Long before the term “inclusion” was common terminology, the Catholic Church was addressing this matter. In 1978, the United States Catholic Conference published a statement outlining the pastoral response the Church should be taking with persons with disabilities. This statement echoes the mission of Jesus: that all of God’s children should be accepted, welcomed and included into the life of the Church.
In 1995, another document was published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, entitled, “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities.” This statement highlights the truth that “[a]ll members of the Body of Christ are uniquely called by God by virtue of their Baptism…Participating in, and being nourished by, the grace of the sacraments is essential to this growth in holiness.” In order to reflect current language and provide clarifications, the document was revised by the USCCB in the summer of 2017. The following October, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization hosted an international conference at the Vatican entitled, “Catechesis and Persons with Disabilities: A Necessary Engagement in the Daily Pastoral Life of the Church.” Clearly, this is a topic at the forefront of the mind of the Catholic Church!
Here at the OEEC, we are continuing conversation on the topic of persons with disabilities. In April of 2017, a committee was formed to focus specifically on faith formation of children and families with special needs. This gathering included catechetical leaders, parents, catechists and clergy. One of the first goals of this group was to create a vision statement on Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Hartford. Stemming from this vision came a roadmap of strategies to assist, support and resource parish catechetical leaders. This included a conference held in October 2017, where workshops were offered on such topics as utilizing models of inclusion, attending Mass with children with special needs, and teaching strategies.
The committee for Catechesis for Children with Special Needs has also created a webpage on the OEEC website with resources and information that are beneficial to parish leaders, catechists, Catholic school educators, and parents of children with special needs. The page includes links to pastoral statements written by the U.S. Bishops, adaptive resources for teaching faith to children with special needs, classroom activities, teaching strategies for a variety of disabilities, and tips for worshipping with children with special needs. Links for guidelines and assistance in celebration of the sacraments are also available on this page.
Catholic school educators, administrators and catechetical leaders were also given an opportunity to learn more about teaching children with special needs at a presentation by Raul Escarpio, Ed.D., Associate Senior Professor at Miami Dade College last March. This was one of several workshops the OEEC offered for educators by a variety of experts, so that all can grow in understanding of how to best educate children with intellectual, emotional and social needs.
It is essential to the mission of the OEEC that the conversation continues on how best to accompany children with special needs and their families, as they grow in faith in meaningful and authentic ways.