The boy had escaped his mother’s grasp on Wednesday, and Pope Francis watched as he scuffled across the smooth granite Vatican podium, past the outstretched arm of an archbishop and into the orbit of someone more intriguing than the pontiff.
Francis laughed. The Swiss guardsman on his right flank remained stoic as the boy tugged on his gloved hands and pulled on the fringes of his blue and yellow striped uniform.
Wenzel Wirth, 6, is not even half as tall as the polished halberd staff wielded by the Swiss guardsmen for centuries.
His mother rushed to the stage to pull Wenzel away. She explained to Francis that he is mute, Reuters reported.
Francis issued a decree, of sorts. Let him play.
“This child cannot speak. He is mute. But he can communicate,” Francis said in Spanish to the crowd of pilgrims in the audience, who came to hear clerical leaders give a catechism lesson in various languages. “And he has something that got me thinking: He is free. Unruly … but he is free."
Wenzel had something in common with Francis, his mother explained to the pope — he is from the same South American country.
“He is Argentine. Undisciplined,” Francis joked to Archbishop Georg Ganswein, seated to his right.
Ariel Wirth, the boy’s father, told the Associated Press his family journeyed from their home in Verona in northern Italy to be in the general audience. The long trip and wait to get inside took a toll on Wenzel, he speculated, and the boy needed to stretch.
Wirth explained it was not a planned moment that Wenzel would approach one of the most guarded men on Earth, or ignore the gestures of Ganswein, the personal secretary of Pope Benedict XVI whose chiseled features have earned him the nickname “Gorgeous Georg.”
Wirth explained his son has some behavioral problems and challenges with speech.
“We try to let him be free. He has to express himself, and we live without hiding his problems,” he said, according to the AP.
Francis, mindful of a lesson, left the crowd with a similar thought.
“When Jesus says we have to be like children, it means we need to have the freedom that a child has before his father,” he said. “I think this child preaches to all of us.”