DISABILITY AND GOSPELPeople with disabilities
Since the beginning the Community of Sant’Egidio was aware that the Gospel is good news for all. Thus, anyone, no matter their physical, communicative, intellectual, social, or existential impairments, can get to know Jesus and make the Gospel the centre of their life and the source of their happiness.
That is why, since the eighties, while there was still a debate within the Catholic Church about the advisability of the administration of the Sacraments to disabled people, the Community accompanied a number of people with disabilities along the process of Christian initiation. Then we discovered their profound faith, their need of knowing Jesus, praying, and living the Gospel.
Over the years, the Community worked out an original catechesis method which has been also published: the two books, ‘Gesù per amico’ (Jesus as a Friend) and ‘Il Vangelo per tutti’ (The Gospel for all), issued some years ago. These books are collections of special catechism lessons. Normally they take place on Sundays; thus, they are often related to the Sunday celebration readings from the Gospel. Taking into account everyone’s disability, yet the Word of God stays at the centre and it is thoroughly communicated in a simple manner. The Gospels themselves are the best catechesis: they tell stories and this is the best way to make Jesus known and facilitate the meeting with him.
The texts are accompanied by drawings and artistic images which help to focus all the details of the Gospel narrative and, like a modern ‘Biblia Pauperum’ (Bible for poor), they also help those who cannot read and write to remember what they listened to. The songs too, with proper music, and lyrics taken from the Gospel, accompany the path of faith. Over the year, hundreds of disabled persons received the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Baptism, Confirmation and Matrimony, after the preparation with the Community.
The meetings are oriented not only to the preparation to the Sacraments: as it is for all the Christians, the catechesis accompanies the path of faith for life and take place during the entire Liturgic Year. Jesus is our friend and he will never leave us: this statement vividly sums up the belief of many people with disabilities. Besides, it grasps a fundamental aspect of Jesus’ figure: he is the Son of God, who has revealed the fullness of the Father’s love for us. Which is friendship (see John 15:12-15). That is why the persons with disabilities who are in the Community of Sant’Egidio call themselves ‘Amici’ (Friends).
Within the Community the people with disabilities live particular charismas: joy and communicativeness. Joy springs from the awareness of being welcomed in a community, of being loved and esteemed. Frailty and weakness no longer frighten: they can be transformed in strength which enables us to open up to others and to feel sympathy towards them. That can be described through the words we find in the Acts of the Apostles, at chapter 2: the first disciples ‘enjoyed the favour of all the people’ and many added to their number.
The persons with disabilities share the Community’s love for the poorer: no one is so weak or poor that they cannot help who is poorer than them. That is the opposite of the idea that a person with a disability is only someone to be helped or assisted. Since 1984 groups of people with disabilities have been visiting some nursing homes in Rome and in other cities every week: they meet the elderly people there and celebrate with them. Others have been visiting disabled people who are cared in nursing homes, especially during Christmas season and summer. Many of them give their contributions to DREAM Programme for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS patients in Africa selling the works they make in the Art Workshops of the Community. There are also groups who prepare sandwiches and hot drinks and go distribute them to homeless people. Others have committed themselves to the campaign against the death penalty and are in correspondence with people under a death sentence.