Nick Benson

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Churches need to adopt ‘access for all’ attitude to disabilities

The director of a Catholic mental health project is urging parishes to address the challenges faced by those who suffer from mental health issues and disabilities.

Ben Bano, director of Welcome Me as I Am, which promotes mental health and dementia awareness in parish communities, said that discussing illnesses, whether it be physical or mental, should never be taboo.

“People with mental health issues, as well as those with a disability, can find it particularly challenging to attend Mass and play an active part in their parish community. They often struggle to find acceptance at a time when they might feel abandoned by those around them.

“There is often a perception that while it is okay to talk about physical illnesses, such as cancer, it is much more difficult to talk about mental health issues,” Mr Bano told The Universe.

Mr Bano suggested a number of different ways in which parishes can address such issues. These include:

• Conducting an audit of access and facilities for people with disabilities.

• Ensuring that welcomers are trained to be aware of someone in distress and inviting them to tea and coffee after Mass.

• When planning prayers of intercession, making sure that prayers for healing in mind and body are included.

• Developing a ‘buddy’ system to keep in touch with someone experiencing mental distress who does not feel motivated to attend Mass.

• Planning occasional healing Masses at which the liturgy can resonate with someone experiencing mental distress – these are ideal opportunities to offer the sacrament of anointing.

• Working with the local MIND group to ensure that information on local services is available to ensure that people can be signposted to appropriate help.

Mr Bano also pointed out that Faith Action – a national network of faith-based and community organisations who serve their communities through the delivery of public services, such as childcare, health and social care, housing and welfare to work – has developed a ‘Friendly Places’ pledge which helps church communities to focus on how they can be a place of welcome for people with mental health issues and disabilities.

Mr Bano’s call comes as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church of England needs to do more for those with disabilities and mental health problems.

Speaking to the BBC, Archbishop Welby commented on how many of the Church of England’s 9,000 buildings are ill-equipped, with heritage protection trumping accessibility law.

During the interview with the Ouch podcast – made by the BBC’s disability team – he said: “I find it absolutely extraordinary that disability access comes second to heritage.

“I really find that bizarre. Well, that’s one way of saying we don’t care about you, isn’t it?”

The archbishop said his two daughters had “really brought it to the front of my mind”.

Katharine, 32, has mental health problems and Ellie, 24, has learning disabilities, according to an article about the podcast.

Details of the Friendly Places pledge can be found on www.faithaction.net

Details of Welcome Me as I Am can be found on www.welcomemeasiam.org.uk

Picture: People wait for the start of Pope Francis’ celebration of a Mass for the sick and disabled in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 12th June 2016. The Mass was an event of the Jubilee of Mercy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).

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OTHER NEWS

Healing people more important than the economy, says Pope Francis

Pope Francis said on Sunday that healing people was "more important" than the economy, as countries around the world continue to ease lockdown restrictions. The Pope made his first address from his window overlooking St Peter's Square in three months. Many thronged to...

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