Today is a national holiday in Italy, Liberation Day, the day American soldiers arrived in Italy, starting the liberation of major cities from the German occupiers and leading to the end of World War II. It was the end of Benito Mussolini’s Italian Socialist Republic and the end of Nazi occupation in Italy.

As an American living in Rome, over the years I’ve had many conversations with Italians on this day, and have been fascinated by their recollections of the war and this particular day. Many, now senior citizens, shared their personal memories of the day the Allies entered Rome, telling me how, at the age of 6 or 7, they ran alongside tanks and jeeps, waving enthusiastically at the American soldiers and, in many cases, trying to catch candy the soldiers were throwing out at the crowd.

Countless numbers of children, alongside their parents, instead walked step in step with soldiers as they entered the city on foot. They merely wanted to be next to their liberators, their “saviors.” Children often sought just to hold the hand of a soldier, to squeeze that hand, to look up and, with a broad smile, to say “grazie.”

Others, born long after the war ended, told me fascinating stories they heard from their parents or grandparents, noting that often their parents had trouble simply trying to express the relief, the joy, that came with liberation.

Today, as I walked by a Vatican-owned apartment building whose doorman, Francesco I’ve known for years, I told him it was a shame that he had to work on an Italian holiday. Francesco smiled and said, “but the Vatican was an ally all those years ago.” He then told me several stories he had heard from his father and grandfather, stories of how people suffered in the war, lived for years in fear and yearned month after month, year after year, for liberation.

And that came on April 25, 1945.


Pope Francis receives members of the Italian Federation of Associations for the Deaf in audience in the Vatican, and stresses the need for inclusion and a culture of encounter.

The Italian Federation of Associations for the Deaf was founded in 1920. In the words of its original mission statement, it was created in order to “counter the isolation, marginalization, and humiliation of the hearing and speech impaired.”

Inclusion and quality of life
Pope Francis met with members of the Federation in the Vatican on Thursday and expanded that mission, saying the Federation is now dedicated to “tackling the culture of waste, and encouraging greater inclusion in all environments.” This work is necessary, he said, in order “to ensure a better quality of life for the deaf person and the overcoming of this disability by valuing all dimensions, including the spiritual one.”

Fragility and encounter
While his words were simultaneously translated into sign language, Pope Francis said: “Deaf people inevitably experience a condition of fragility.”

Like so many other people with disabilities, they also often experience forms of prejudice, even in Christian communities. “This is not right,” insisted Pope Francis. The deaf teach us that only by accepting our limitations and fragilities can we help build “the culture of encounter,” as opposed to widespread indifference, he said.

“Hearing” the voice of God
“God’s presence is not perceived with the ears, but with faith,” said Pope Francis. God’s voice resounds in each person’s heart, “and everyone can hear it.” The Pope invited those present to “help those who do not ‘hear’ God’s voice to be more attentive to it.”

Finally, Pope Francis offered his prayers for all deaf people throughout the world, “especially those who live in conditions of marginalization and poverty.”

I pray that you “may bring your special contribution to society,” he said, and that you “may be capable of a prophetic gaze, capable of accompanying processes of sharing and inclusion, of cooperating in the revolution of tenderness and closeness.”