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Moment a boy with learning difficulties climbs on stage to meet the Pope

This is the heartwarming moment a boy with learning difficulties ran through a barrier to meet the Pope before being offered a chair next to the pontiff.  

Francis shook hands with ten-year-old Paolo Junior who pointed at the pontiff's white skullcap, asking if he could wear it. 

The Pope, smiling as he did so, invited Paolo to sit down at his right side as the head of the papal household, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, gave up his chair. 

As the boy sat down he started clapping enthusiastically, much to the amusement of His Holiness who later praised the boy for the way he had 'come close and moved around as if he were at home.'

Paolo was eventually granted his wish and given a white cap like the Pope's before walking back to sit with his family as the Paul VI hall erupted with applause.

Ten-year-old Paolo reaches out to the Pontiff's white skullcap during the general audience in the Paul VI hall of the Vatican on Wednesday

The Pope reaches out to shake hands with the approaching boy, left, before waving to him as he goes back to sit down with his own white skullcap one

Paolo sitting beside the Pope in the chair of the head of the papal household, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza

Paolo walks back to sit down as the Paul VI hall erupted in applause after he finally got his wish of getting a white cap like the Pope's

Paolo appeared drawn to the pontiff's white hat, known as a zucchetto

The boy approaches the Pope, 84, in the middle of his weekly general audience 

Ten-year-old Paolo Junior kisses Pope Francis during the weekly General Audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall, in Vatican City

The Pope is embraced by the boy as he meets congregants at the end of the general audience 

'I thank this boy for the lesson he has given us all,' Francis said at the end of his audience, praising the 'spontaneity and freedom' of children.

Then noting Paolo's disability, Francis, 84, added: 'May the Lord help him in his limitation, in his growth, because he gave us this witness, which came from the heart.

'Children don't have an automatic translator from the heart to life: the heart just goes forward.'

Speaking at length in his audience on the topic of freedom, the Pope reminded the congregation of the Apostle St Paul who taught that freedom is righteous as long as it is not self-serving.

'Freedom guided by love,' explained Francis, 'is the only one that frees ourself and others.'

'The social dimension is fundamental for Christians,' the Pope continued, adding that 'it enables them to look to the common good and not to private interest.' 

He said that understanding liberty was particularly poignant today because the pandemic has emphasised how much people need each other. 

The child waves to the Pope as he leaves the general audience

The child is seen sitting in a wheelchair during the general audience

'It is not enough to know this,' Francis said. 'We need to choose it concretely every day.' 

He finished his address with an entreaty to the flock, saying: 'Let us say and believe that others are not an obstacle to my freedom, but rather the possibility to fully realise it – because our freedom is born from God's love and grows in charity.'

Francis conducts a weekly general audience either in the Paul VI hall or in St Peter's Square at the Vatican.

It is a chance to meet with members of the public as well as other Catholic officials.