in Verona, Italy, for years, and came as members of Ants Onus -- a group of parents who have autistic children.