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Everyone has a place
Sport and disabilities: the initiatives of the Catholic Church of England and Wales
On the eve of the Olympic games, the Catholic Church held a conference and a day dedicated to disabilities. The purpose is to show, with the words of John Paul II, that “the body has the ability to reveal the true mystery of God”. The Paralympics, scheduled to take place in London, from August 29 through September 9, with the motto, “Spirit in motion”, are a visible sign that goes against the mainstream. Silvia Guzzetti, interviewed for SIR Europe Cristina Gangemi, consultant of the Catholic Church of England and Wales on themes regarding disabilities, who focused on the promotion of a new space for the disabled in the Church.
You described the Paralympics as a “Christological event”. What does it mean?
“The Paralympics do precisely what Christ wants us to do, namely, to see a person regardless of his/her human shape in all his/her potential within a human society whereby disabilities cease to exist. The Paralympics stage the theology of the body of John Paul II who was a great sportsman. He was always in good shape, also owing to his firm discipline, and allowed his spirit to guide him in sport. He also showed, having personally experienced physical disability, that there is a continuity linking health and disease and the body must always be respected and honoured. With ‘Gaudium et Spes’ he read the signs of the times as he undertook a theology of disability”.
Since February you have been appointed consultant of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales on the theme of disability, and on the eve of the Olympic games, due to begin on July 27, a conference dedicated to the disabled, took place in the centre of London at the Methodist “Westminster Hall”.
“The meeting titled ‘Everybody has a place’, was attended by renowned Theology of Disability scholars along with Paralympics athletes. We want to put them into contact, so that they may promote a new way of approaching people with disabilities, thus going beyond the traditional approach based on piety, which focuses on the vulnerability of the disabled. The testimony of the Knights of Saint Colombano was very interesting. They organized a football game to help the children of Haiti who survived the hurricane to recover their social status. Many of them were left with physical disabilities and through the game they were considered important in their village and in their hometowns, which replaced their negative self-perception caused by the loss of an arm or a leg. Pia Matthews, scholar of the Theology of the Body of John Paul II highlighted that this Theology refers not only to the experience of the Paralympics but also of the every day experience of ordinary people”.
Sunday July 8 in Aylesford, a Carmelitan monastery in the diocese of Southwark, in the Kent countee, held a day dedicated to disabilities.
“It’s organized every year by the archdiocese of Southwark, for which I worked, preparing priests and catechists in the support to people with disabilities. This year 800 to 900 people arrived from all over the Country, half of whom were disabled, along with Paralympic athletes. However, we don’t want to focus on handicaps, but on the human person in his diversity. We spent two days, past February, praying the ‘lectio divina’ with people with intellectual disabilities, using symbols and images to which is linked the theme of the day: ‘Now it is time to be friends’”.
What did you do?
“People with disabilities coordinated the day. There were sport and artistic activities, music, prayers, and a final Mass. Ecumenical organisations such as ‘Premier Christian Radio’, ‘The Torch Trust’, ‘More than gold’, ‘Churches for all’, ‘Faith and light’, took part in the event. We seized the opportunity to thank Jean Vanier, founder of ‘L’Arche’, who greatly inspired our own work. We will invite everyone to write a message for him on a poster. At the end of the day, after the Mass, we presented the poster to two people who live in ‘L’Arche’. At the end of the year, with John Swinton, one of the most important experts in the theology of disability, we will bring the poster in France to Jean Vanier”.