Pope Francis during the audience in the Vatican on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities Pope Francis during the audience in the Vatican on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities 

Pope: Inclusion of disabled people must not remain a slogan

Pope Francis welcomes a group of disabled people on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and says that by promoting the dignity and inclusion of all, the Church fulfills its prophetic mission.

By Lisa Zengarini

“Welcoming people with disabilities and responding to their needs is a duty of the civil and ecclesial communities," Pope Francis said during an audience on Saturday with a group of disabled people from Italy in the Vatican on the occasion of the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which is celebrated on December 3.

A constant responsibility of the Church

The Pope started his address by expressing appreciation for the ongoing commitment of Church communities in Italy to keeping the attention focused on disabled people, noting that  “promoting recognition of the dignity of every person is a constant responsibility of the Church”.

He recalled that this was God's gaze on the people he met: “a gaze of tenderness and mercy above all for those who were excluded”. “For this reason – he said  - every time the Christian community transforms indifference into proximity, and exclusion into belonging, it fulfills its prophetic mission”.

Indeed, he explained, to defend people's rights is not enough.

“Every man and every woman, in whatever condition they find themselves, is the bearer not only of rights that must be recognized and guaranteed, but also of even deeper needs, such as the need to belong, to relate and to cultivate his/her spiritual life to so as to experience it to its fullness and bless the Lord for this unique and wonderful gift.”

Making disabled people feel they belong somewhere

Generating and supporting inclusive communities therefore “means eliminating all discrimination and concretely satisfying the need of every person to feel recognized and to feel part” of them.

This implies not only guaranteeing people with disabilities access to buildings and meeting places, making languages accessible and overcoming physical barriers and prejudices, but also promoting “a spirituality of communion, so that everyone feels part of a body, with its unrepeatable personality”.

“There is no inclusion if the experience of fraternity and mutual communion is missing. There is no inclusion if it remains a slogan, a formula to be used in politically correct speeches, a flag. There is no inclusion if there is no conversion in the practices of coexistence and relationships.”

No one excluded

Bringing his address to an end, Pope Francis, therefore, expressed his wish that  "belonging" and "inclusion", become “an objective of ordinary pastoral action” and not just empty words. “In this way we will be able to be credible when we proclaim that the Lord loves everyone, that he is salvation for everyone and invites everyone to the table of life, no one excluded”.

Concluding the Pope encouraged Christian communities in their work for people with disabilities, saying their testimony is a concrete sign of peace and hope for a more humane and fraternal world in these times of war.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities 

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) was established by the UN in 1992  to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.

The theme chosen for 2022 is “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world”, with a focus on three aspects:  employment, reducing inequality and development.  

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03 December 2022, 12:12