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Let’s celebrate ability – not disability – on this special Sunday

Ben Bano describes some of the ways in which we can enable people with disabilities to contribute to the life of our parish and family communities, in an article to mark Ability Sunday

Enabled or disabled – that’s the question posed on Ability Sunday this year as Church communities are invited to consider how they work with the abilities of people with a disability, rather than on focusing just on what they are unable to do.

In our approach to our views on people with diminishments we are reminded of our Christian obligation to be alongside them in their needs. But we need to remember that in each person with a diminishment there is a person with an ability that we need to understand and recognise, even though this can be difficult at times.

In our Church communities there is sometimes a risk that by labelling some less able people as sick – for example in the provision of the Sacrament of the Sick – we need to recognise that there is nearly always a potential and a degree of strength despite the state of sickness or disability.

Our parish communities need to be alert to the potential of those who suffer in mind as well as body. There is sometimes a degree of reluctance to recognise the potential contribution as well as the needs of people with mental health issues, who may then feel a sense of alienation. But a simple invitation to assist in the provision of refreshments or use their skills in other ways can help someone to feel valued and aid the process of rehabilitation.

Teilhard de Chardin described the ‘divinisation of our passivities’ in Le Milieu Divin. By this phrase he meant not just the ability to draw closer to God in our disability but to be an active presence of Gods love in our families and our communities. How can we achieve this in a parish setting?

Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, was convinced that we are not just helpers of someone with a disability; rather, we share in their journey and through this we receive a particular privilege in being in God’s presence.

This Sunday is a good opportunity for our parish community to begin or continue the process of discernment as to how we may use the gifts of people with disabilities present among us. It is often helpful to work through some of the potential barriers to participation of people with disabilities.

For example, what provision do we make for wheelchairs and scooters in our church? Many people in wheelchairs or scooters with a contribution to make may be excluded because of a lack of access to the sanctuary or the pulpit.

How might it be possible to include someone with a disability in being a reader at Mass or a eucharistic minister?

So let’s use this Sunday to explore ways of becoming a more inclusive and empowering parish community. This is really the Lord’s work in every sense.

• Today, Sunday, 8th September, marks Ability Sunday

Ben Bano is director of Welcome Me as I Am, which promotes mental health and Dementia awareness in parish communities

Picture: The founder of L’Arche movement, Jean Vanier. (CNS).