Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Thanks to the generosity of Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture and the Jacques Maritain Center, and their inimitable leaders, Carter Snead and John O'Callaghan, I am spending the week in Rome, talking, learning, and thinking about all manner of issues related to Disability and Misericordia. We just finished a two-day conference, really more of a study seminar, on "Disability and the Face of Mercy", co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and physically hosted in the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
We heard from scholars from a host of perspectives on the topic: John O'Callaghan tracing problematic misconceptions of the Imago Dei back to St. Augustine's finding the image of God solely in the activities of the human mind; Carter Snead on how our public bioethics frustrates the application of law as an instrument of mercy; Mary O'Callaghan arguing for a return to mercy in the medical practices of prenatal diagnosis by reviving the original motivations of the people who developed the tools now being used solely for purposes of eugenic abortions; Thomas Williams on how radically Jesus overturned the notion of weakness and vulnerability; Elizabeth Lev graphically illustrating Thomas' arguments, exploring the differences in depictions of disability between classical and Christian art, and Fr. Terry Ehrman speculating beautifully about disabilities in the resurrected body. I spoke about sacramental access for persons with cognitive disabilities, reflecting on the great gift to the Church of witnessing how the truths of the sacraments can be understood and shared by people whose religious experiences are not expressed in conventional rational speech.
We also heard and saw first-hand how the many gifts of faith and truths of mercy are shared in communities fully embracing persons with disabilities, from a wide array of persons with disabilities and their partners in an extraordinary factory in Milan, L'Arche communities in both Portland, Oregon, and in Rome, and the community of Saint Egidio here in Rome. The conference officially ended with a fantastic dinner at the Trattoria degli Amici, the fantastic restaurant run by the community of Saint Egidio, staffed by people with disabilities.
That was the 'official' end of the conference, but much the delegation (including me) is sticking around to participate in this week's Jubilee for the Sick and Persons with Disabilities . I will post more about that experience, but in the meantime, I am just grateful to have been part of an extraordinary couple of days.