By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Jesus did not teach his disciples to organize agencies and structures to help vulnerable people, but gave the example of encountering them, listening to them and helping them as individuals and not “categories” of people in need, Pope Francis said.

“Jesus wanted to form his disciples in a style of living in contact with the vulnerable, in the midst of them,” the pope wrote in a speech prepared for his meeting March 1 with a group of Italians attending a four-day seminar on “Vulnerability and Community: Between Welcome and Inclusion.”

While the pope met the group and took time to greet each participant personally, he had an aide read his prepared text because, he said, he continues to suffer from cold symptoms.

Participants in the seminar came from a variety of parishes, associations and movements that work with the poor, with migrants, with incarcerated people and with those who have mobility issues or different forms of disability.

Christians today, like Jesus’ disciples 2,000 years ago, need to see how he encountered people and welcomed them — “his closeness, his compassion, his tenderness,” the pope’s text said. “And after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit impressed that style of life on them.”

But, the pope told them, “before anything else, in order to welcome my vulnerable brothers and sisters, I must feel vulnerable and welcomed as such by Christ. He always precedes us. He made himself vulnerable all the way up to the Passion. He accepted our fragility so that, thanks to him, we can do the same.”

In his text, Pope Francis encouraged participants to frequently read and pray with Mark 10: 46-52, the story of Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus and Jesus restoring his sight.

While people in the crowd were trying to hush the noisy Bartimaeus, Jesus “hears his faith-filled cry,” the pope wrote. “And that man, who receives his sight again because of his faith in the Lord, sets out, follows Jesus and becomes his witness — so much so that his story is told in the Gospels.”

“The vulnerable Bartimaeus, saved by the vulnerable Jesus, shares in the joy of witnessing his resurrection,” he said.

His example and others in the Gospel and throughout the history of the Christian community demonstrate that “vulnerable people, encountered and welcomed with the grace of Christ and in his style, can be a presence of the Gospel in the community of believers and in society,” Pope Francis wrote.

The list of Catholic saints is filled with men and women who became saints by “loving vulnerable people like Jesus did,” he said. But that list is not exhaustive. In every community there are people who attained holiness by caring for “the little ones, the poor, the fragile and the marginalized. And it is important in our communities to share, with simplicity and gratitude, the stories of these hidden witnesses of the Gospel.”