Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This is the 28th Year that the United States has recognized and celebrated March as National Disability Awareness Month!
On February 26, 1987, President Ronald Reagan officially declared Proclamation 5613, making March National Disabilities Awareness Month. The proclamation called for people to provide understanding, encouragement, and opportunities to help persons with disabilities to lead productive and fulfilling lives. Everyone wants, and deserves, to enjoy life, feel productive and secure. But in March, we take extra steps to raise awareness about the supports and rights of the people with disabilities and to celebrate their contributions to our communities and society as a whole!
All individuals, agencies, and organizations supportive of people with disabilities are encouraged to observe the month of March with appropriate observances and activities directed toward increasing public awareness of the contributions and the potential of Americans with disabilities.
I saw a t-shirt that read, “Keep Calm it’s only an extra chromosome”. The message is, of course, borrowed and revised from the British motivational poster, Keep Calm and Carry On, that was produced in 1939 in preparation for World War II. The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, who were threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities throughout the country. Stereotyping, discrimination, and exclusion are among a long list of barriers and challenges faced each day by people with all types of disabilities. This includes those with an extra chromosome that live with Down syndrome. From a Catholic point of view, people with Down syndrome and other disabilities are intrinsically and immeasurably valuable just as they are. In addition, most people with Down syndrome are happy with their lives and make their families and communities better!
Yet the reality is, 60-90% of children diagnosed with disabilities are aborted in the United States. It says a lot about a society that we are so short-sighted that we can only see impairment, or perhaps we don’t want people around who we worry might negatively impact our “normal lives.” How tragic.
This month is broader than Down syndrome. We need to work to make a conscious effort to value all lives, remove systemic barriers, and unlearn stereotypes which are simply untrue. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops defines disabilities as including, but not limited to those who are blind, deaf, intellectually disabled, emotionally impaired, those who have special learning problems or who suffer from single or multiple physical disabilities.
St. Pope John Paul II spoke extensively about people with disabilities during his life and before he became disabled himself at the end of his life when he suffered from Parkinson’s. He once stated that “The measure of civilization, a universal and permanent measure which includes all cultures, is its relationship with life. A civilization which rejected the defenseless would deserve to be called a barbarian civilization, even though it had great success in the field of economics, technology, art and science.”
The pro-life ethic of the Catholic Church teaches us that even when a human being cannot contribute to society in any typical way, they are still an invaluable expression of God’s love. Again, St. Pope John Paul II once wrote that, “The starting point for every reflection on disability is rooted in the fundamental convictions of Christian anthropology: even when disabled persons are mentally impaired or when their sensory or intellectual capacity is damaged, they are fully human beings and possess the sacred and inalienable rights that belong to every human creature.”
May we all continue to pray for those with disabilities this month and always. Perhaps if you know someone with disabilities, you can reasonably choose to make some simple effort to make their life a bit better.
The Church sets aside March 19th as the annual Feast Day of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary and the “Guardian” of Jesus. “Husband” and “Guardian,” yes… but he was so much more than those twenty-first century terms imply! In this present age of broken families, where the value of marriage and raising children, especially those with disabilities, can be very challenging. Saint Joseph stands out as a wonderfully positive role model for all those fighting to protect their family, their marriage, and their children. May all fathers be inspired to do the same. Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Fr. Don Kline V.F.