Pope Francis recently met with groups of LGBTQ children and children with autism, and offered words of encouragement and acceptance to two marginalized communities within the Catholic Church.
The pope told both groups that God was accepting of them just as they are, statements that have drawn praise from many on social media.
“God created the world with a great variety of flowers of all different colors,” he told children with the Austrian group Sonnenschein at the Vatican on Monday, according to the Associated Press. “Each flower has its unique beauty. And each one of us is beautiful in the eyes of God, who loves us.”
Sonnenschein, which translates to Sunshine, is a clinic where children with autism can undergo therapy, Vatican News reported.
Days earlier, on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with a group of LGBTQ children and their parents and offered similar words of acceptance — a stance he has been known for since assuming his position in 2013.
“God loves your children as they are,” he told the group, which was part of an Italian LGBTQ Christian association called Tenda di Gionata, according to the Jesuit weekly America magazine.
He added: “The church loves your children as they are because they are children of God.”
Mara Grassi, the group’s vice president, said she gave Pope Francis a book that chronicled the often-difficult experiences parents of LGBTQ children face within the church, and said she hoped to created a “bridge” that would allow them to feel fully welcomed.
“The church does not exclude them because she loves them deeply,” the pope replied, according to America.
He was also reportedly given a rainbow T-shirt that read, “In love there is no fear.”
His comments were praised on social media by many who appreciated his inclusiveness and willingness to speak out on such topics.
“2020 – I’m more into what the Pope is doing than political figures,” author Chris Brogan wrote on Twitter. “These must be the end times.”
Added another user: “No, LGBT folks don’t come from Mars. Heterosexual parents have always created gay offspring, but we still have a way to go for this naturally occurring truth to be acknowledged, accepted, and fully celebrated in all religious circles. Pope Francis is trying to facilitate change.”
Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out on making the Catholic Church more welcoming, and in 2013, said sexual orientation was all but irrelevant when it came to being a good Catholic.
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” he said, according to the BBC. “The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers.”
At the time, the Gay Catholic Voice Ireland group said that the pope’s comments marked the first time that the existence of gay people was accepted as a recognizable part of the Catholic Church community, The Irish Times reported.
“This is a significant development from previous papal announcements, which have usually referred to a ‘homosexual condition’ rather than a group of people within the church who are gay,” the group reportedly said.