Living Fully 2016 - Disability, Culture, Practice and Faith
The conference in Rome, Living Fully 2016 - Disability, Culture, Practice and Faith was attended by people from around the world: individuals and families living with disabilities, service providers, clergy, lay pastoral ministers and theologians. The premise, purpose and proposition of the event is that disability is part of being human and that persons with disabilities are each a person first, not “special” or different. This does not diminish the struggle that comes with disability in life, but it does remove the medical language that defines it as a condition to be diagnosed and cured. The Archdiocese of Newark was represented by myself and Mary Beth Walsh with her son Ben and husband John, with Mary Beth and I presenting as well.
In “Don't Worry, He's in a Perpetual State of Grace!" I challenged sentimental stereotypes of persons with disabilities that undermine relationship and participation, as well as increase a sense of isolation for individuals and families living with disabilities. For inspiration I suggested looking to the model of Jesus, where accounts of transformation occurred within individual encounters. So we should focus on the person before us, getting to know the person, which includes learning about his her gifts as well as support needs. Further, utilizing evidence-based practices facilitates this and participation.
In “Autism, Culture, Church: From Disruption to Hope,” Mary Beth pointed out that experiences of autism often contradict the sentimental view of individuals with disabilities and acknowledged that the experience of disability is varied, can be messy and raises challenging questions of faith for individuals, parents, families and the Church. As a Church we need to respond in actions of love and welcome, even if we do not have words for the answers.
In “Taking Ben to Church: Lessons Learned,” Mary Beth shared her family’s experience of acceptance and affirmation at their parish, St. Joseph Church in Maplewood, NJ. From the children, to the person in the pew to the parish leadership, she felt that difference is valued and affirmed
I facilitated group conversation on some of the presentations through the lens of Jesus challenging structures of status quo, as reflected in Mark 2: 1-12. This is the story of the friends who take off the roof of the home where Jesus was staying, digging through it and lowering their friend who was paralyzed through the hole created to meet Jesus. Though this is often considered a story of healing, it is primarily a story of conflict which challenged existing power structures, and also affirmed the power of the faith of the friends.
There were many wonderful presentations, but one in particular by Liam Waldron, “Living Fully: The Challenge of Loneliness,” pointed out that loneliness is a universal human experience, one that is often magnified for individuals and families living with disability. A memorable quote from his presentation for me is, “Loneliness persists where love is absent. Yet, love is not invented every day, but built through the patterns developed over time.” The implication is clear, as a Church, universal and within each parish, we need to think of how we can respond to this real need.
There was further US presence by Jan and Martin Benton (NCPD), Sr. Kathleen Schipani (Archdiocese of Philadelphia and President of NCPD Board), Maggie Rousseau (Archdioceses of Atlanta) and Mary O’Meara and her husband Terry (Archdiocese of Washington DC). US sponsors for the event were Our Sunday Visitor, NCPD, Loyola Press, Friendship Ministries and the Jack Del Rio Foundation.
It was an inspiring week of possibilities that I hope we can continue to carry forward here. Prayers from families in the archdiocese were forwarded to Pope Francis along with the prayers from our liturgies in Rome. It was difficult to say good-bye after four great days together. The last day of the conference everyone was together to reflect on the past few days and identify what each of us would like to take back to our local church, as well as what we wanted to suggest to the universal Church. This included individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, clergy, religious and lay pastoral ministers, family members, theologians and service providers. A striking petition from closing prayer one day, “A quest for participation is not enough, we will be taught by one another.” May it be so, that we are all are living fully in the Body of Christ.
Please see photos below to capture some of what transpired.
Also, the links below shares coverage by Rome Reports, in English and Spanish. http://www.romereports.com/2016/07/05/three-day-living-fully-2016-conference-in-rome-celebrates-human-life-and-the-disabled ￼ Three-day Living Fully 2016 conference in Rome celebrates ... www.romereports.com July 12, 2016. Pope Francis sent a telegram with his condolences for the victims of the train accident that occurred in southern Italy. The Pope says he shares the ...