Reaching out

Appreciation, not obligation, should be the basis of our inclusion

Tom Racunas is the lead consultant for the archdiocesan special-needs ministry. He can be reached by email at:

by Tom Racunas

Do you ever have those moments when you feel like you are taking steps forward toward a goal, all is going well, and then, all of a sudden, something happens that forces you to take at least one step back? 

I had one of those moments recently when I read the message of our Holy Father for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

In this beautiful but challenging letter, Pope Francis says: “Great progress has been made toward people with disabilities in the medical and welfare fields, but still today we can see the presence of the culture of waste and many of them feel that they exist without belonging and without participating.

“We need to care for and accompany people with disabilities in every condition of life . . . taking on situations of marginalization with strength and tenderness; making way with them and ‘anointing them’ with dignity for an active participation in the civil and ecclesial community. . . .

“We are called to recognize in every person with disabilities, even complex and serious disabilities, a unique contribution to the common good through their original life stories.” 

He goes on to say that “making good laws and breaking down barriers is important, but it is not enough if the mentality does not change as well, if we do not overcome a widespread culture that continues to produce inequalities, preventing people with disabilities from actively participating in ordinary life. . . . In order to build themselves, people with disabilities not only need to exist but they also need to belong to a community.”

Many good works are happening in our archdiocese. Most parish facilities are accessible. More and more children with disabilities are being prepared to receive the sacraments. (A special thanks to iCare ministries which greatly helps in this effort.)

 There are parish advocates in 23 of our largest parishes so that a person with a disability or their family has a contact to help them access parish life.

Parishes are recognizing that people with mental illness and their families need their support. Fully Alive, which recently launched with the series, “There is hope for you and your loved ones after death by suicide,” is an initiative to help all of us grow stronger in mind, body and spirit. This is progress!

Here is my one step back: There is no progress if our mentality is formed by pity or obligation. Our hearts must be enflamed! 

Our actions must proclaim that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Everyone must be secure in their sense of belonging. We are not there yet.

May God give us the grace to make it so!

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Tom Racunas

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