Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen And Heard (March 26, 2009)

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published March 26, 2009

Perspective shades the way we all tend to view things. Our perspective colors and influences the way that we view opportunities and obstacles. We all have a particular perspective on the way that we look at the issues of life, and it is often very difficult to change one’s perspective.

Over the course of the years, I have written on several occasions about our obligation to be more sensitive and attentive to the needs of those with physical disabilities, but my efforts were also done from the perspective of one who was himself physically fit. Recently my perspective has changed, and that may be a blessing for me. I am hopeful that I can share it with the people of this local Church.

Three weeks ago, I tore my Achilles tendon playing racquetball. I’m on the mend and grateful for the kind notes and some very funny cards that I have received from people. I have celebrated Confirmation at eight different parishes over the past two weekends, and the kids have been the best tonic for my recovery as they poked fun at my scooter and asked how I hurt myself.

One of the young men that I recently confirmed asked me, “Archbishop, are you going to give up racquetball?” He sounded like an agent for my mother! But in spite of the smiles that my injury has generated, it has done a great deal to change my perspective.

In the past, as I have reviewed and approved the plans for new churches, parish centers and renovated sanctuaries, I have always paid attention to the designs from the perspective of a person who did not have mobility issues. Ramps and easy access entries, bathrooms with enough space to accommodate a wheelchair and with bars on the walls were nice and helpful, but now I can understand that they represent necessities for folks who require them in order to participate in parish life.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act was a legal framework for those in our country who have special needs. But churches ought to be places that are welcoming and accommodating for such people even without the legal requirements now imposed by that federal law. We should remember when we design churches and parish buildings that a few additional amenities would make it easier for people to enter the church and the sanctuary as well as fulfill some of the ministries in which they would like to share.

As I visit parishes with my crutches and scooter, I look for ramps rather than steps. Elevators are a blessing as are bathrooms with wide doors. Never before did I need to look for these conveniences, but there are people who must always look for such physical accommodations.

As I left St. Luke’s Parish last Sunday, I joked that I would never approve another design for a church or parish building that didn’t have some of these amenities. I hope that in several weeks when I am free from my crutches and scooter, I don’t forget the perspective that I have gained because of this injury.

There are few if any advantages to most injuries, but one that I can glean from this one is the firsthand experience that people with disabilities too regularly find in public places. I have been greeted with all types of kind gestures and accommodations that express the respect that folks have for the Archbishop—and I am deeply grateful for each one.

What I hope, though, is that we all can reflect on the needs of those with enduring disabilities and respond to them with the same attention to their needs that I have found in the parishes that I have recently visited.