Pope Francis on the International Day for Persons with Disability

Message that the Holy Father Francis sent on the occasion of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, which occurs today, Tuesday 3 December, and which this year has as its theme: Better rebuilding: towards a post Covid-19 world inclusive of disability, accessible and sustainable:

Message from the Holy Father

Dear brothers and sisters!
The celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is an opportunity, this year, to express my closeness to all those who are experiencing situations of particular difficulty in this pandemic crisis. We are all in the same boat in the middle of a rough sea that can scare us; but in this boat some struggle more, and among them people with severe disabilities.

This year’s theme is ” Better rebuilding: towards a post-Covid-19 world inclusive of disability, accessible and sustainable “. I am struck by the expression “rebuild better”. It makes us think of the Gospel parable of the house built on rock or sand (cf. Mt 7 : 24-27; Lk 6 : 47-49). Therefore I take this precious opportunity to share some reflections, starting from that parable.

1. The threat of the throwaway culture
In the first place, the “rain, the” rivers “and the” winds “that threaten the home can be identified with the throwaway culture, widespread in our time (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium [EG] , 53). For it, «certain parts of humanity seem expendable for the benefit of a selection that favors a human sector worthy of living without limits. After all, people are no longer felt as a primary value to be respected and protected, especially if they are poor or disabled “(Enc. Fratelli tutti [FT] , 18).
This culture especially affects the most fragile categories, including people with disabilities. In the last fifty years, important steps have been taken, at the level of both civil institutions and ecclesial realities. Awareness of the dignity of each person has grown, and this has led to courageous choices for the inclusion of those who experience physical or / and psychological limitations. Yet, on a cultural level, there are still too many expressions that in fact contradict this orientation. There are attitudes of rejection that, also due to a narcissistic and utilitarian mentality, lead to marginalization, not considering that, inevitably, fragility belongs to everyone. In reality, there are people with even serious disabilities who, even with difficulty, have found the path to a good and meaningful life, as there are many other “able-bodied” ones, who are nevertheless dissatisfied, or sometimes desperate. “Vulnerability belongs to the essence of man” (cf. Address at the Conference “Catechesis and people with disabilities” , 21 October 2017).
Therefore it is important, especially on this Day, to promote a culture of life which continually affirms the dignity of every person, in particular in defense of men and women with disabilities, of all ages and social conditions.

2. The “rock” of inclusion
The pandemic we are experiencing has further highlighted the disparities and inequalities that characterize our time, particularly to the detriment of the weakest. «The virus, while it makes no exceptions among people, has found, in its devastating path, great inequalities and discrimination. And he increased them! ” ( Catechesis in the General Audience of 19 August 2020).
For this reason, a first “rock” on which to build our house is inclusion . Even if this term is sometimes abused, the Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan ( Luke 10 : 25-37) is always relevant. In fact, on the path of life, we often come across the injured person, who sometimes bears the traits of disability and frailty. “The inclusion or exclusion of those who suffer along the way defines all economic, political, social and religious projects. Every day we are faced with the choice of being good Samaritans or indifferent wayfarers who pass at a distance “( FT , 69).

Inclusion should be the “rock” on which to build the programs and initiatives of civil institutions so that no one, especially those who are most in difficulty, is excluded. The strength of a chain depends on the care given to the weakest links.
As regards ecclesial institutions, I reiterate the need to prepare suitable and accessible tools for the transmission of the faith. I also hope that these will be made available to those who need them as free as possible, including through new technologies, which have proved so important for everyone in this pandemic period. Likewise, I encourage ordinary formation for priests, seminarians, religious, catechists and pastoral workers.the relationship with disability and the use of inclusive pastoral tools. Parish communities are committed to making the faithful grow in the style of welcoming people with disabilities. Creating a fully accessible parish requires not only the removal of architectural barriers, but above all attitudes and actions of solidarity and service, on the part of parishioners, towards people with disabilities and their families. The goal is that we come to speak no longer of “them”, but only of “us”.

3. The “rock” of active participation
To “rebuild” our society better, the inclusion of the most fragile subjects must also include the promotion of their active participation.
First of all, I strongly reaffirm the right of persons with disabilities to receive the sacraments like all other members of the Church. All the liturgical celebrations of the parish should be accessible so that each, together with the brothers and sisters, can deepen, celebrate and live their faith. Special attention is to be given to people with disabilities who have not yet received the sacraments of Christian initiation: they could be accepted and included in the catechetical process in preparation for these sacraments. The grace of which they are bearers cannot be precluded to anyone.

“By virtue of the Baptism received, every member of the People of God has become a missionary disciple. Each baptized person, whatever his function in the Church and the degree of education of his faith, is an active subject of evangelization. “(EG,120). Therefore, also people with disabilities, in society as in the Church, ask to become active subjects pastoral care, and not just recipients. “Many people with disabilities feel they exist without belonging and without participating. There are still many things that prevent them from full citizenship. The goal is not only to assist them, but their active participation in the civil and ecclesial community. It is a demanding and also tiring journey, which will contribute more and more to forming consciences capable of recognizing everyone as a unique and unrepeatable person. ( FT,98). In fact, the active participation in catechesis of people with disabilities constitutes a great wealth for the life of the whole parish. In fact, grafted into Christ in Baptism, they share with him, in their particular condition, the priestly, prophetic and royal ministry, evangelizing through, with and in the Church.

Therefore, even the presence of people with disabilities among catechists, according to their own abilities, represents a resource for the community. In this sense, their formation should be encouraged, so that they can acquire a more advanced preparation also in the theological and catechetical fields. I hope that more and more, in parish communities, people with disabilities will be able to become catechists, to transmit the faith effectively, also with their own testimony (cf. Speech at the Conference “Catechesis and people with disabilities” , 21 October 2017).
“Worse than this crisis, there is only the drama of wasting it” (Homily on the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 31, 2020). For this I encourage those who, every day and often in silence, spend themselves in favour of situations of fragility and disability. May the common will to “rebuild better” trigger synergies between both civil and ecclesial organizations, to build, against all bad weather, a solid “home”, capable of welcoming even people with disabilities, because it is built on the rock of inclusion and active participation.

Rome, San Giovanni in Laterano, 3 December 2020

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