THE GIFT OF DISABILITY


by Fr. Sean Wales C.Ss.R

From the 6th to the 8th September the deaf-blind Redemptorist Fr Cyril Axelrod conducted a triduum in the Redemptorist Church of the Holy Redeemer in Cape Town, South Africa. Fr Cyril is often in the news for his ministry to deaf-blind people around the world. But this experience in Cape Town was for everyone, abled and disabled alike.

 Fr Cyril was accompanied by an interpreter, Fr Larry Kaufmann, C.Ss.R. so that everyone could get his message. On the final morning Fr Cyril conducted a workshop in the parish Hall to help parishioners deal with friends, relatives and fellow parishioners who are either deaf or blind or both. At the weekend he preached at all five Masses.

The theme of the triduum was “The Gift of Disability”. Fr Cyril shared how he had grown into a ministry for the deaf. He himself was born profoundly deaf. His family was Jewish and as a young man Cyril converted to Catholicism and eventually became a diocesan priest and finally a Redemptorist. His ministry for the deaf brought him from South Africa to China where he worked for the deaf community for 15 years.

Slowly Fr Cyril’s sight began to fail and he became completely blind. Fr Cyril explained that on the onset of his blindness he had pondered how much God had used his deafness to spread the Gospel, “now God will use my blindness also to proclaim the Good News”. Fr Cyril encouraged everyone to let God use their limitations, whatever they are, to reach out to others, especially to those who feel abandoned because of their disability. Over the weekend at all the Masses Fr Cyril spoke of what all Catholics, whether disabled or not, have in common.

Firstly we all share a SOLIDARITY IN FAITH: whether disabled or not we are all united as each one is made in the image of God. This image of God can only be obscured by the effects of pride and sin.

Secondly, abled and disabled are united in the mystery of Redemption. We are all REDEEMED and called to new life in Christ.

Thirdly, each one of us, irrespective of our condition, has a VOCATION : we are all called to holiness. A different life does not mean a less important life or a life with less potential for making a contribution to the world.

Fourthly we are all united in our common DESTINY: friendship with God. Blessed John Paul said “For disabled people, as for any human being, it is not important that they do what others do, but that they do what THEY do, what is truly good for them”.

More than any words which Fr Cyril shared, the witness of his own personal life communicates his message in a way which touches peoples’ hearts. His visit to Cape Town will long be remembered as a grace and blessing for all who had the privilege of meeting him.

{Fr Cyril’s autobiography AND THE JOURNEY BEGINS is available from Redemptorist Pastoral Publications janet@rpp.org.za }