Pope Francis called for the full integration in society of people with disabilities in a message released by the Vatican this week.
The pontiff said “every person with a disability, even with complex and serious disabilities,” is a “unique contribution to the common good.”
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3 is an observance promoted by the United Nations since 1992. It was originally called “International Day of Disabled Persons” until 2007.
The observance aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.
“We renew our gaze of faith that sees in every brother and sister the presence of Christ himself, who considers every gesture of love for one of our least brothers as made for himself,” said Pope Francis in his message.
The pope highlighted the importance of inclusion and active participation for those with disabilities as he denounced the “throwaway culture,” which he said affects the most vulnerable.
In his message, the pope said “throwaway culture” is “widespread in our time like the rain, the winds and the rivers that threaten the house in the Gospel passage.”
He said that culture “affects especially the most vulnerable, among whom are persons with disabilities.”
The theme of this year’s observance is “Building Back Better: Toward a Disability-inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable post-COVID-19 World.”
“All of us are in the same boat in the midst of a turbulent sea that can frighten us. Yet in this same boat, some of us are struggling more; among them are persons with serious disabilities,” he said.
The pontiff said he found the expression “building back better” quite striking, adding that it made him think of the Gospel parable of the houses built on rock or sand.
He acknowledged the important steps that have been taken in the last 50 years, both on the civil and ecclesial levels, to promote inclusion of those “experiencing physical and psychological limitations.”
Pope Francis, however, noted that on the cultural level “much still stands in the way of this trend.”
“We see it in attitudes of rejection, due also to a narcissistic and utilitarian mentality, that give rise to marginalization that ignores the inevitable fact that frailty is part of everyone’s life,” he said.
He then stressed that importance “to promote a culture of life that constantly affirms the dignity of every person and works especially to defend men and women with disabilities, of all ages and social conditions.”
Pope Francis said the current health situation has “further highlighted the disparities and inequalities widespread in our time, particularly to the detriment of the most vulnerable.”
He said the “inclusion of the vulnerable must also entail efforts to promote their active participation.”
In the Church, the pope said he “strongly reaffirm the right of persons with disabilities to receive the sacraments, like all other members of the Church.”
“No one should be excluded from the grace of these sacraments,” he said.
“Our concern should be not only to care for them, but also to ensure their ‘active participation’ in the civil and ecclesial community,” he said.
The pope said “the active participation of people with disabilities in the work of catechesis can greatly enrich the life of the whole parish.”