Ministry for the welfare and rehabilitation of persons with physical and mental disabilities is one of the several main ministries of the Catholic Church. The true nature of service of the Catholic Church is well explained through these kinds of services and institutions. Each person is created in God's image, yet there are variations in individual abilities. Positive recognition of these differences discourages discrimination and enhances the unity of the Body of Christ. As Saint Pope John Paul II puts it “the wounded humanity of the disabled challenges us to recognize, accept and promote in each one of these brothers and sisters of ours the incomparable value of the human being created by God to be a son in the Son.”
Catholic Church in India runs above 500 special schools and therapy centres educating and training the children with physical and mental disabilities, besides several hundreds of care homes, orphanages and old age homes across India. Services to the disabled include primary education, higher education, vocational training, early intervention, rehabilitation, care homes, respite care, teacher training, therapy services etc. It also provides home based and community based rehabilitation programmes for integrating the persons with disabilities. Thousands of special children and their families benefit from the services rendered by the church. Following the command of Jesus Christ the church is involved in the rehabilitation ministry for the welfare of the persons with disabilities which has been an essential part of Church’s mission throughout her history, even before the society at large realized that disability is a condition born with and not an illness to be treated.
But lack of coordination among the Catholic rehabilitation centres prevented the Church from playing a leading role in developing new methodology and techniques to deal with the disabilities people suffered from. The new and simple techniques developed by the individual centres could go a long way to alleviate the challenges faced by the persons with disabilities. The success of rehabilitation work depends on effective net-working among the member units in the field. Though the Church run units have begun to build up networking, it has always been localized or region wise. Its impact was very limited.
It is a fact that those who are working in this service sector face several difficulties and challenges in spite of their commitment and dedication. There are no much opportunities for mutual consultation, sharing and collaboration. It is in this context that a group of fathers, brothers and sisters thought of the need of coming together for mutual cooperation, consultation and sharing of ideas and resources. It was Rev. Fr. Joseph Puthenpura from the diocese of Jallandhar who took initiative in gathering all priests, brothers and sisters together for the first time. The first national level meeting was organized by him personally with the support of the then Bishop of Jallandhar, Most Rev. Anil Couto in March 2013 at Holy Trinity Centre, Jallandhar.
Around 200 participants including priests, religious brothers and sisters participated in this first national conference. Archbishops Most Rev. Anil Couto, Most Rev. Abraham Viruthakulangara and Most Rev. Joshua Mar Ignatios blessed the conference with their gracious presence and guidance. Dr. M.P. Raju highlighted the legal provisions in the field of disability rehabilitation. Several deliberations were made and the participants were convinced of the need of coming together for better coordination, net working and sharing. A national Association of Catholic Rehabilitation Centres of India (ACRCI) was the outcome of this conference.
ACRCI- is the Association of Catholic Rehabilitation Centres of India. It is the national association of all catholic organizations/ institutions working for the cause of persons with disabilities, run by various dioceses and congregations and represented by priests, religious Brothers and sisters across the country. The main objective of ACRCI is to develop effective networking among the Catholic Rehabilitation centres at the national level so that with a coordinated approach to the problems faced by the persons with disabilities, a better service could be provided, and share the information with member units about latest techniques in the field of rehabilitation and government policies both at the state and central level.
ACRCI aims to coordinate the activities of the Catholic rehabilitation centres across India and to help the individual units to update their skills so as to maximize the benefits for the children through the facilities and services they provide. It also facilitates to develop networking among the various service providers in the field, to share their experience in the field, develop new techniques and methods in dealing with the disabilities and promote local and national collaboration for safeguarding the interests of the children. It also promotes partnership with other local and national NGOs and Government to work for better facilities and equal opportunities in every field. As a Catholic Association it strives to uphold the dignity of the human person, in spite of all his or her disability, because every person is created in the image of God.
The second national conference of ACRCI- was held at Pallottine Animation Centre, Nagpur from 3 to 5 March 2014 under the leadership of Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur. The theme of the conference was “Catholic Rehabilitation: A call to enable the disabled in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” More than 100 delegates representing various units across India participated in this national conference at the orange city of Nagpur. The presence and interventions of Archbishop Abraham, Bishop Joshua Mar Ignatios of Mavelikara and Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur was a great blessing and encouragement for the participants.Major General Ian Cardozo, in his key note address highlighted the main points of the draft copy of the CBCI policy on persons with disabilities in India. He exhorted the participants to discuss on the policy paper and propose a plan of action for better implementation of the policy. This policy paper was discussed in detail during group discussion sessions and a draft of suggestions for the plan of action was developed and sent to the CBCI.During this conference the new Governing Body was elected for a period of two years. It was also decided to organize and coordinate ACRCI at zonal level for better management and effective functioning. Zonal level coordinators also were elected during this session. Their duty is to contact all the catholic institutions in their respective states organize them and coordinate for effective collaboration.
One of the achievements after the Nagpur conference was that one of the ACRCI members got elected to the Board of National Trust in July 2014. Fr. Thomas Chenganariparampil MST has been elected in the last election of the Board members of the National Trust. This is the result of our concerted effort and coming together.
The third national conference of ACRCI was held at Dharmaram College and Research Centre, Bangalore from 21 to 24 April 2015. Total 172 participants attended the conference. They were from almost all the states of India. The theme selected for the conference was “Rehabilitation: A call for fullness of life.”The third conference was blessed with the presence of His Eminence Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis Catholicos, CBCI President and Major ArchBishop of the Syro Malankara Church formally inaugurated the conference in the presence of His Grace Most Rev. Bernard Mores, Archbishop of Bangalore, Bishop Joshua Mar Ignatios, Chairman, CBCI Commission for Education and Culture and Bishop of Mavelikara, Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara, Archbishop of Nagpur and a good number of major superiors of various religious congregations and several fathers and sisters.During this meeting a letter of appeal signed by all the participants was submitted to the CBCI president, Cardinal Cleemis regarding the formal approval of ACRCI and the work for the special children by CBCI.
ACRCI is a small beginning. Let us come together and march towards our common aim. Our coming together will encourage and motivate each one of us to go ahead with more vitality and share what we have and what we know for the benefit of all. Let this sharing be a manifestation of the Kingdom of God as explained by Jesus Christ himself.
As Pope Francis encouraged, “spread a culture of encounter, solidarity and hospitality towards persons with disabilities, not just asking for the proper social services but also encouraging their active participation in society.”