Open eyes, open doors, open hearts

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley          Sept. 18, 2016

During the week of Sept. 5-10, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City hosted leaders from the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities. Jan Benton, executive director of NCPD and Esther Garcia, NCPD manager of programs and outreach, were here to assist us in assessing the needs of families and persons with various types of disabilities and to formulate a more effective response to these important members of our parishes.

Jan and Esther met with members of our archdiocesan staff, various priests, deacons, parents and individuals with disabilities. They listened and they learned. They visited several important sites already providing services for individuals and families with special needs such as Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy and the Center ofr Family Love in Okarche. I am looking forward to receiving their report and recommendations based on their listening sessions and the surveys, which many of you completed and returned for our consideration.

This study comes at a good time as my staff and I have been in the process of reviewing and restructuring our archdiocesan organization so that we can more effectively carry forward our mission of evangelization in service to the parishes, families and individuals of the archdiocese.

In the course of time, as we carry on our daily activities in the midst of busy lives with many demands, we tend to develop blind spots. It frequently happens that many important issues are overlooked because so many urgent and pressing demands compete for our attention each day. This is true in each of our lives. It also is true in organizations such as parishes and even dioceses.

It is for this reason that I asked for this study. I know that there are many individuals who, because of physical, mental, emotional or developmental limitations, do not enjoy access to full participation in the life of our parishes and even to the sacraments.

One of the themes that Pope Francis has focused upon since the first day of his pontificate has been the call to go out to the margins and peripheries of our communities and to welcome the outcast and to serve the needs of those who for one reason or another have been marginalized. He has summoned the Church to a missionary conversion. We are all called to be missionary disciples. Our structures and programs ought to reflect and embody this missionary conversion. It is not enough to maintain what we already have in place. We are called to look outward, not merely inward.

To the extent that we are blind to the gifts of each member of the parish or our community, or to the extent that those persons and their gifts are not welcomed and incorporated, we are all impoverished. This is equally true whether we are talking about persons with disabilities or persons from different nations or cultures who may speak a different language. It is not always easy to be inclusive. We are frequently uncomfortable with people who look, sound, think or express themselves differently than we do.

In spite of the difficulties, the love of Christ urges us on, inviting us to put out into the deep and learn to recognize and honor the face of Christ in the often distressing disguise of the poor, the disabled and the immigrant.