Pope Francis revealed that “There are far more disabled saints than you think”







A new book about saints with disabilities is a reminder that everyone has a vocation

Many people will have been saddened to read the news that a French court has banned the screening of a positive commercial about young people with Down’s syndrome. The children smile and look happy. Apparently seeing them might make women who have had abortions feel guilty. Their feelings must be protected.

I thought of this when reading Pia Matthews’s moving and revelatory book, God’s Wild Flowers: Saints with Disabilities (Gracewing). Dr Matthews, who lectures at Wonersh seminary, has compiled a large list of saints who suffered from physical or mental problems. I asked her what had prompted her to write her book.

Pia tells me that she wanted to show that disability is “simply one aspect of humanity. All human beings are made in the image of God and are wonderful creations. Above all, all human beings are in relationship with God so all have a spiritual life, even if it is not easily expressed or identifiable.”

“Sainthood”, she adds, “is often thought of in terms of perfection.” Yet Pope John Paul II, whose writings on disabled people inspired her book, “made it quite clear that we are all called to be saints – becoming the person God wants you to be.” She reasons, “If sainthood is for every human being, then it must also be for people with disabilities.”

Does she have a readership in mind? She tells me she is interested in “the theology around disability, about people who seem to be marginalised and who may think that the Church has neglected them”, adding: “We are, after all, a Church of saints and sinners (who are trying to be saints) and the different stories of the saints illustrate how discrimination, prejudice, misunderstanding or fear are always present – but can be overcome.”

I note that the range of saints in the book is enormous; how long did it take the author to research them? Pia relates that at first she thought she would only find a few saints but instead “I found more and more saints who would ‘qualify’.” Wanting to be accurate, she researched material from reliable sources like Vatican biographies. “It took a long time and I am still finding more.”

One question haunts me: why were none of the saints included ever cured of their disability? Pia explains that the point of her book is that “sainthood is for everyone. Disability is not a punishment from God; people with disabilities are loved by God for who they are, not for what they can achieve by themselves.” She reflects: “Jesus himself is resurrected with his wounds: our Saviour is disabled. Not being cured is not significant. What detracts from sainthood is not disability but spiritual sins like pride, avarice, greed, malice and so on. It is these that need healing.”

Finally I want to know: what is the “message” of her book? Pia believes that “we live in a time of a throw-away culture where anything deemed not working is discarded. We are fearful of losing control, of being thrown on the ‘care home’ scrap heap.” She emphasises that the message of her book is “hope, because the stories show that God can work with any person and that every person has been given a special vocation. No one is abandoned by God.” She adds: “People need a source of hope and community.” She reminds me that wild flowers, such as poppies, cornflowers, daisies and buttercups, “all add to the beauty of the garden. Like God’s garden, each of us is unique yet we are all deeply connected. Whatever








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2 comments

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Come on – Yahweh has no use for disabled people:
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    Lev. 16 And the Lord said to Moses, 17 “Say to Aaron, None of your descendants throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, 20 or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles; 21 no man of the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. 22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, 23 but he shall not come near the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord who sanctify them.” 24 So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel.”
    .
    Even Jesus believed that disability was a punishment from Yahweh. When he healed someone, he would tell them their sins were forgiven. Where in the NT did Jesus change the idea that said disabilities were punishment from god? Yahweh did not seem to leave this option open given that he said: “None of your descendants throughout their generations..”
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    The RCC calls them saints, but technically, according to Yahweh, they are sinners being punished. Dt 28,29 provide a long list of things Yahweh does to you when you disobey him, including multiple disabilities. These “saints” must have disobeyed Yahweh, if we are to accept that the bible is correct. Why then, are they honored?

    Or was Yahweh wrong? Is the bible wrong?

  2. Peter Aiello Reply

    There are 2 degrees of relationship with God: those that are sustained by Him by the very fact that they exist; and there are those who are humble towards Him and receive special grace. Sainthood is the latter and is possible for all regardless of circumstance. Saints know that their worth comes from God, and not from the opinions of others.

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