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People with disabilities called to become the new Catechists

1 December 2017 | General Interest

Pope Francis has called on people with disabilities to become Catechists in their communities at a major international gathering in the Vatican.

The Pope was speaking at a landmark conference, “Catechesis and Persons with Disabilities: A Necessary Engagement in the Daily Pastoral Life of the Church”, which was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.

The event brought together 450 delegates from around the world including people with disabilities, Church leaders, theologians and disability advocates.

In his message at the conference, Pope Francis said the Church could not afford to be “voiceless” or “tone-deaf” in defending and promoting people with disabilities.

He also strongly criticised the “narcissistic and utilitarian” view that fails to recognise the “human and spiritual wealth” that people with disabilities possess and are ready to offer.

Zachariah Duke with Pope Francis
BBI-TAITE's Associate Dean, Dr Zachariah Duke, meeting Pope Francis
(Photo by Bishop Peter A Comensoli)

Australia was represented at the conference by the Bishop of Broken Bay, Most Rev Peter A. Comensoli and one of the nation’s leading researchers in the theology of disability, Dr Zachariah Duke, the Associate Dean at BBI-The Australian Institute of Theological Education.

The conference was a unique opportunity for not only Catholics, but also people from other Christian traditions engaged in this important ministry to network, share resources and discuss some of their common challenges in a supportive atmosphere.

Dr Duke said one of the highlights of the two day conference was Pope Francis’ address and his personal meeting with all those present at the event.

“It was truly inspirational to hear the Pope’s message where he went as far as saying that our Church would be enriched by having people with disabilities as Catechists within the Catholic Church”, Dr Duke explained.

“It was remarkable to watch Pope Francis then spend an hour and a half personally meeting each delegate at the conference, engaging in dialogue with each of them”, he added.

Bishop Comensoli presented a paper at the conference, entitled Celebration of the Christian Mystery: Sacraments as precious occasions for Catechesis, drawing significantly upon a book he is publishing on the theology of disability early next year, In God’s Image.

Dr Duke also presented insights on disability in the Catholic Church in Australia and had the special honour of presenting Pope Francis with a copy of his recently completed doctoral thesis and some uniquely Australian gifts, including a packet of Tim Tams and kangaroo and koala figurines.

“It can sometimes feel quite isolating in Australia, separated from some of the great international thinkers in this area in Europe and so this event was a very rewarding experience”, Dr Duke added.

“The Pope has shown tremendous leadership in this area, which is indeed a reflection of his broader message, calling on people of faith to go to the peripheries of societies, because sadly people with disabilities are still living very much on the peripheries within our Church”.

Dr Duke said he hopes to see stronger representation at future Vatican conferences from persons with disabilities and disability advocates from across the Asia-Pacific region.

“While there were over 20 countries represented at the conference, there are some sections of the world, particularly across Asia, that we are yet to fully tap into and I hope we can ensure more of these countries are represented next time”, he added.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation is planning on making this global conference a biennial event.

(article re-published with permission from Broken Bay News)

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