Pope Francis meets with members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences Pope Francis meets with members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences  (VATICAN MEDIA Divisione Foto)

Pope Francis advocates for inclusion and dignity for people with disabilities

Pope Francis addresses the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and emphasises the need for inclusive societies that recognise the dignity and rights of persons with disabilities, denouncing the throwaway culture and advocating for integral inclusion and solidarity.

By Francesca Merlo

On the occasion of their plenary assembly, thirty years since its foundation, members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences discussed the theme, "Disability and the Human Condition. Changing the Social Determinants of Disabilities and Building a New Culture of Inclusion”.

"I appreciate the fact that you have chosen this as the theme", Pope Francis said on Thursday, 11 April, as he met with members of the Academy in the Vatican. 

"In recent years, the international community has made significant progress in acknowledging the rights of persons with disabilities", said the Pope. He noted, however, that whilst many countries are moving forward in this direction, in others "this acknowledgment is still partial and uncertain".  Where progress has been made, he added, we have seen "how individuals can flourish and the seeds can be sown for a more just and solidary society".

The Church’s social teaching is very clear in this regard: “Persons with disabilities are fully human subjects, with rights and duties” and every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally. “Even if they are unproductive, or were born with or develop limitations, this does not detract from their great dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstances but on the intrinsic worth of their being. Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity”.

Vulnerability and frailty

Pope Francis went on to note that vulnerability and frailty are part of the human condition, and not something proper only to persons with disabilities.  

Sadly, however, in various parts of the world many persons and families continue to be isolated and forced to the margins of social life because of disabilities. "This not only in poorer countries", stressed the Pope, "but also in situations of greater prosperity", where, at times, disabilitis are considered a “personal tragedy” and the disabled are “hidden exiles”, treated as foreign bodies in society. 

The throwaway culture

Turning to the concept of the throwaway culture, Pope Francis noted that it truly has no borders. In today's throwaway culture there is what the Pope described as "a less visible but extremely insidious factor that erodes the value of the disabled in the eyes of society and in their own eyes". This, he explained is "the tendency to make individuals view their life as a burden both for themselves and for their loved ones"; the spread of this mentality, he said, "turns the throwaway culture into a culture of death".  

A culture of inclusion

To combat this throwaway culture, Pope Francis continued, what is necessary is the promotion of a culture of inclusion "by forging and consolidating the bonds of belonging within society".  The Holy Father noted that in poorer countries this remains, for the most part, a goal to be achieved and "governments that are committed in this regard must thus be encouraged and supported by the international community". At the same time, he continued, "it is necessary to support the organisations of civil society, since without their networks of solidarity, in many places people would be left to themselves".

Integral inclusion

Then Pope Francis noted that what is necessary in the development of a culture is integral inclusion. "Subsidiarity and participation are the pillars of effective inclusion", he said, adding that "in this regard, we can appreciate the importance of associations and movements of disabled persons that work to promote their participation in society".

Bringing his discourse to a close, Pope Francis encouraged those present to continue to recognise that all people are our brothers and sisters, and that "seeking forms of social friendship that include everyone, is not merely utopian."  

Finally, he thanked all those present and expressed his gratitude for their "concrete concern" and work in bettering the world for our sisters and brothers with disabilities. 

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11 April 2024, 10:41