Pope Francis has long been a champion of inclusion and agency for people with disabilities. On Tuesday, in honor of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Pope Francis called discrimination against people with disabilities a “social sin,” according to Vatican News, while advocating for a shift toward an inclusive mindset.
In his statement, The Pope acknowledged that while “great progress has been made” in inclusion efforts, we all still have an important part to play in changing pre-existing — and often inaccurate or stigmatizing — beliefs about disability.
“Making good laws and breaking down physical barriers is important,” he explained. “But it is not enough if the mentality does not change, if we do not overcome a widespread culture that continues to produce inequalities and prevents people with disabilities from actively participating in ordinary life.”
In addition to facing social discrimination by a society that historically holds low expectations for disabled folks, people with disabilities face systematic injustices as well. For example, in the U.S., it is still legal to pay some workers with disabilities less than minimum wage.
“We need to develop antibodies against a culture that considers some lives first or second class. This is a social sin,” Pope Francis said.
This isn’t the first time the Pope advocated for people with disabilities. Last year, when a young nonverbal boy interrupted a religious service by running up to Pope Francis and playing onstage, he used the experience as an opportunity to deliver an inclusive message to his congregation:
This boy cannot speak, he is mute, but he knows how to communicate. He knows how to express himself. And he has something that made me think: He is free. Undisciplined-ly free and he made me think, ‘Am I also that free before God?’ When Jesus said that we are to be like children, he tells us we are to have the same freedom children have before their father. I believed this boy preached to us.
Places of worship aren’t always welcoming to children and adults with disabilities. If you are a person with a disability who hasn’t felt welcome in religious circles, you’re not alone. No matter what anyone says, you are worthy of dignity and respect.
“A person with disabilities, in order to build himself or herself up, needs not only to exist but also to belong to a community,” the Pope said, according to Catholic News Service. “I pray that each person may feel the paternal gaze of God, who affirms their full dignity and the unconditional value of their life.”
To connect with a disability community that cares, we encourage you to post a Thought or Question on The Mighty with the hashtag #Disability.