"5. Parish liturgical celebrations and catechetical programs should be accessbile to persons with disabilities and open to their full, active and conscious participation, according to their capacity."
Accessiblity and participation.
Accessibility is much more than wheelchair access or handicapped parking spots. Today, virtually any new, public, building will have many accessibility aspects nailed down because it is the law. However, accessibility is much more than that. If I have chairs in my auditorium, does that mean I am willing to accept any person who sits in those chairs? Hardly.
Accessibility should imply a certain desire to have people involved, it implies that I have done a bit more of something, something out of the ordinary perhaps, to facilitate access. So in my church, for example, we not only say we invite children with autism to be involved in the children's classes, we have people who are available to serve as "buddies" to help the child feel a part of the group. It is a small thing, but it allows one to say, "Not only are you and your child welcome here, but we have buddies to help your child to be successful in the children's program here." It implies we have thought about people like you, with your life situation before. It implies that we value you, so, we have come up with a way to make access to our church easier for you.
The Bishops' statement says access to "liturgical celebrations" and "catechetical programs." Although not a Catholic myself, I recognize the importance of liturgy to the Catholic tradition. If one is to be a full fledged Catholic, she must have access to liturgical celebrations, which include much of the public meetings of the faithful. The catechetical programs are the educational programs leading to catechism as well as other benchmarks of church membership/participation (I would assume). Persons with disability should have access to these educational programs so that they can participate fully, "according to their capacity."
On the basis of experience with persons with cognitive disabilities in church situations, it would be easy to dismiss someone as not having the capacity to benefit from a variety of programs the church has to offer, if you don't provide time and opportunity for those individuials to participate in the programs. Yet, there are people who are prayed for on a weekly basis, simply because friends of mine who are adults with mental retardation ask our group to pray for them during a time of prayer requests. I have prayed for the bus driver of several men who make the request each week, for years. If you honestly believe in the power of prayer, you must believe that the desires on the part of those men to have their bus driver prayed for has somehow made a difference. They also always ask me to pray for their teacher. Another man who lives in a senior center (arguably not the most appropriate placement for that man, although I think he has a ministry there as he brightens the lives of many of the residents through his knowledge of sports and unabashed ability to start a conversation with anyone) asks me to pray for his mother and a nurse who helps him each week. I can't help but wonder how many of the other residents are not prayed for each week. One staff member always asks him to pray for her as well and we make a point to remember to pray for that person. I guarantee to you that were those men not involved in the program at our church, for sure the people for whom they ask for prayer might not be the topic of prayer, at least not by me and others in the group. Will these men remember that Paul and Barnabus split up and Paul went with Silas and Barnabus with Mark (our current lessons are from Acts)? Does it even matter? They are participating to the extent to which they are capable and they are making a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of those for whom they are praying or facilitating prayer through their request for prayer.
The Bishops touch on a notion which I suspect has a great deal behind it, that of "conscious participation." I suspect this term implies a notion of understanding. My son recently took a class in Philosophy as a part of his college curriculum. At the end of the class, students could ask the professor any question they wanted. He asked, "Do you believe in God?" He replied "No," but followed up the statement with the analogy of him being like a flea on a dog, trying to understand what a dog was (as an aside, that is why God-the dog, became a flea-in the form of Jesus, so we would get some understanding of who He is). Anyway, we understand a lot less than we think we do. We compare ourselves to others who know less than we and congratulate ourselves, or segregate ourselves on the basis of our knowledge. As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, however, such comparisons are silly. They are particularly silly when we think about what we know about God in relation to what might be known about him, and then we segregate our selves on the basis of what we supposedly know.
"He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the
things that are not - to nulify the things that are, so that no one may boast
before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become
for us wisdom from God - that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1
Corinthians 1: 26-29)"
You know, sometimes the above sounds like a warning to me. It makes me wonder about the things that I choose in comparison to the things God chooses. My choices are evidenced by to whom I give access and for whom I facilitate participation.