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Being ‘inclusive’ of those with disabilities means valuing them, pope says


VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Making churches accessible and services understandable is important, but having wheelchair ramps and sign-language interpreters is not enough for a parish to call itself “inclusive,” Pope Francis said. The church also must meet people’s needs for “belonging, relating to others and cultivating their spiritual lives so they experience the fullness and blessing of the Lord” for the “unique and marvelous gift” that they are, the pope told a group of people with disabilities and those who minister with them.

Pope Francis greets a woman at the end of an audience with people with disabilities Dec. 3, in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The pope’s meeting with the group Dec. 3 marked the International Day for Persons with Disabilities; the pope also issued a written message for the occasion.

In the meeting, Pope Francis called for the “conversion” of the Catholic community to move from using inclusion as a “slogan” to ensuring people with disabilities are welcomed, integrated, recognized and supported as full members of the community.

Inclusion, he said, means “each person, with his or her limitations and gifts, feels encouraged to do his or her part for the good of the entire ecclesial body and for the good of society as a whole.”

In his written message for the international day, Pope Francis focused on how Catholics with disabilities can teach others one of the central messages of the Gospel: human beings are need God’s love, mercy and strength. “Truly, we can speak of a ‘magisterium of fragility’ that, if heeded, would make our society more humane and fraternal, enabling all of us to understand that happiness is bread that is not eaten alone,” he said.

St. Bernadette Parish in Orchard Park will hold their annual inclusive Christmas Mass on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 7 p.m. This Mass is shorter, sensory friendly with lower lighting and softer music. Low-gluten hosts are available. All communications are a gift from God, so expressions of glory are welcome in sound, gestures and movement. There is a sensory room with rocking chairs, kneelers and open pews along with manipulative boards in the back of the church. The Mass was designed with the help of a 10-year-old girl with autism.


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