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Pope Francis blesses five-year-old girl who is losing her sight

Pope Francis touches the face of 5-year-old Lizzy Myers, from Bellville, Ohio, at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis has blessed the eyes of a five-year-old Ohio girl who suffers from a rare genetic disease that is gradually robbing her of her sight.

Lizzy Myers and her family had special seats for Francis’ Wednesday general audience, and Francis spent several minutes with her at the end. He hugged her and placed his hands over her eyes. She gave him a meteorite chunk.

Lizzy doesn’t know she suffers from Usher’s Syndrome, which will take away her hearing and eyesight. Her parents have made a “visual bucket list” to show her as many things as they can before she can no longer see.

Her mother, Christine Myers, said afterward that Lizzy was “awestruck. She was totally big-eyed and it was a very powerful moment for her.”

During the general audience, Pope Francis also called sport the “universal language” and said that it has the power to unite people of all backgrounds together.

The Pope pledged his support for the UN’s third International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP).

Pope Francis praised sport for its ability to “help persons meet and overcome conflicts,” and encouraged Catholics to “live the dimension of sports as the gymnasium of virtue in the full development of individuals and communities.”

The IDSDP falls on April 6 and has been observed by the UN since 2014.

During his general audience, the Pope continued a series of talks dedicated to God’s mercy and reflected on how this mercy was fulfilled in Jesus.

The New Testament “is truly the ‘Gospel of mercy’ because Jesus is mercy,” he said.

At every moment in his life, Jesus showed love to everyone: a love that is “pure, free and absolute,” the Pope said.

Jesus began his mission of mercy with his baptism in the Jordan River, the Pope said, waiting in line “with the sinners, he wasn’t ashamed, he was there with everyone, with the sinners, to get baptised.”

He could have begun his public ministry with lots of fanfare, “in the splendour of the temple,” to the “blast of trumpets” or “in the garments of a judge,” but he didn’t, the Pope said. Instead he chose to be with the people, taking on “the human condition, spurred by solidarity and compassion.”

His driving purpose was “to bring everyone the love of God who saves; Jesus didn’t bring hatred, he didn’t bring animosity, he brought us love, a great love, an open heart for everyone, for all of us,” the Pope said.

Jesus accompanied the least and the marginalised, sharing with them “the mercy of God who is forgiveness, joy and new life. The son sent by the father is truly the beginning of the time of mercy for all of humanity.”

The great mystery of this love is seen in the crucified Christ, the Pope said, because “it is on the cross that Jesus offered to the father’s mercy the sin of the world, everyone’s sins, my sins, your sins” and took those sins away.

“Nothing and no one remains excluded from this sacrificial prayer of Jesus,” which means “we mustn’t be afraid to acknowledge and confess ourselves as sinners,” he said.

So often “we say, ‘well, that one is a sinner, this one did such-and-such.’ We accuse others of being sinners, and you? Each one of us should ask ourselves, ‘Yes, that one is a sinner, and me?'”

“We are all sinners, but we are all forgiven,” Pope Francis said. “We all have the possibility of receiving this forgiveness that is God’s mercy.”

The sacrament of reconciliation, he said, gives the penitent heart “the strength of the forgiveness that flows from the cross and renews in our lives the grace of mercy that Jesus obtained for us.”

People never need to fear their burdens and sins because “the power of love of the crucified one knows no obstacles and never runs out” as it wipes away human sin, he said.

When greeting special delegations at the end of his audience, the Pope met with Cardinal Timothy M Dolan of New York, who was heading to Iraqi Kurdistan to show solidarity with the church there.

The cardinal, who is chairman of the board of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, was traveling there with other members of CNEWA and church leaders.

The Pope also met briefly with and posed for a group photo with members of a diocesan pastoral association in Italy for separated and divorced Catholics.