Friendship with others “demonstrates the closeness of God,” she said.
Pantone also explained how losing physical contact with friends because of the COVID-19 pandemic has been very hard for her and other disabled people, especially her friends who live in residences and not with family.
In his message, Pope Francis addressed the difficulty of the coronavirus outbreak for the disabled.
“I think, for example, of your being forced to stay at home for long periods of time; the difficulty experienced by many students with disabilities in accessing aids to distance learning; the lengthy interruption of social care services in a good number of countries; and many other hardships that you have had to face,” he wrote.
He mentioned in particular those who live in residential facilities, separated from loved ones. “In those places, the virus hit hard and, despite the dedication of caretakers, it has taken all too many lives,” he said.
He also emphasized the importance of confronting these challenges by finding consolation in prayer and friendship with Jesus.
“I would like to speak personally to each of you, and I ask that, if necessary, your family members or those closest to you read my words to you, or convey my appeal,” he said. “I ask you to pray. The Lord listens attentively to the prayers of those who trust in him.”
“Prayer is a mission, a mission accessible to everyone, and I would like to entrust that mission in a particular way to you. There is no one so frail that he or she cannot pray, worship the Lord, give glory to his holy Name, and intercede for the salvation of the world. In the sight of the Almighty, we come to realize that we are all equal,” he stressed.
Pope Francis also noted the continued presence of discrimination, ignorance, and prejudice at all levels of society, assuring people with disabilities that through baptism they are “a full-fledged member of the Church community, so that all of us, without exclusion or discrimination, can say: “I am Church!’”
“The Church is truly your home!” he said.
At a Nov. 25 press conference, Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello said that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life is trying to do more to improve pastoral care for those with disabilities.
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“This message, in recognizing that people with disabilities have their place in the holy faithful People of God, is a great invitation, for us in the dicastery, but above all for parish, diocesan and associative realities to take new paths with pastoral creativity,” Awi Mello said.
“It is a door that opens to think of pastoral care no longer for, but with…”
On Dec. 6, the dicastery will launch a video campaign with the hashtag #IamChurch. In five videos, Catholics with disabilities from different parts of the world will share about their experiences in the Church.
Pantone, who participated in one of the Vatican’s videos, told CNA that she would like to see the Catholic Church do more to develop courses that allow people with all kinds of disabilities to participate in parish life, such as formation courses to become a catechism teacher.
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