A call to transform “indifference into proximity” and “exclusion into belonging” was launched on Saturday December 3 by Pope Francis during his meeting with a group of people with disabilities, received in audience in the Clementine room in the occasion of the International Day dedicated to them. We publish below the words spoken by the Holy Father on this occasion.
Dear brothers and sisters, hello!
I am happy to meet you today, on the occasion of the World Day of Persons with Disabilities. I thank Archbishop Giuseppe Baturi for his words and also for the commitment of the Churches in Italy to keep alive care for people with disabilities, with active and inclusive pastoral action. Promoting recognition of the dignity of each person is a constant responsibility of the Church: it is the mission to continue in time the closeness of Jesus Christ to every man and woman, especially to those who are most fragile. and the most vulnerable. The Lord is close to you.
Welcoming people with disabilities and responding to their needs is a duty of the civil community and of the ecclesial community, because the human person, “even when wounded in spirit or in his sensory and intellectual capacities, is a fully human subject, with the sacred and inalienable rights proper to every human creature” (Saint John Paul ii Speech to participants in the symposium “Dignity and rights of the disabled person”, January 8, 2004).
Such was the gaze of Jesus on the people he met: a gaze of tenderness and mercy above all for those who were excluded from the attention of the powerful and even of the religious authorities of his time. Therefore, each time the Christian community transforms indifference into closeness — it is a real conversion: transforming indifference into closeness and sympathy — each time the Church does this and transforms exclusion into belonging, she fulfills his prophetic mission. Indeed, it is not enough to defend the rights of individuals; we must strive to meet their existential needs as well, in the different dimensions, bodily, psychic, social and spiritual. Each man and each woman, in fact, in all the conditions in which he or she finds himself, is a bearer, in addition to rights which must be recognized and guaranteed, but also of even deeper relationships, such as the need to belong, to bond and cultivate the spiritual life until experiencing its fullness and bless the Lord for this unique and wonderful gift.
Generating and supporting inclusive communities — this word is important, inclusive, always — means, then, eliminating all discrimination and concretely satisfying everyone’s need to feel recognized and to feel involved. There is no inclusion, in fact, if the experience of fraternity and reciprocal communion is lacking. There is no inclusion if it remains a slogan, a formula to be used in politically correct speeches, a banner to be appropriated. There is no inclusion if conversion in the practices of cohabitation and relationships is lacking.
People with disabilities must have access to buildings and meeting places, they must have access to languages and be able to overcome physical barriers and prejudices. But this is not enough. It is necessary to promote a spirituality of communion, so that each one feels part of the same body, with its unique personality. It is only in this way that each person, with his limits and his qualities, will feel encouraged to do his part for the good of the whole ecclesial body and for the good of the whole of society.
I wish all Christian communities to be places where “belonging” and “inclusion” are not words to be uttered on certain occasions, but become a goal of ordinary pastoral action. In this way, we can be credible when we announce that the Lord loves us all, that he is salvation for all and that he invites us all to the table of life, without exception.
I am always struck when the Lord tells the story of this man who had celebrated his son’s wedding and the guests did not come (cf. Mt 22, 1-14). He calls the servants and says, “Go to the crossroads and take everyone.” “All” says the Lord: young, old, sick, small, large, sinners and non-sinners… All, all, all! It is the Lord: all, without exception. The Church is the home of everyone, the heart of the Christian is the home of everyone, without exception. We have to learn this. We are sometimes a little tempted to go down the path of exclusion. No, inclusion. The Lord has taught us: all. “But it’s ugly, it’s this, it’s that…”. All, all. inclusion.
Dear brothers and sisters, in this time, when we hear war bulletins daily, your witness is a concrete sign of peace, a sign of hope for a more human and fraternal world, for everyone. Continue on this path! I bless you with all my heart and I pray for you. Thank you for what you do, thank you! And I ask you to pray for me. Thanks!