Just Gospel: Pope Francis Prays for People with Disabilities

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

December 02, 2023

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ December Prayer Intention “that people with disabilities may be the center of attention in society, and that institutions may offer inclusion programs that value their active participation.” The ‘Just Gospel’ blog post each month reflects on Pope Francis’ Prayer Intention and includes any other specific focus of our religious community for the year.

December certainly makes us mindful of Advent and the coming of Christmas.  How many of the season’s touching stories or movies contain the trials of a child or neglected adult who is lame or blind or slow to understand?  Yet our hearts can’t be opened to such plights merely one month out of the year.  Pope Francis focuses his intention this month on those with disabilities challenging us as follows: Let us pray that people with disabilities may be at the center of attention in society, and that institutions may offer inclusion programs that value their active participation.

In December of 2022, Pope Francis said, “Supporting inclusive communities means eliminating all discrimination and concretely satisfying the need of every person to feel recognized and to feel part of a group.  This implies not only guaranteeing people with disabilities access to buildings and meeting places, making languages accessible and overcoming physical barriers and prejudices, but also promoting “a spirituality of communion, so that everyone feels part of a body, with its unrepeatable personality.”

This is a challenge that we don’t often consider.  We look to provide for those structural or educational changes that will be of help to those with special needs, but we often fail to see how despite the ramp we’ve built or the mentors we’ve provided, we have failed to see this part of the human family as brother or sister.  We see their differences and often justify various ways of setting them apart. 

The Holy Father goes on to say, All of us, as the Apostle Paul would say, hold the treasure of life in earthen vessels. Everyone, apart from any merit or distinction, has received the Gospel in its entirety and, with this, the joyful task of proclaiming it. All of us are called to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord, who despite our imperfections offers us his closeness, his word and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives. Sharing the Gospel, in fact, is not a duty entrusted only to some, but an absolute necessity for all those who have encountered Jesus and enjoyed his friendship.  We may think that those with special needs are not capable of evangelizing, that they need others to take that role for them.  This is not operating out an inclusive mindset.  Years ago I was blessed with the opportunity to help Sister Mary Bodwin’s sister, Dorothy with a retreat day for special needs children preparing for their First Communion.  She was especially gifted in the way she related to those children and when I expressed this she said, I believe that God created every person for a purpose.  These children’s purpose is to teach the rest of us how to love.  I’ve never forgotten those words spoken from a faith-full heart.  Dorothy surely lived the Pope’s message!

In an article entitled Overcome:  Keeping Faith With a Disability, Sarah Bailey, who suffers from cerebral palsy and a spinal cord injury writes, If you are a faithful Catholic person with a disability, you may experience heartbreak. You may find it difficult to hear the Gospel stories about healing and think why can’t I have that healing in my life. A person’s sympathetic touch as they pass you in the communion line may make you angry. You just want to be treated like everyone else. If the hymn book is beyond your reach, you may not be able to sing along at Mass. Yet people who are disabled want to participate in their life of faith fully. I have learned we are fearfully and wonderfully made. God has a plan and purpose for us that encompasses the call to holiness. There is much for us to consider in hearing such an honest portrayal of the Church experience of one whose life carries disabilities.

As we daily pray for Pope Francis’ intention during December, let us also be mindful of the fact that International Day of Persons with Disabilities is celebrated on December 3.  This might be a good day to check out the website given below to read some stories of faithful Catholics who live with challenges every day.  Their stories may inspire us to honor them for their courage and to support them with our acceptance and prayer.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which is celebrated on December 3.

Catholics with disabilities vital to the life of the Church – Arkansas Catholic – July 14, 2018 (arkansas-catholic.org)


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