Catholic disability groups from across Britain are making history as they prepare to roll out two important events in the lead up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Faith and Light, HCPT the Pilgrimage Trust, the Kairos Forum, and disability agencies from across the Archdioceses of Southwark and Westminster, along with the Diocese of Brentwood, have planned a one-day International Conference and a National Day of Celebration of Disability to take place in the first week of July.
The International Conference, which has as its theme EveryBody Has a Place, will take place on Monday 2 July at Westminster Central Hall, London. It will seek to explore how disability, theology and sport speak powerfully to one another. This innovative and exciting event will hear eminent speakers, including Professor John Swinton, Baroness Sheila Hollins and Dr David Jones, interweave the topics of disability, theology and sport, informing and inspiring the world as the 2012 Games arrive on British soil. Dr Tim Shriver, President of the Special Olympics, is also expected to speak about his work. The conference will include the witness of international Paralympians bringing to life the speakers’ words.
As a practical response to the conference, a National Day of Celebration of Disability will be hosted at Aylesford Friary, Kent on Sunday 8th July. In the past this has been an event solely for Southwark Archdiocese. This year, with the theme Now is the time to be friends, all dioceses are invited to gather for this unique celebration. It is hoped that this liturgical event will unite many people with wide-ranging abilities and needs. There will be space to celebrate sport, art and music through the gifts of people with a disability, as well as the breaking open of God’s Word through drama. It is guaranteed to be a day of immense fun led by people with learning and physical disabilities which all are welcome to attend.
Speaking ahead of the events, James Parker, Catholic Executive Coordinator for the 2012 Games, said: “Some weeks ago, British Paralympian Stefanie Reid stated before thousands of Catholic youth in Wembley Arena that God is not limited by things like physical disabilities, or social stigmas, and the things that we may see as limitations. When looking at life, she said that we each need to see endless possibilities, and have the courage and determination to pursue them.
“As the Ancient Olympics successfully united warring nations, the Catholic community is using the 2012 Games to similarly more closely unite individuals and groups who might in any way be denied a place of true and equal belonging. Not only is there much, much more we can all learn and understand about disability, but we need to increase ways of putting what we learn into practice. It is hoped that these two events will create a significant shift in how people see God in sport for those with disabilities, and how those with disabilities might be drawn ever closer to God through sport.
"This summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games offer the world a more complete vision of the human person. We will see sporting excellence from the most diverse cross-section of cultures, languages, religions, abilities and disabilities. They cannot help but strongly remind us that God-given potential – sporting and otherwise – lies within the heart of each one of us.”
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