One might be surprised that in a book of 114 pages, 16 of them are devoted to the introduction. Yet those are critical pages for Maureen Pratt’s “Salt and Light” as they explain why parishes need to examine how they welcome members with disabilities, how they minister to and with them, and how they invite them to minister within the faith community.
Pratt, a journalist who has lupus erythematosus, which she describes as “a chronic autoimmune condition that has no cure and can sometimes be life-threatening,” praises the church in general for its willingness to address the needs, particularly catechetical needs, of people with disabilities, and to make accommodations, e.g., ramps, elevators, enhanced listening devices, etc.
But she notes it is about more than that; the necessary ingredient in welcoming those with disabilities is “the right attitude.”
Pratt helps readers form that attitude through chapters that define disability; explain welcome and how it is to be extended; address catechetical formation; and delve into outreach, vocations, social life, etc. Each chapter begins with a question, e.g., “How do you welcome others into your life?” and concludes with “food for thought” and a prayer.
Based on anecdotal information Pratt obtained doing interviews for the book, she reports an “estimated 85 percent of persons with disabilities do not regularly attend church.” Even though it is not confirmed by research, that figure deserves attention. It indicates a deficiency in ministry that needs to be addressed.
Those who serve parishes as ordained ministers, catechists, liturgical ministers, members of various councils and committees, and in any manner will benefit from “Salt and Light.” However, this is not a book for a shelf in the parish office.
Rather, it should be read and reread by the aforementioned, being passed regularly from one to another and discussed often, as it provides a spiritual focus and practical guidance that will increase their awareness of those with disabilities and improve how they include them in ministry — as ministers and recipients.
Anyone familiar with Catholic outreach to those with developmental disabilities is aware of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche and co-founder of Faith and Light. In that awareness one knows of the call he accepted and the commitment he made to serve the other-abled. That commitment has inspired others throughout the world to do the same.
“A Cry Is Heard” is autobiographical, but in a manner and style one would expect from a 90-year-old faithful servant to the developmentally challenged who has something to say about people he’s met, experiences he’s had, and having a deep and loving relationship with God.
Readers will receive Vanier’s thoughts on St. Teresa of Kolkata, St. John Paul II, Dorothy Day and others whose names they might not recognize but who are important to the author. They’ll read about his experiences, e.g., L’Arche’s roots and growth, how it was received by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in the 1970s and the international impact the ministry has had.
Those reminiscences are enjoyable because Vanier includes spiritual wisdom with them:
— “People with an intellectual disability are not poor little things we need to take care of. They are messengers from God who bring us closer to Jesus.”
— “We never know where the poor will lead us. Following Jesus is always a risk. But this risk is also a promise: Jesus will give us strength.”
— “Patience. And humility. That’s all we need to eliminate our bursts of pride.”
Near the end of “A Cry Is Heard,” Vanier writes he wishes to proclaim “that God is at the heart of weakness.” He proclaims it well.
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Olszewski is the editor of The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.