Pope calls for action to build a culture that affirms the dignity of disabled people
Francis released a message for International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Society and the Church must promote "active" participation, not just assistance. Parishes too must remove obstacles and encourage training so that the disabled too can teach catechism.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis released a message today on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. In it, the pontiff stresses the importance of promoting a culture of life that affirms the dignity of every person, especially in defence of “men and women with disabilities, of all ages and social conditions.”
According to the Holy Father, society and the Church must promote the “active” participation of people with disabilities rather than simply provide them with assistance. For parishes, this does not mean simply removing all the obstacles that prevent the disabled from having access to the sacraments, but it should include efforts “to provide them with appropriate training, so that they can acquire greater knowledge also in the areas of theology and catechesis” and become catechists.
In his message, the Pope looks at this year’s theme for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, namely Building Back Better: Toward a Disability-inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable post-COVID-19 World. Francis also cites the parable of the house built on the rock and the “threat of the throwaway culture”.
Acknowledging that giant steps have been taken in the past fifty years by civil and Church authorities, Francis notes that “Awareness of the dignity of each person has grown, and this has resulted in courageous decisions to promote the inclusion of those experiencing physical and psychological limitations.”
Yet, “We see [. . .] attitudes of rejection, due also to a narcissistic and utilitarian mentality, that give rise to marginalization that ignores the inevitable fact that frailty is part of everyone’s life. Indeed, some with even severe disabilities, despite great challenges, have found the way to a beautiful and meaningful life, whereas many ‘able-bodied’ people feel dissatisfied or even desperate.”
Noting that the pandemic “has further highlighted the disparities and inequalities widespread in our time, particularly to the detriment of the most vulnerable,” Francis explains that “inclusion should be the first ‘rock’ on which to build our house”. likewise, “The strength of a chain depends upon the attention paid to its weakest links.”
“As for ecclesial institutions, I reiterate the need to make available suitable and accessible means for handing on the faith. I also hope that these can be made available to those who need them, cost-free to the extent possible, also through the new technologies that have proven so important for everyone in the midst of this pandemic.
“I also encourage efforts to provide all priests, seminarians, religious, catechists and pastoral workers with regular training concerning disabilities and the use of inclusive pastoral tools. Parish communities should be concerned to encourage among the faithful a welcoming attitude towards people with disabilities.
“Creating a fully accessible parish requires not only the removal of architectural barriers, but above all, helping parishioners to develop attitudes and acts of solidarity and service towards persons with disabilities and their families. Our aim should be to speak no longer about ‘them’, but rather about ‘us’.”
“To help our society to ‘build back better’, inclusion of the vulnerable must also entail efforts to promote their active participation.” To this end, the Pope reiterates “the right of persons with disabilities to receive the sacraments, like all other members of the Church.” This means that all celebrations should be made available.
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples. ‘All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 120). People with disabilities, both in society and in the Church, also wish to become active subjects of our pastoral ministry, and not simply its recipients.”
“Our concern should be not only to care for them, but also to ensure their ‘active participation’ in the civil and ecclesial community. That is a demanding and even tiring process, yet one that will gradually contribute to the formation of consciences capable of acknowledging each individual as a unique and unrepeatable person” (Fratelli Tutti, 98).
In fact, “the active participation of people with disabilities in the work of catechesis can greatly enrich the life of the whole parish. Precisely because they have been grafted onto Christ in baptism, they share with him, in their own particular way, the priestly, prophetic, and royal mission of evangelizing through, with and in the Church.
“The presence of persons with disabilities among catechists, according to their own gifts and talents, is thus a resource for the community.”
The papal message ends with an appeal. “Even worse than this crisis would be the tragedy of squandering it (Homily on the Solemnity of Pentecost, 31 May 2020). For this reason, I encourage all those who daily and often silently devote themselves to helping others in situations of fragility and disability. May our common desire to ‘build back better’ give rise to new forms of cooperation between both civil and ecclesial groups and thus build a solid ‘house’ ready to withstand every storm and capable of welcoming people with disabilities, because built on the rock of inclusion and active participation.” (FP)