Last week, Gail Collins began her regular New York Times column with the statement that Pope Francis was the most popular man in the world. She did concede, however, that Rush Limbaugh was not going to go along with the rest of the human race!
The pope is somewhat mysterious. What is he? Magic? Mysterious? Miraculous? Of course, we all know that a major aspect of the prominence of the pope is the extraordinary speed of modern communication. One unusually funny remark, one simple act and most of the world knows about it almost instantly. When these acts continue to be surprising and beautiful you can understand the interest in audiences spread across the world.
There are two recent pictures that made a special impression on me. One was the photograph of the pope embracing and kissing a young boy suffering from cerebral palsy. Another shows the pope kissing a man disfigured by severe tumors. Think of what that did for parents and relatives across the world who are burdened with the fact that someone they love is disfigured or disabled. May God bless Pope Francis.
What about ourselves? It is all well and good to say that we are happy that we have a kind and sensitive leader of the Universal Church but isn’t it more important that we follow his example in our day to day lives? We all have the opportunity to do so.
How do we react when we see someone with a badly disfigured face suffering caused by an extreme skin disease? How do we respond when we find ourselves in a situation with a person who is hobbling with great difficulty on two crutches? Do we show any unease when we find ourselves talking to someone with a serious speech impediment?
For most of us, there seems to be an implicit desire to be with and surrounded by people who, at least as far as their public appearance is concerned, are normal and look pretty much like the rest of the people around them. Without being overly ostentatious, I think it is important that we be aware of the fact that millions of our fellow citizens, and especially across the world, are disfigured, deformed or visibly handicapped in some manner.
We ought to be conscious of those who don’t fit our cookie cutter image of how the people around us should look must travel with these burdens day by day and year after year. It is very important that the followers of Jesus Christ really take a page from Pope Francis’ notebook and make sure that we never add to the discomfort or actual suffering of those who fit in this category. Every situation, every set of circumstances are differing so it is up to the individual follower of the Lord to see how they can bring dignity and encouragement to those around them.
This is not only to be done in terms of our spiritual lives. There is a very important place for it in civil rights as well. Our nation took a step forward in 1990 when it adopted the Americans with Disabilities Act but sadly Congress has refused to ratify the international agreement which would extend that to individuals worldwide. That is a mistake that could be corrected if more of us were aware of this discrepancy between our values and our policies.
Last week, America magazine challenged church communities to undergo a process of self-examination. “Too many Catholic schools and churches do not have adequate resources for people with disabilities. Elevators, song books in Braille, better sound systems for the hearing impaired, sign language interpreters – developments like this would send a strong signal that all are welcome in our church communities.”
If you want to make a contribution in this area, contact the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities, 415 Michigan Avenue, NE, Suite 95, Washington, DC 20017, (202) 529-2933, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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