The Loftis family of Portland attended a Vatican conference on catechesis for people with disabilities, a favorite project of Pope Francis.

Blair and Jeanne Loftis brought son Joey, a seventh grader at Holy Family School who has Down syndrome.

About 420 people attended the gathering Oct. 20-22. The Loftis clan was one of two families on hand from the United States. Translators helped the little community communicate, though parents had so much in common that the inter-family bonds were natural.

The gathering was dedicated to sharing best practices in engaging and catechizing persons living with disabilities.

Vulnerability is part of what it means to be human, said Pope Francis, who cautioned that it is “narcissistic and utilitarian” to think that those with disabilities can’t be happy. He denounced what he called “a eugenic tendency to eliminate the unborn child that shows some form of imperfection.”

The pope said that we must respond to people with disabilities with “real, concrete and respectful” love.

The church, he said, has the duty of accommodating and accompanying people with disabilities and their families — in particular, during Sunday Mass and catechesis – because “no physical or mental limitation can ever hinder this encounter” with Christ.

When Joey met the Holy Father at a reception, the boy gave the pope a medallion of — Pope Francis. That confused the pope a bit, but it all ended in a spirit of joy as it became clear that Joey had given away what he considered most precious.

“When I met Pope Francis, it was like looking into God’s eyes,” Jeanne said. “There was such love and warmth behind his smile.”

“By virtue of our baptism and our inherent human dignity, we are called to welcome everyone into the life of our parish community,” said Kelsey Rea, coordinator of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office for People with Disabilities. “This conference serves as a wonderful witness to that spirit of belonging, which Pope Francis calls us to time and time again.”

Rea said the belonging is lived out at all levels of the parish –  greeters, pastor, parish staff, volunteer catechists and parishioners in the pews. 

“It’s my prayer that all parishes may embody this vision of a compassionate community, which calls each and every member to a life of joyful discipleship,” Rea said.