A Community With So Much to Share


For Learning Disability Week, Gail Williams, manager of Caritas St Joseph’s, reflects on the Church’s progress towards fully including those with intellectual disabilities. 

Living with an intellectual disability can be a huge challenge even in today’s society. Often you have no choice over where you live, who you live with or what you do.

At Caritas St Joseph’s we have a person-centred approach to all we do and know that we are accompanying those we serve. Meeting them where they are and walking the journey with them. They lead and we follow. From the centres we run to the families we look after in the Catholic parishes of Westminster we endeavour to help everyone achieve their full potential in life.

More recently we have been sharing our work with others. I went to SPRED Galloway (Special Programme for Religious Development) to talk to those members about the different ways we approach our symbolic catechesis and make this work in the parishes for everything from Sacramental preparation to inclusive children’s liturgy, inclusive masses and support for all the Church ministries. The new Directory of Catechesis clearly states that families need to be included:

“Catechists should also be close to the families of persons with disabilities, accompanying them and fostering their full incorporation into the community”  (New Directory of Catechesis 271)

We support parishes by teaching symbolic catechesis and mentor them to bring those on the margins of their communities into the heart of their communities. 

I was also invited to Rome to present our journey accompanying those with intellectual disability when they have been bereaved or they have experienced loss, change or grief.

The Conference was the first International Conference of the Pastoral Office of the Italian Catholic Church, headed up by Sr Veronica Donatello. Entitled “Us not Them” it sought to bring the testimonies of all of those who are on the margins of their parishes together to inspire others. It was so interesting to listen to not only expert theologians of disability theology such as Professor John Swinton and Hans Reinders but also to meet up with people who work as we do but in the parishes of Italy.

We also had the witness of deaf people sharing what it is like to be able to worship alongside those without hearing impediments, how important it is that mass is accessible in every parish and at every mass so that all can be included and feel like they belong.

The Synod committee in the Vatican has a young woman with disabilities sitting on it and advising them on what it is like to be part of the Church and have an intellectual disability. Unless we have those we serve, serving on these committees how can we understand what it is like to walk in their shoes?

 As the Diocesan agency in Westminster we submitted our results for the Synod alongside the parishes, ours however was not only in words but in art and symbols, (examples can be seen on this page) making sure the unique viewpoint of our community was heard. We were the only ones to submit a multi-faith view of the Synodal pathway. Our community has so many gifts and talents to share, as demonstrated by the contributions made and shared as part of the Diocesan synodal discussions; it is essential that the voices of our community are not only heard at this level but truly listened to. 

There is still some way to go before those with disabilities are fully involved in the life of the church. But at the conferences I made some really strong connections with inspirational people who we will continue to work with over the coming months, enriching all of us in true community. It brings hope that eventually in our Churches and in society everyone will have a place and belong.
I leave you with the words of Pope Francis: 

“I invite everyone to renewed hope, for hope “speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning.”  (Fratelli Tutti 55)

An example of how the Synod material was presented to students at St Joseph's

An example of how the Synod material was presented to students at St Joseph’s

A student doodle-response to the preliminary prayer and discussion about the synod.

The student who coloured in the above picture said he found strength in his family and remembered going shopping with his mum during the lockdowns.

Students marked their answers on the diagram with stickersStudents answered the question "who is missing?", thinking about their friends who had stopped going to church during the pandemic.

Students answered the question “who is missing?”, thinking about their friends who had stopped going to church during the pandemic.

You may also be interested in:

A book club with a difference

Gail’s blog at the time of the publication of the new Directory of Catechesis.



Latest News

Read more…

Skip to content