In his message for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Pope Francis writes that the “the Church loves you and needs each of you for the fulfilment of her mission at the service of the Gospel.” He adds that “the Directory for Catechesis stated explicitly that ‘no one can deny the sacraments to persons with disabilities’.” He also writes: “Dear brothers and sisters, today your prayers are more urgently needed than ever before. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote that ‘at times of difficulty, God’s friends need to be strong in order to support those who are weak’.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis issued a message titled You are my friends (Jn 15:14) to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which will be celebrated on 3 December.
In it, the pontiff says that people with disabilities “are Church” and should not be discriminated against in any way. What is more, since they have suffered in a particular way during the pandemic, the Holy Father entrusts to them especially a prayer for a world that is going through a period of great hardship.
Addressing people with disabilities directly, the Pope writes that “the Church loves you and needs each of you for the fulfilment of her mission at the service of the Gospel.” He goes on to also say that “Jesus is our friend!”
Likewise, “The Church,” writes Francis, “is truly your home. [. . .] For this reason, each of you is also called to make his or her own contribution to the synodal journey. I am convinced that, if it truly becomes ‘a participative and inclusive ecclesial process,’ the Church community will be genuinely enriched.”
“Baptism makes each one of us a full-fledged member of the Church community, so that all of us, without exclusion or discrimination, can say: ‘I am Church!’ The Church is truly your home! We, all of us together, are Church, because Jesus chose to be our friend.”
This means excluding all forms of discrimination, even the one that sees some disabled people excluded from the sacraments.
“Discrimination continues to be all too present at various levels of society; it feeds on prejudice, ignorance and a culture that finds it hard to appreciate the inestimable value of each person. In particular, the continuing tendency to regard disabilities – which are the result of the interaction between social barriers and each person's limitations – as if they were a kind of disease, contributes to keeping your lives separate and stigmatizing you.
“As far as the Church’s life is concerned, ‘the worst form of discrimination… is the lack of spiritual care’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 200). Sometimes, as certain of you have unfortunately experienced, this has taken the form of denying access to the sacraments. The Church’s magisterium is very clear in this area, and recently the Directory for Catechesis stated explicitly that ‘no one can deny the sacraments to persons with disabilities’ (No. 272).”
“Jesus’ friendship protects us in moments of difficulty. I am well aware that the Covid-19 pandemic, from which we are struggling to emerge, continues to have grave repercussions on many of your lives. I think, for example, of your being forced to stay at home for long periods of time; the difficulty experienced by many students with disabilities in accessing aids to distance learning; the lengthy interruption of social care services in a good number of countries; and many other hardships that you have had to face.
“Above all, I think of those of you who live in residential facilities and the pain of forced separation from your loved ones. In those places, the virus hit hard and, despite the dedication of caretakers, it has taken all too many lives. Know that the Pope and the Church are especially close to you, with love and affection!”
As a friend of Jesus, “The Gospel is also for you! Its message is addressed to everyone; it is a word of consolation and, at the same time, a summons to conversion. The Second Vatican Council, in speaking of the universal call to holiness, teaches that “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity…”
“In the Gospels, Jesus always listens to those who turn to him, however haltingly, even with a small sign (cf. Lk 8:44) or a cry for help (cf. Mk 10:47).”
Francis writes that “Prayer is a mission, a mission accessible to everyone, and I would like to entrust that mission in a particular way to you. There is no one so frail that he or she cannot pray, worship the Lord, give glory to his holy Name and intercede for the salvation of the world. In the sight of the Almighty, we come to realize that we are all equal.
“Dear brothers and sisters, today your prayers are more urgently needed than ever before. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote that ‘at times of difficulty, God’s friends need to be strong in order to support those who are weak’.”
Speaking after the presentation of the message, Vittorio Scelzo, in charge of the pastoral care of the elderly and people with disabilities at the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, said that while it "is addressed to people with disabilities, it also invites each of us to open ourselves to listening and taking to the road with them for a while.
“This is what the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life wants to do with the campaign #IamChurch, I am Church, which we will be launched on 6 December.” The latter includes “five videos, five small journeys into the church experience of some Christians with disabilities in different countries of the world.
They will focus on the work of evangelisation carried out by young deaf people in Mexico, a monastery in France where some nuns with Down syndrome live their vocation, a group of young Italians with intellectual disabilities who took part in the World Youth Days, and much more.”