Cardinal Peter Turkson issued a message for World Autism Awareness Day urging faith communities to have meaningful encounters with those who have autism and with their families, in opposition to a culture of exclusion.

Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Turkson said it is important that governments, institutions, and the entire community “work to respond adequately to the needs of people with autism spectrum disorders.”

“In this way, the culture of encounter and solidarity will be fostered in spite of that of exclusion and of waste, which instead relegates them to the margins of society,” he wrote April 2.

The people affected by autism spectrum disorders are confronted by difficulties every day, he explained, both the challenges resulting from their condition, and those placed before them by society, “depriving them of being able to live to the fullest of their possibilities.”

Turkson noted that over the last 50 years, the prevalence of autism has grown, and that it is now estimated that one in every 160 children will be affected by it, requiring an even greater commitment on the part of Christians to providing an adequate response.

He said that the Church witnesses her concern for people with autism spectrum disorders through her good works and through the general welcoming attitude of communities, even if there is still a lot of progress to be made toward real inclusion.

Turkson also praised the families of people with autism who, he said, should be greatly admired for the way they accept challenges and difficulties with love.

It is “essential,” he continued, to be present to those with autism and to be present to all the members of their families.

Quoting a November 2014 speech by Pope Francis to an international conference on autism, Turkson said that “it is a necessary commitment of all to promote acceptance, encounter, solidarity, in a concrete work of support and renewed promotion of hope.”

Therefore, contributing to the breaking of “isolation and, in many cases, even the stigma that weigh on people with autism spectrum disorders, as often also on their families.”

Pope Francis also mentioned the United Nations’ celebration of World Autism Awareness Day April 2, by making an appeal for prayer on the occasion, following his recitation of the Regina Coeli in St. Peter’s Square.