ARCHDIOCESE OF MELBOURNE REPORT: BY Denis Fitzgerald
Advent is a time of yearning to see the presence of Jesus in our world. As Christians, love of neighbour is one of the ways in which we are called to give witness to this presence.
This has a parish dimension as well as a personal one. As Bishop Peter Elliott put it in a recent letter to Australian parishes: “We are challenged and called to be a loving, compassionate and inclusive community – to be truly ‘One Body in Christ’.”
Who is our neighbour? We know from the parable of the Good Samaritan, and from two thousand years of action and reflection on Christ’s teaching, that we are called to continually extend our reach, to include as our neighbour both those who are close to us and those with whom we may not immediately be comfortable; as the saints have done through the ages, and as so many strive to do today.
It is a challenge in our parishes and communities to ensure that all people are included in the life of the Church: those new to our area; people who are shy, or who do not communicate readily; people different from ourselves – older, younger, richer, poorer. Our time is limited, as is our energy. And there are people who we do want to catch up with. How can we get around to everyone?
This challenge cannot be met by any one of us, but it cannot be met without us. A parish or community endeavour is called for, involving many individuals in a concerted way. (See boxed text below).
Another dimension to our engagement can be as part of the broader political community.
Work continues towards the development in Australia of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. This broad proposal would establish a national scheme to tackle the individualised needs of Australians who have a permanent disability. The recommendations being worked on by governments at Commonwealth and state level would greatly increase the quality of care and of support for those who care for them.
Popular support is also necessary. A report earlier this year from the Productivity Commission considered that there would be positive long-run economic benefits from such a scheme, but that it would require that we double our current public spending on disability support.
Individuals, parishes and other groups can express their support for these developments through the website www.everyaustraliancounts.com.au
Denis Fitzgerald is Executive Director of Catholic Social Services Victoria.
Each of us as individuals and members of parishes is called on to promote and recognise the gifts and lives of people with disability, as part of our broad response to the Gospel call: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me” (Matt 25:40).
Disability is a major factor in the lives of many Australians. There are 350,000 people in Australia who have a permanent disability, and rely on others for care, mobility or communication. About 550,000 people are primary carers of people with disabilities.
Since 1992, the United Nations has promoted 3 December as International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The observance of the day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities. It seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
The Church in Australia has regularly drawn this day to the attention of parishes, and has provided resource material to assist parish communities to engage more effectively with their members who have disabilities. It reminds us that many people with disability are participating fully in their parish communities. But it also reminds us that this is not always the case, and it seeks to increase awareness of gains to be made.
In 2011, the material provided by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference includes a booklet, Reflection and Response: Welcoming People with Disability. The booklet speaks to us in various ways. By reminding us of te scriptural setting: “‘Just as each of us has various parts in one body, and the parts do not all have the same function: in the same way, all of us, though there are so many of us, make up one body in Christ, and as different parts we are all joined to one another’ (Rom 12; 4-6).”
By drawing out some of the implications of this: “Parish communities need every person to be part of the worshipping body. A parish is not complete or whole unless it includes, nurtures and rejoices in each of its members.” And by providing a set of prayer cards and support material to assist parishes in creating accessible communities.
A complementary series of checklists challenges us in the areas of:
- Hospitality and relationships
- Sensory access
- Resource access
- Buildings and physical access.
For information on support materials: www.css.org.au
Kairos Catholic Journal Volume 22, Issue 22