This past November marked the 40th anniversary of the 1978 Pastoral Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, and the National Catholic Partnership on Disability recently issued a Resolution of Affirmation and Commitment to this pastoral statement entitled “A Call to Encounter and to Wholeness.” This pastoral statement then and continues today to remind us of our call from Jesus to embrace with him persons we often fail to recognize as our brothers and sisters. Sacred Scripture tells us time and again of Christ’s special concern to proclaim the Good News to persons who were marginalized in their society due to physical or mental impairment, illness or other disabling bodily conditions.
This pastoral statement issued a call to all the faithful for a reexamination of attitude, for a renewed commitment to ensure the well-being of persons with disabilities, and for concrete steps to safeguard the full integration and meaningful participation of persons with disabilities into the life of the church. It set forth guidelines, principles and practices for ministers at the parish and diocesan levels to ensure that there never be the presumption that those with disabilities are not one with the parish, so as to never undermine the integrity and communion of the parish community.
This celebration of the pastoral statement comes also in a time that we have lost our former president, George H.W. Bush. Throughout the remembrances of his presidency, we have been reminded of the landmark legislation that he signed into law 12 years after this, in 1990, called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This legislation prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. It dissolved all physical barriers for those with disabilities to gain easy access to buildings and it gave those with disabilities the rights of all workers to no longer be denied jobs based solely on the limitations of their physical abilities. Workplace reasonable accommodations and adaptations would now be required to provide otherwise qualified individuals with the opportunity to perform essential work functions similar to others without a disability.
Both of these landmark documents opened the doors of spiritual, vocational and social opportunity for so many persons with disabilities.
Today the Catholic Church of South Jersey strives to continue to respond to this call by our bishops through the efforts of many in our parishes and through our Ministries for the Deaf and Disabled as part of VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services. Through programs of catechesis and sacramental preparation, along with the support and promotion of the expansion of Masses of inclusion throughout the diocese, we fully realize that when persons with disabilities and their families are not present, the Catholic community experiences a loss, and that no parish community is healthy and flourishing if it does not welcome persons with disabilities. We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that persons with disabilities increasingly experience a sense of belonging and welcome in the parish, diocese and church at large.
In the months to come, VITALity is committed to raise awareness throughout the diocese and advocate for persons with disabilities through communication, education, prayer and a firm resolve to promulgate more Masses of inclusion throughout the diocese. We continue to expand our outreach efforts to assist those with disabilities feel welcome within their parish communities and experience the appropriate and enriching sacramental preparation that is the core of a Christian life. We will continue to seek out opportunities for social engagement and gathering that can lighten the burden of dependency and allow the person to emerge and grow as a social being, renewing the joy and happiness that human fellowship brings. To welcome them fully into all aspects of parish life.
VITALity nurses and social workers continue to work with families with children with disabilities to assist also in their medical care coordination and through the transitions of care as they age out of the educational system. They provide the necessary assistance to help them emerge into the vocational realm of their lives, seeking more independence in living with the appropriate support and financial services from the state and other sources.
In the weeks to come, as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas and ready ourselves to enter a new year, let’s all take time to recognize our need to fully embrace those with physical and mental abilities that may be lacking or challenged and find the fire of enthusiasm to welcome them into the full life of our parishes. Let’s leave no door locked that could exclude any one of God’s children from joining our worship and finding the joy and love that emerges from our parish life. Let’s be sure that we share the gift of parish life with all our brothers and sisters, regardless of their physical or mental abilities.
For the full text of the Pastoral Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities and for a listing of parishes offering Masses of inclusion and those with ASL Interpreted Masses, visit www.vitality.camdendiocese.org/disabiliies
For information about our Care Coordination services, call 1-888-26 VITALity (1-888-268-4825).
Deacon Jerry Jablonowski is executive director, VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, Diocese of Camden.