Jesus chose people with disabilities as some of his earliest witnesses. Since the time of Jesus, the Catholic Church has considered people with disabilities to be integral to the Church. Contemporary Catholic leaders continue to teach that baptism transforms all Catholics into equal and precious instruments of God.As the 1995 National Conference of Catholic Bishops states in its Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Person with Disabilities,"By reason of their baptism, all Catholics are equal in dignity in the sight of God, and have the same divine calling. Pope Francis recently asserted, “And with the grace of Baptism and of Eucharistic Communion I can become an instrument of God’s mercy, of that beautiful mercy of God.” (4/1/13)
The importance of people with disabilities is clearly expressed in 1978, 1989 and 1995 Statements published by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It is essential that all forms of the liturgy be completely accessible to persons with disabilities...", asserts the 1978 Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities."The place of Catholics with disabilities within the Church was further emphasized when, in 1989, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops revised its earlier statement. This document explicitly confirms that people with disabilities have the right of access to sacred sacraments. These sacraments include Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion (Eucharist), Reconciliation (Penance/Confession), Confirmation, Holy Orders, Marriage (Holy Matrimony) and Anointing of the Sick (Last Rites/Extreme Unction). The 1995 "Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with People with Disabilities", affirms the centrality of attitude to meaningful inclusion when it observes that, "The creation of a fully accessible parish reaches beyond mere physical accommodation to encompass the attitudes of all parishioners towards persons with disabilities."
The Catholic Church recognizes that authentic access within its religious community involves much more than ramps leading to parish buildings. Pastoral ministers are instructed to personally reach out to people with disabilities who live within the parish’s boundaries. Special efforts are encouraged in creating relationships with people who cannot leave their family home, and those who live in group homes and institutional settings. Church leaders are instructed to develop programs that will foster the spiritual, mental, intellectual and physical welfare of the entire community and to encourage bonds that sustain all members.
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