The bond of friendship between the Community of Sant’Egidio and a number of people with phisical and intellectual disability goes back to the beginning of the Seventies.
Some of them were children at that time and attended the Schools of Peace of the Community in the suburbs of Rome. Because of their disabilities they often ended up leaving state school. In Trastevere also, an area in the old centre of Rome, we met several people with disabilities. They were adult with no relations who used to spend their days wandering through the streets without a place to go.
When the ancient convent of Sant’Egidio, which was in that district and for quite a long time deserted, was anew populated by the students of the Community, it was natural to make it a point of reference for those people: a place where they could seek (and eventually find) friends and people who listen to them.
Since then the bond with those who are in need because of their disabilities is one of the main aspects of the life and commitment of the Communities of Sant’Egidio all over the world.
SPIRITUALITY OF PEOPLE WITH INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY
Being friends with people with intellectual disability, we discovered the deep faith of many of them. Even if some had received a religious education, meeting the Community was a chance to get to know the Gospel for everyone. The comprehension of the Gospel message is not only a matter of intellectual or rational understanding: the Gospel concerns everyone’s life, heart, affective and emotional sphere. Our disabled friends have experienced that in their spiritual lives and now they can be masters of faith for those who have less troubles. People with disabilities are fully members of the Christian community, special recipients of the communication of the Gospel and of the Sacraments, experts on friendship as well. They are the “least of my brothers” whom Jesus talks about.
They show that, if someone is surrounded by friends, with a trustful and open attitude, he/she can be happy, no matter the circumstances of his/her life. They can teach us the value of disinterestedness, solidarity, friendship, and hospitality, without which it’s impossible to live a full life. If people with disabilities are unhappy, it's mainly because they are excluded and marginalized by the society. Yet Sant’Egidio’s experience has revealed that living close to them is an opportunity to enrich everyone’s humanity: they know what’s really essential in life better than many others. Therefore they can help achieve a deeper understanding of life.
Such a wisdom sometimes can’t be expressed in words and reasoning but it can be communicated through the relationship. That’s why people with disabilities can give a precious contribution to our society and kindle an essential change of mindset and culture.