From the Xavier Ability Ministry
by Kathleen Friel
In one of my favorite Gospels of the Lenten season, Jesus encounters a man who had been blind since birth. Although the story took place 2,000 years ago, Jesus’ examples have much to teach us about the challenges that many persons with disabilities face even today.
When Jesus and his disciples encounter the man born blind, the disciples assume that blindness had been caused by sin, either on the part of the man, or his parents. Jesus immediately corrected them, explaining that disability is not a result of sin. Even today, many cultures assume that if a person is born with a disability, or if they acquire one later in life, it must have something to do with the moral status of the person. Even in our friendly city, I, as a woman with cerebral palsy, am often approached by people seeking to “cure” me with prayers, blessed oils, or odd-smelling potions that will cleanse my soul and help me walk better.
The situation is far more dire for many. In many families – even some in the United States – persons with disabilities bring shame to parents. During this year, our parish is focusing on the terrible problem of human trafficking. I encourage us all to remember and pray for one of the most vulnerable groups: persons with disabilities.
In 2012, the US State Department Trafficking in Person report urged greater awareness of this dangerous problem. “Persons with disabilities remain one of the groups most at risk of being trafficked. Due to disability-based discrimination and exclusion common in many places, however, governments often ignore this risk factor or fail to make provisions for persons with disabilities as part of anti-trafficking efforts.” The most recent US crime statistics show that persons with disabilities are approximately four times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than persons without a disability. Under-reporting of incidents and lack of responsiveness from law enforcement can hamper the protection of persons with disabilities, according to the US Department of Justice.
How can we, at the Church of St. Francis Xavier, make even a small change? We follow the example of Jesus. Jesus restored sight to the man born blind. Jesus encouraged the man to speak for himself. Jesus assured the nay-sayers that blindness is not a result of sin. Jesus encouraged inclusion, acceptance, and empowerment of all.
From its beginnings, the Church of St. Francis Xavier has been a strong voice for justice and inclusion. On December 9, 1894, a Pontifical Mass was held at Xavier. The Xavier Deaf-Mute Union, numbering more than 400 members, hosted a reception for Pope Leo XIII’s representatives, purported to be, ”the most unique affair that the Papal Delegation has attended in this country.” (New York Times, 12/10/1894)
Persons with disabilities have been an active presence at Xavier for more than 100 years. Over the years, they have served as presiders, pastoral council members, choir members, retreat directors, liturgical ministers, and catechists. But still, there can be challenges. All should be welcome, always. By following Jesus’ example and allowing our own eyes to be further opened, we can make the world more welcoming, just, and accepting toward persons with disabilities.