'Us' not 'Them' Encouraging Active Participation

blobBy Bishop Donald Sproxton,  Bishop Delegate for Disability Issues 

The day aims to raise awareness and take steps towards a more inclusive and accessible community.  The United Nations annonced the offical theme this year as: "Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, acdessible and sustainable post-COVID19 world."

In the Catholic Church, on 5 December 2021 we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent.  In the Gospel of Luke that day, we are reminded to "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths," (Lk 3:4). 

In his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti on fraternity and social friendship, Pope Francis calls us to ensure the "active participation (or people living with disability) in the civil and ecclesial community".  Doing so "will gradually contribute to the formation of consciences capable of acknowledging each individual as a unique and unrepeatable person", he wrote (FT, 98).

Like the Good Samaritan, Pope Francis reminds us that we are all travelling on a common road through life. It is on that road that we encounter wounded people, including those who, because of disabilities, are isolated or overlooked. 

During the recent first general assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, I felt inspired to urge the Church to lead the way in our society with regard to all people with disabilities, who, with their families, often find themselves on the margins. I called for the Church to recognise and reach out to those with disabilities as they are our sisters and brothers, loved by God, and rightly have a place in our communities. 

Catholic Social teaching and the theology of disability offers a richer and more human basis for care of people with disabilities. These identify: 

  • the problem of disability is not so much the impairment but the ignorance, intolerance, injustice and exclusion that misses the dignity and humanity of the person;

  • that people with disability are not just the object of care but the agents of their own life, and need to be heard. 

  • that it is necessary to recognise the vast diversity of hte experiences of disability; 

  • that equity and inclusion require that peole with disability have an equal opportunity to be recognised, accepted and make their own contribution to the common good. 

I encourage parish communities to continue to promote a welcoming attitude among their people to the person with disabilities. This is more than attending to issues of physical accessibility. Each person in the community needs ot be accepted as a brother and sister. 

As Pope Francis said on the International Day of People with Disability last year, the presence of a brother and sister with a disability will help the community "to develop attitudes and acts of solidarity, and service towards them and their families. Our aim should be to speak no longer about 'them', but rather about 'us'.

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