Carers and disabled pilgrims from the Young Order of Malta pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Madrid have returned home confident that the new venture will open doors – and elevators and wheelchair ramps – for greater access at Church events in the future.
“People have been very positive, very encouraging, and I got the general sense from many different angles that people want this to continue,” said Fr James McCarthy, assistant parish priest of the parishes of Sydney Harbour North and the instigator of the Young Order of Malta pilgrimage.
“It was an absolute blessing this trip, for everyone.
“A lot of the carers have come home with an incredible new insight into faith, service, and the pro-life cause.
“Often, within the pro-life movement in Australia and internationally, the emphasis is on the unborn and the euthanasia issue, but those with disabilities are a real part of the pro-life mission.”
Fr James said participants were “over the moon” with the trip and many described it as “the best experience of their lives”.
Among them was 15-year-old Oscar Cruz from Wagga Wagga.
“It was an absolute privilege being with Oscar. Oscar has wisdom beyond his years,” Fr James said.
“He has grown in a deep love for the Lord through this trip, and has come to a deeper understanding of suffering as well as to where he is in the world.”
While on pilgrimage, Oscar shared with Fr James his desire to live life to the fullest.
“It’s great to see that he is not negative about his condition and his situation,” Fr James said.
Following the success of the pilgrimage WYD Madrid, Fr James discussed with his leaders the possibility of attending WYD in Rio in 2013, but he is also heeding the advice of Bishop Terry Brady.
“He said to give it a couple of months to come home and reap some of the fruit of what’s already happened before we start seriously planning what’s going to happen next time.”
Co-ordinator Camillus O’Kane said the pilgrimage raised awareness among pilgrims about the daily challenges faced by disabled people.
“Fellow pilgrims on the Exodus Encounter pilgrimage spent a good deal more time with disabled people than the ordinary person does in Australia,” he said.
“Consequently, this meant that pilgrims were compelled to experience the disabled participant’s daily life, and to also see first-hand the physical, emotional and mental trials that they encounter.”
The pilgrimage succeeded in making “disabled people more visible among young people in the Church”, he said.
“I would like to think that the disabled people would be not only more welcome at WYD and Church gatherings, but absolutely encouraged and assisted to attend where possible.”
Mr O’Kane said it was a rewarding experience to be a carer as well as a pilgrim.