Australian Bishops encourage parishes to welcome people with disability
By Lisa Zengarini
Ahead of the International Day of People with Disability, Australian bishops are inviting parish communities across the country to continue welcoming and promoting their active participation in society and Church life.
The UN Day is celebrated annually on 3 December, and in the Catholic Church on the Second Sunday of Advent, this year on 5 December. It was established in 1992 to raise awareness and take steps towards a more inclusive and accessible community.
‘Us’ not ‘Them’
The Australian Bishop’s Conference (ACBC) has issued a message for the occasion, signed by Bishop Donald Sproxton, Delegate for Disability Issues in the Bishops’ Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service.
Entitled “‘Us’ not ‘Them’ – Encouraging active participation”, the message recalls Pope Francis’ words on people with disability in his Encyclical Letter ‘Fratelli tutti’, in which he pointed out that ensuring their “active participation in the civil and ecclesial community” contributes to “the formation of consciences capable of acknowledging each individual as a unique and unrepeatable person” (FT 98).
“Like the Good Samaritan, Pope Francis reminds us that we are all travelling on a common road through life,” the message remarks. “It is on that road that we encounter wounded people, including those who because of disabilities are isolated or overlooked.”
Our sisters and brothers
Bishop Sproxton therefore underlines the need for the Church to lead the way in Australian society with regard to all people with disabilities, recognising and reaching out to them “as they are our sisters and brothers, loved by God, and rightly have a place in our communities.”
The message calls attention on the Catholic social and theological teaching on disability offering “a richer and more human basis for care of people with disabilities”. In the Catholic view, Bishop Sprocton notes, “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."
Also, Catholic doctrine considers people with a disability “not just as the object of care, but the agents of their own life” who “need to be heard”.
It further asserts the need to recognise the vast diversity of the experiences of disability and that equity and inclusion “require that people with disability have an equal opportunity to be recognised, accepted and make their own contribution to the common good.”
A welcoming attitude
Bishop Sproxton therefore encourages Australian 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,” he says. “Each person in the community needs to be accepted as a brother and sister.”
To celebrate the presence, contributions and achievements of the 4.4 million people with disability and their families in Australia, a Prayer Service has been prepared for the International Day by the Bishops’ Office for Justice, Ecology and Peace.
The theme for 2021
This years’ recurrence will be focused on the theme “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world”.
Pope Francis' message for the day
In his recent Message for the occasion, entitled “You are my friends” (Jn 15:14), Pope Francis reiterated the Church's love and need for people with disabilities to fulfil her mission at the service of the Gospel, noting that that discrimination continues to be “all too present at various levels of society.”
"In particular, the continuing tendency to regard disabilities as if they were a kind of disease, contributes to keeping your lives separate and stigmatizing you,” he wrote.