BY MARY KAYE FALCONY and the Diocesan Committee for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities
A PLACE FOR ALL
“Our task, as members of the Church, is to translate Christ’s message of inclusion into practical action, so that the contribution of each member is respected and nurtured. This is our shared mission. For just as each of us receives the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism, so we can grow as a Church through the gifts each of us brings to the body of Christ. Active participation needs therefore, to be accessible to all” (“Valuing Difference” – 1988 pastoral document published by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales).
Several years ago, as I read this excerpt from “Valuing Difference: People with disabilities in the life and mission of the Church,” the images from the scripture story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man flooded my imagination (see Luke 5:17-36). It seemed as though the friends of this man knew (or did he tell them?) of his desire/longing to be in the presence of Jesus. They understood that he would be unable to accomplish what he desired on his own, so they offered their assistance.
Arriving at the place where Jesus was, they were met with a challenging situation. Crowds blocked the entrance to the structure; there seemed to be no way to enter. I wish we could have heard the conversation that transpired between the man and his friends. Did they work together to devise a plan?
However the plan came about, the goal was accomplished; they worked around the obstacle, lowering him through the roof, thus giving him access to Jesus and the community of believers that had gathered. I think this story provides a great picture of practical action, active participation and accessibility.
I think the question we find ourselves asking as individuals and parish communities involves how we facilitate those three outcomes for our brothers and sisters with disabilities; where do we begin?
We are very fortunate as a Church to have the National Catholic Partnership on Disability as a resource. Its goal is to “promote the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in Church and society.”
NCPD suggests that, to begin, “Expertise is not needed. All that is necessary is the will to meet each person, get to know him or her, and form a relationship. To do this it is important to consider various forms of communication, various ways of moving in spaces, various ways of participating, and various ways to nurture an environment of belonging.”
We are all called to accompany one another. Like the paralyzed man and his friends, we will find richness in this shared journey.