COMMITTEE FOR THE JUBILEE DAY
THE PERSON WITH DISABILITIES:
The richness of a person with disabilities constantly challenges the Church and society, calling them to open themselves to the mystery they present:
The person with disabilities has every right to be a subject-active agent in ministry.
Disability is not a punishment; it is a privileged situation, which God uses to manifest his love and crown all people with the glory of the resurrection.
This paper is intended to help people realise that the person with disabilities can be a subject – active agent in the Church’s pastoral ministry.
It is in this spirit that we entrust this preparation to all of you, in view of the full integration and insertion of persons with disabilities in the life of the Church and society, to valorise the gifts they bring, to reconcile ourselves with them for failings in their regard in the spirit of the Great Jubilee and to encourage an attitude of caring, assistance and solidarity.
The preparatory Committee
Rome 7 April 2000
“As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever” (1 Pt 4, 10-11)
The person with disabilities, created in God’s image, in whom God’s love is made manifest and who is a privileged witness of humanity, is directly responsible for his history and his life just like any other person.
The Lord Jesus calls each of us to be his disciples, to open ourselves to the gift of communion with the Father and with our brothers and sisters in the faith all the riches (1 Cor 1, 5-7; 7,7; 14; Rom 12, 6-8; Eph 4, 7-16), which God gives to each person. So the persons with disabilities too receive the same call from the Lord to live the discipleship in a responsible and an active way and enrich the People of God with the gifts entrusted to them by the Lord to render his Bride resplendent. (Cfr Eph 5,27)
The Church, Christ’s Bride, encourages and stimulates all her children, she cares for them so each may progress in a responsible and personal manner growing in the faith, in communion with God, discovering the gifts received from God for the common good and how these gifts can be made available to others. This is why the Church seeks out the people with disabilities to communicate to them “God’s many graces” and give them their rightful place as baptised persons, because all the baptised “have the same dignity before God and the same divine calling” (U.S. Bishops, Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities, 1995).
Active agents in pastoral work
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Lk 10, 21)
“You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first; and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” (Gal 4, 13-14)
“Every member of the People of God is a subject in ecclesial activity which is to be actuated with distinct modalities and competencies in keeping with the different charisma and ministries” (Midali 1992)
Persons with disabilities give the most powerful impulse offering great moral and spiritual resources for a world according to God’s plan. They offer a contribution of hope and love to human history. They reveal man, to man himself: a person is more precious for what he is, than for what he has or does (GS 35) particularly in a society where what counts is physical beauty, self-affirmation, search for power and dominion over others. With their confidence and dependence on others they demonstrate that we are all creatures, all dependent on the Creator and they affirm this union which gives life. ‘Without the Creator, the creature would disappear’ (GS 36).
The image of God who gives himself on the cross to enrich us with his glory, shows itself in persons with disabilities, in their being alone and excluded. Persons with disabilities are the “angel of God, Jesus Christ” (Gal 4,14) who continues to be present in human history.
Not only with the witness of their life, but also through the activity of which they are capable according to their possibilities, persons with disabilities can be active subjects of pastoral work. They themselves can communicate the “treasures of the faith” and lead all to communion with the Father in Jesus by means of the Spirit.
To them too, as to all the baptised, is entrusted the Gospel mandate: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28, 19-20).
“And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” . (Mk 16,20)
“Proclamation, witness, teaching, sacraments, love of neighbour, making disciples: all these aspects are ways and means of transmitting the one Gospel and they are elements of evangelisation” (General Directory for Catechesis, 1997)
“In synthesis, the rightful and pre-eminent expectation of our brothers and sisters is the following: balanced but effective integration in the tissue of civil co-existence, so they feel they are fully members. We should not consider the handicap something dramatic and unnatural, but rather a condition of weakness, which for the Christian and social society is a test of the level of its faith and humanity…They are…always persons who aspire to full valorisation of self…We must recognise with facts that the handicapped person is a fully human subject with sacred and inviolable rights; that he or she must be helped to participate in the life of society in every accessible dimension; that the quality of a society is measured by the respect it has for the weakest of its members” (John Paul II, Insegnamenti, 3-31- 1984).
“They have the right to know, as others, ‘the mystery of the faith’” (C T 41).
The right to know God in Jesus and to live the fullness of his love in the Spirit, is part of the dignity of the person with a disability. When he or she is respected and assisted, the person is led to open to the higher values through which he or she is effectively realised to the point of transcendence with the total gift of self to others and to God reaching full maturity as a person in the image of Christ, that is holiness.
“Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: therefore we are members one of another. Baptism incorporates us into the Church. Having become a member of the Church, the person baptised belongs no longer to himself but to Him who died and rose for us. From now on, he is called to be subject to others, to serve them in the communion of the Church…Just as Baptism is the source of responsibilities and duties, the baptised person also enjoys rights within the Church: to receive the sacraments, to be nourished with the Word of God, and to be sustained by the other spiritual helps of the Church” (CCC1267/1269)
Persons with disabilities are no exception to the rights and obligations of Baptism. In the case of serious mental disability, the person's call to share the faith, is based on the witness of love given by others.
Pastoral activity of persons with disabilities
“Disabled persons can bring forth from within themselves exceptional energy and values of great use for the whole of humanity” (John Paul II, Insegnamenti, 3-31-1984).
“He [the person with disabilities] is not only one to whom we give; he must be helped to become also one who gives to the best of his abilities. An important and decisive point in formation will be reached when he has become fully aware of his dignity and value and he realises that something is expected of him and that he can and should contribute to the progress and good of his family and of the community” (Holy See, To all who work for the disabled, 3-4-1981)
“One of the basic objectives of this renewed and intensified pastoral action…is an attitude which looks upon the sick person, the bearer of a handicap, or the suffering individual, not simply as an object of the Church’s love and service but as an active and responsible participant in the work of evangelisation and salvation” (Christifideles laici chapter 4)
Not only are they the receivers of the Gospel, they in turn proclaim the Gospel with their life and mission, sharing in the building of the Kingdom of God. Their disability, redeemed by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, renders them missionaries at the immediate and intuitive level, and not as a mere reflection, of authentic human values: confidence, solidarity, service sharing, listening, acceptance, brotherhood, joy, love. They are not mistakes of creation. They have their own task, not least that of constantly countering a comfortable philistine adaptation with egoism and well being, bringing pride and presumption to a more authentic measure.
They become the “hands of God” (cfr Lk 10, 35) for a correct and valorised vision of man and God’s plan of love for humanity which has its apex in the glory of the Resurrection, because “we will see him as he really is” (1 Jn 3,2).
Their ways of the heart and their service of charity will help break down the barriers of fear, their life of vulnerability and their innocence will help create places of love and welcome.
Where, according to some parameters of understanding, there are no signs of response, the faith of the Church, of parents and other people will compensate.
It must always be remembered that the prayer of persons with disability, particularly those with mental disability, is especially powerful: to this prayer Providence can never say no, because a father can never forget the gentlest and unhappiest of his children (cfr Gc 5,16).
In the proclamation and witness they give with their life, by offering their life together with the liturgical offering of Christ to the Father in the Spirit and with their service to the Body of Christ, to the growth and koinonoia of the People of God, of the Church.
By forgiving, realise that others, without distinction, are something precious and have something precious to give and in rejoicing to express the newness, the creativity, the possibility of relating to others, of expressing different ways of being together, of walking, of building, they give meaning to the Resurrection.
The Church’s response to persons with disabilities
“The Church encompasses with love all those who are afflicted with human weakness. Indeed she recognises in the poor and the suffering the likeness of her poor and suffering Founder. She does all she can to relive their need and in them she strives to serve Christ.”(LG 8).
“Therefore it is not enough to offer assistance, we must realise and respect their being fully Children of God, his beloved ones, and therefore living witnesses of the saving love of the Father” (Card. Martini, May 3, 1990).
The Church, to be truly the Bride of Christ, must consider the persons with disabilities and those around them, as a theological place in which “God works his wonders”, realises his love for mankind and calls the community to conversion and discernment of evangelical values.
The Church does this when she:
- proclaims the truth about man, the dignity and absolute value of each person, of every condition and state, of persons with disabilities for the fact that they are persons created in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Christ and glorified in Him.
- promotes, with courageous and prophetic options, life and respect for the life of those who are weak, fragile, voiceless, persons with disabilities.
- acts within and outside the Church for the full acceptance and integration of persons with disabilities.
- offers them and their families, solidarity, sharing, closeness and authentic compassion.
- bestows on all, by means of appropriate catechesis, the spiritual and human treasures of her rich heritage which she have been given by her Lord and Redeemer: the Sacraments, the Word of God, life in the Church.
- considers persons with disabilities “as active agents, subjects of evangelisation” (Synod on the Laity, 1987-1988, n 53) because they are moral agents of transformation of the Church and of society, pushing them more and more towards the social integration of every disability.
- leads everyone, including the persons with disabilities, on the path towards the Father.
- gives to all, the certainty of being loved by the Father and sustained by his sharing in human history, limits, weaknesses, fragility and contradictions through the Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection of Christ.
- is reconciled with persons with disabilities and with their families, asking for forgiveness because of hesitation, delays, lack of charity, situations of solitude, individual and common indifference towards them.
- shows how to enter the mystery of disability and remains therein in an attitude of contemplative sharing since the person with disabilities is charged with humanity.
- removes physical, mental, and ideological barriers, and those of communication and language, all of which prevent full integration of persons with disabilities in the life of the Church and society.
- facilitates the participation of persons with disabilities in the liturgy, and all the sacraments and life of the Church, according to the vocation of each, also regarding marriage, the priestly ministry and the consecrated life.
- trains people with disabilities to be qualified catechists of the “mystery of faith” able to proclaim it adequately.
- prepares, with a change in mindset, future bishops, priests deacons, and all those who offer their service and ministry to persons with disabilities in an appropriate and respectful manner, promoting their dignity as children of God.
- with creativity, in a prophetic manner, finds ways to integrate the persons with disabilities in the world of work, particularly where only productivity, free competition, efficiency, self-affirmation, success are taken as criteria of progress, excluding persons with disabilities who fail to fit these parameters.
- co-operates with social-political and cultural structures and organisations for the promotion of persons with disabilities offering alternative proposals when methods and objectives fail to reflect the dignity of the person, working in such a way that these structures and organisations are transformed from within, and rejecting proposals and solution which are degrading, reaffirming in this way the truth about man’s destiny.
- when, as the Church or as all Christians, is a point of reference for reaching, also in terms of civil and social culture, ever greater realisation of the integration of persons with disabilities in every reality and ambit of daily life in which all participate.
Testimonies of life
(Instead of using “persons with disabilities” we have left the terminology used by the authors).
The testimony of Stefano
Stefano has a degree in philosophy, he uses a wheel chair to move around, and speaks by means of an ‘educator’ which translates into words the feeble sounds he emits.
First of all I would like to say that I am not very keen on the expression “catechesis for the disabled”. I think catechesis should be the same for everyone and that it must be adapted to suit every person, whether they have a handicap or not.
It is very important that handicapped persons take part in catechesis like everyone else. It is also important that the disabled train to be catechists, to give a special contribution, which comes from their experience of life.
The presence of handicapped persons can help to educate the community to accept those who are different.
The testimony of Carmela
Carmel teaches and she is also a catechist.
Persons with a handicap have their own way of living the faith. If catechesis is to be effective it cannot fail to take this into account. And it is up to us pastoral workers to enter into harmony with them, touching the right cords.
How can a little girl with a mental handicap be helped to realise that God loves us, despite everything. Faced with this problem I try to keep in mind the experience of this little girl who lives in a very united family, which shows her much affection. From this, from day to day living, I draw examples to help her understand God’s fatherly love for us.
Testimony of a blind person
“The Cross contains intrinsic orientation towards the victory of the Resurrection which cannot be suppressed…How can we anticipate this experience of life and joy, this victory also over bodily suffering?” (John Paul II, Insegnamenti, 3-31-1984).
We experience “this victory” of the Resurrection every time we take part, as active members, including the disabled, in the life of our ecclesial communities, as pupils at catechisms classes, or as catechists, as readers during celebrations of the Eucharist, or as participants in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confirmation, even though some of us have serious physical or mental disabilities. We take part in the ministry of charity, diocesan Caritas groups, parish groups, basic Christian communities, where we too, usually considered passive objects of the love of others, become active subjects.
From an interview with Jean Vanier
You say the disabled and people who suffer are “teachers of humanity”, why?
They draw us, or better they call us, sometimes even physically, and if we listen to them they help us to enter that compassion which is the heart of the Gospel” “be merciful as my Father is merciful, do not judge and you will not be judged, do not condemn and you will not be condemned, forgive and you will be forgiven”. They teach us to enter into a relationship with them, if we are touched by them – to open our heart to a relationship, which I would describe as person to person, in which God is present.
What is love for you, and above all, how should we love?
In the Community to love someone means to make them know that they are important, that they are precious. We do this by listening to them, understanding their needs, their suffering, their deepest longings, and also by recognising the place they have in the Church. This love consists in entering into a relationship of communion, in a sense, belonging one to another. And then this love leads us to forgive, because we hurt each other and we are therefore called to enter the mystery of forgiveness.
Testimony, desire, question.
I am a disabled person of 74. At the age of one I was struck by spastic paralysis. When I was eight I lost my mother and since then I have lived in an institute.
I see that society, although there is progress in every sector, excludes more and more those who do not “produce” and therefore: the sick, the elderly, the handicapped and this is something which causes deep suffering to people in these conditions.
But it is also sad to see many priests busy and concerned with many things, but neglecting these persons whom only faith, with their help, could support, doing them a lot of good.
It would be good if at Christmas and Easter the parish priest were to write a letter to all his parishioners who suffer in any way, asking them to offer their pain and prayers for the needs of the community, making them in this way part of the life of the community, so they do not feel they are a useless burden.
It is time to revive parish communities’ faith in Providence through the most precious gift the community possesses, in other words the daily offering of the suffering of these “beloved children of God”. The parish would benefit enormously from this offering.
To recognise Jesus in the poor, the sick, the disabled or the elderly means to love and help them. Why not involve a handicapped person or an elderly person, who is not impaired in his speech, as myself unfortunately, in the liturgical readings or in some task in the parish office or even as a catechist? It is not enough to remove architectonic barriers, there are other barriers much more difficult to break: we need to feel loved in order to feel we are “normal”.