The groundbreaking international disability event Living Fully 2016, of which the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture was a co-patron, concluded in Rome on 26 June with a closing address from Bishop Paul Hendricks, an Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Southwark.
The ecumenical conference was attended by experts and delegates from around the world – of all abilities – and culminated in a brainstorming session entitled “A Charter for the Church”.
The experience of many at the conference was that the wider church, at best, struggles to include people with disabilities and that our society has much to do to foster communities of belonging – a key theme of the conference.
Bishop Hendricks’ address highlighted that the shared encounter and discussions experienced by delegates over the three days had been a joyful and enlightening time.
He stressed that we need to “stop assuming and start listening” in order to better understand the perspectives of those looking for greater inclusion. He gave a positive example through his own experiences – structuring preparation for First Holy Communion for people of all abilities.
“Teachers found that making the lessons accessible for everyone made it better for all the children. They all learned more and understood better the Mass and Holy Communion.”
Bishop Hendricks also emphasised the importance of friendship and gave a Scriptural example – the story of the paralysed man being lowered from the roof by his friends. Remembering that we all have something to give, he cited Pope Francis’ recent comments that the Church is for “everybody or nobody.”
Cristina Gangemi, director of both Living Fully 2016 and The Kairos Forum, closed the conference with a call to action for the Church to work tirelessly towards forming communities of belonging for people of all abilities.
Visit the website for the Living Fully 2016 event.
Visit the website for The Kairos Forum