Speech of the Undersecretary of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, Gabriella Gambino, at the Second Meeting of the Heads of the Episcopal Conferences for the Pastoral Care of Persons with Disabilities (Rome, December 6, 2022)
We have with us here today those responsible for 15 Episcopal Conferences, who for some time now have initiated in their geographical contexts a systematized effort specifically dedicated to persons with disabilities in the pastoral care of the Church. A work of great importance, because if it is true - as we read in the introduction of the document delivered to the Holy Father last September by some persons with disabilities in the framework of the synodal process organized by our Dicastery and the General Secretariat of the Synod - that "the Lord has assumed in himself everything, but truly everything that belongs to concrete and historical humanity, in all its possible declensions, [....including disability", the Church's dedication and openness to persons with disabilities is necessary for a Church that seeks to be concretely united, aware of itself, of its own richness and potential.
Every baptized person, however great or small, in whatever condition, with his or her own life has received from God an extraordinary mission to fulfill. The lay faithful, "by their baptism," I quote again from the introduction to the Synodal document, "made sharers, in their own way, in the priestly, prophetic and kingly function of Christ, exercise in the Church and in the world the mission of the whole Christian people. There they are called by God to contribute ... to the sanctification of the world ... and thus to make Christ manifest to others, primarily by the witness of their lives". I am thinking, at this moment, not only of those who have disabilities, and who can still participate actively in the life of the Church, but also, in particular, of those families in which the birth of a severely disabled child is announced, in many cases a child with a terminal disability, who has no voice and will not be able to participate in the active life of the Church. Or to the countless families who accompany a child, a spouse, a severely disabled parent on their existential journey. The very life of these people is a voice of God's infinite love and manifests Christ to the world. Not in words or in theory, but concretely they participate in the communion of the Church by their life, by their being among us.
The recent synodal journey in which a small group of people with disabilities was able to participate, as well as the campaigns that our Dicastery has been promoting for the past two years to awaken and root a pastoral care of people with disabilities, protagonists and co-responsible in the particular Churches, have contributed to highlighting this fundamental aspect.
It is a magisterium of fragility - as Pope Francis defined it on the recent International Day of Persons with Disabilities - that wisely reminds us of a condition inscribed in our human nature, since fragility is our common anthropological condition, which affects each and every one of us and not them.
This is why it is important that those who have the gift of awareness of our common frailty also speak out for the most fragile who cannot express themselves, for those whom the "throwaway culture" continues to marginalize and discard: I am thinking, once again, of the youngest children and their families, of children waiting to be born with serious disabilities, but also of children with disabilities who do not have the warmth of a family and need to be welcomed by an adoptive mother and father who care for them. I think of those who are not autonomous, those who cannot interact with the outside world, who need constant care, but who are part of the Church, to whom a message or a visit of hope and joy can be sent. I think of their families, who need to feel supported, not only materially, but also spiritually: competent and diligent ways of spiritual accompaniment are also needed for them, not only solidarity.
In fact, the pastoral care of persons with disabilities cannot be alien to family pastoral care. Both because in many geographical contexts of the world, families need pedagogical accompaniment to learn how to welcome and accompany their children, parents, spouses and siblings with disabilities, and because they often need spiritual support and pastoral care in which they too can feel protagonists, so as not to be passive recipients of services decided elsewhere.
As has been repeatedly emphasized in the course of the "Amoris Laetitia" Year of the Family, families - I am thinking in particular of families in which a person with a disability is present - are the nucleus of the Church, they are a pastoral subject. In some contexts, the Church's attention is directed to families with rather generic looks and ways of approach, when a person with a disability is present in them; therefore, it would be desirable to become aware that the pastoral subjects, in these cases, are two: on the one hand, persons with disabilities, as baptized lay faithful; on the other, the families who care for them. Rebalancing the Church's gaze on these two personal realities is necessary for an integrated and integral commitment, in order to develop the pastoral care of persons with disabilities in a unified way with respect to the needs and potentialities that it is capable of valuing.
Thank you, then, to each of you, to all those who are committed to the pastoral care of persons with disabilities in a synodal period that is not destined to end with the synod, but to open up to the future, to continue to leave significant traces of a capacity to listen and to put into practice a pastoral care that enables us to walk together in the Church.
In these terms, I am not sure that the word inclusion, in reference to the involvement and recognition of the irreplaceable role of persons with disabilities in the Church, is the most appropriate. In fact, beyond its effectiveness in the face of exclusion, if etymologically include means "to close within," perhaps it would be better to get used, in certain contexts, to the words participation, communion and mission, exactly as the title of the synodal journey proposed to us by Pope Francis envisages, to which I would add the term co-responsibility. Because participation, co-responsibility, communion and mission imply an openness, and not an enclosure in themselves; an encouragement in the Church to evangelize the world, to announce with the very life of baptized believers with disabilities - at any stage, age or condition - the Love of God, the joy of having been loved and created, and of having an eternal destiny. To participate is to feel co-responsible for building together the future of the Church, with our eyes open to the world.
Romana, n. 75, July-December 2022, p. 167-169.