Pope on Duties of Society to Mentally Handicapped

Author: A.G. Cardinal Cicognani



At La Turbie on June 30th, a conference of experts began their studies of problems concerning the care of mentally handicapped children under the auspices of B.I.C.E. (The Catholic International Bureau for Child-Care). The Abbe Henri Bissonnier, Secretary-General of the Commission, received from His Eminence Cardinal Cicognani, Secretary of State, the following letter in which the Holy Father expressed his good wishes.

The Holy Father was informed that a conference of experts sponsored by the Medico-pedagogic and Psycho-social Commission of the International Catholic Child Bureau (I.C.C.B.) was being held at La Turbie from June 30th to July 3rd to study "the involvement of the mentally retarded". He gives his encouragement to this new meeting and is grateful to the worthy organisers of the symposium for acting effectively in the interests of unadapted and handicapped children.

For many people, it was enough to ensure a decent life for handicapped or unfortunate persons, to enable them to carry on an occupation adapted to them, to give them special recreation. Thus their obligation would be fulfilled and their conscience satisfied. But this is to forget that the mentally retarded person is the equal of other people, to disregard his true possibilities, to keep him inside limits which he strives unceasingly to go beyond, provided he is given the means and shown the way.

In a world that wants to be open to all values, it is useful to remember that every human being, even the most deprived, is worthy of respect and subject to inalienable and imprescriptible rights; he has the right to education which will enable him gradually to become master of his destiny and feel himself the equal of everyone.

Moreover, does not experience teach us that in a climate of trust and goodwill the most apparently withdrawn person sees external realities very clearly and reacts to entreaties whose meaning he gradually understands? And does the Gospel not give us, in this field as in many others, a great lesson in pedagogy? The sick and infirm who had a special place in Christ's earthly mission, experienced the power of the Saviour not only in their bodies and souls; they were also led to awareness of their proper dignity as men through the interest and love that the Son of God witnessed to them. Jesus, making the first step, considers his questioner's capacity for understanding and responsibility and the talents he has been given. And it is from fundamental respect for the other person as he is, with his deficiencies and imperfections, that Christ arouses in those who meet Him a desire to go beyond their own limits and freely consent to His liberating work.

Christians must enfold their less favoured brothers, imitating their Lord's love for the poor and the sick, in order to help them, not only to accept their life is it is given to them but—without wounding their often refined sensibility—to raise themselves in spite of the obstacles and handicaps to the level of their highest and most complete human and Christian fulfilment.

This is also the place to call to mind that Jesus Christ restored our human nature marked by sin in a wonderful way, and that he received from His Father the mission and the power to transform every man, whatever physical or mental afflictions he may have, to the marvelous likeness of the living God. By receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism, man is truly reborn to a new life which infinitely surpasses anything human experience can teach us. This life of grace, which is the pledge of future glory, usually requires free ratification and a personal involvement on the part of the baptised which the mentally handicapped are mostly quite capable of; but it is no less true that where this conscious adhesion is not possible, the gift of divine life is destined to be fulfilled, for the one who received it, in the blessed vision, the ultimate and supernatural end of all human destiny. In this, the good Lord clearly shows that His mercy goes beyond all human merit and that His omnipotence is not limited by any natural obstacle.

This is to tell you with what interest the Sovereign Pontiff will follow your Conference and how he wishes that your work will be profitable and impress on public opinion—which is, alas, so often indifferent to the lot of the mentally deficient—the duties of society towards those who are often left aside.

So the Holy Father gladly invokes a particular abundance of graces on you and on all who will take part in these days of study and reflection, and in pledge of this he imparts to you, and to the mentally retarded whom you wish to serve, an Apostolic Blessing.

In speaking to you thus for the Holy Father, I an happy to express to you again my deepest respects in our Lord.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
11 July 1968, page 7

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