Carter Snead, Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, and Mary O'Callaghan, CEC Public Policy Fellow, delivered presentations on the theme "Disability as a Resource" at the 37th annual Meeting for Friendship Amongst Peoples in Rimini, Italy, on August 22. More than 350 attendees from around the world gathered for Sunday's keynote session, which also included a special video interview with Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche movement, conducted by noted Italian journalist Maurizo Vitali.
In addition to organizing the panel on disability, the Center served as a cosponsor of the overall Meeting, involved in the planning of several additional sessions and exhibitions during the weeklong cultural event. Professor Snead met with Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic, prior to the President's opening address.
Professor Snead's presentation, entitled "Can Law be an Instrument of Misericordia?," explored the meaning of mercy as it relates to public bioethics. Recalling the theme of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy as proposed by Pope Francis, Snead explored how policies and laws can influence the acceptance of those whom society deems "less than perfect" due to disability. He lamented that recent developments in public policies toward reproduction, such as widespread access to abortion and prenatal genetic screening, often reflect a failure of the human imagination to see disabled persons as "one of us," in regard to our shared humanity.
Dr. O'Callaghan's reflections, entitled "Come and See: Disability as a Gift in the Heart of the Family," were borne out of her experience as the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, and supported by her background in developmental psychology and her work to promote perinatal hospice care. Citing statistics that show great happiness among persons with disabilities and their families, in spite of the accompanying difficulties, O'Callaghan invited listeners to enter into communion with persons with disabilities through true friendship and caritas, rather than dismiss or avoid them.
The Rimini Meeting is one of Europe's largest annual cultural events, drawing more than 800,000 attendees during the weeklong festival. This year's Meeting opened on August 19, with written greetings from Pope Francis and a major keynote address by President Mattarella. The Meeting is organized by the lay Catholic movement Communion & Liberation and has inspired smaller versions in various locations around the world, including the annual New York Encounter in the United States.
YouTube video of the session is available below: