Pope Francis on Saturday received participants in a major international conference organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. Catechesis and Persons with Disabilities: a necessary engagement in the pastoral life of the Church was the title of the conference, which was held in the Vatican.
Time for persons with disabilities to become catechists
Pope Francis met the conference participants on Saturday morning and told them it is time that people with disabilities themselves became catechists, helping to communicate the Faith more effectively “through their own witness”.
Following an introduction by the President of the Vatican Dicastery, Archibishop Rino Fischella, the Pope spoke of the great developments in the field of stimulating awareness and promoting the dignity of persons with disabilities, but he also criticized what he called an often “narcissistic and utilitarian” view that fails to recognize the “human and spiritual wealth” that people with disabilities possess and are ready to offer.
Below is our translation from Italian of the full text of the Pope’s discourse.
Awareness and inclusion
We know the great developments that have taken place in the field of disability over the last decades. The growth in awareness of the dignity of every person, especially the weakest, and how they have led to taking courageous positions to ensure the inclusion of those who live with different forms of handicap, so that no one should feel a stranger in their own home.
Still, at a cultural level there are still expressions that offend the dignity of the person and that maintain a false concept of life. An often narcissistic and utilitarian view, unfortunately, leads several to consider people with disabilities as marginal, without seeing in them the multifaceted human and spiritual wealth that they possess. There is still a strong attitude of rejection of this condition in the collective mentality, as though it prevented the individual from being happy and self-fulfilled.
Proof of this is the eugenic tendency to eliminate the unborn child that shows some form of imperfection. In fact, we all know many people who, even in their fragility and with great effort, have found the way to live a good life and richly meaningful life. On the other hand, we know people who are apparently perfect, yet desperate! It is dangerously deceptive to think we are invulnerable. As a girl I met on my recent trip to Colombia said: vulnerability is part of what it means to be human.
The role of respectful love
The response is love: not the false, deceitful and pious kind, but true, concrete, and respectful love. To the extent that we are welcomed and loved, included in the community and accompanied to look to the future with confidence, the true path of life develops and we experience lasting happiness. This – as we know – applies to everyone, but those who are most fragile people are the proof of it. Faith is a great companion of life when it allows us to experience the presence of a Father who never abandons his creatures, whatever their condition of their life.
A vocal Church and a courageous Community
The Church cannot be “voiceless” or “tone-deaf” in defending and promoting people with disabilities. Being close to families helps them overcome the solitude into which they risk closing themselves because of lack of attention and support. This is even more true in terms of the responsibility of the Church to inspire and form a Christian life. The community cannot be lacking in words and gestures, especially, in reaching out and welcoming people with disabilities.
The Sunday Liturgy, in particular, must include them, because the encounter with the Risen Lord and with the Community itself can be a source of hope and courage along life’s difficult journey.
Grace and Encounter
In a special way, catechesis needs to discover and develop coherent ways to ensure that every person, with his or her gifts, limitations and disabilities, however serious, may encounter Jesus on their life’s journey and abandon themselves to him in faith. No physical or mental limitation can ever hinder this encounter, because Christ’s face shines in the intimacy of every person. We need to also pay special attention to the ministers of Christ’s Grace and not fall into the neo-Pelagian error of failing to recognize the need for the power of the Grace that comes from the sacraments of Christian initiation.
Catechists through example
Let us learn to overcome the embarrassment and fear we sometimes experience when we meet people with disabilities. Let us learn to seek, and even to create with intelligence, adequate means to ensure no one lacks the support of Grace. Let us train catechists – first and foremost through example! – who are more and more able to accompany these people so that they may grow in faith and offer their genuine and original contribution to the life of the Church. Finally, I hope that more and more people with disabilities can become catechists themselves in their communities, offering their own witness and helping to communicate the faith more effectively.