Here is a ZENIT translation of the message that Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care), sent on the occasion of the eighth annual World Autism Awareness Day, observed Saturday on the theme: “Architects and Witnesses of Hope:”
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Very dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the occasion of the 9th World Day for Awareness and Sensitization on Autism, which this year coincides with the days immediately following the Easter of Resurrection, the Church intends to make her own the attitude of the Risen Jesus, which infused hope in women after the tragic days of His Passion and Death: “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10).
Often the daily effort, disappointment, loss, solitude and anxiety for the future can prevail over hope, which should always animate families, health ministers and scientific and research associations, school institutions, volunteers and all those who, with different titles and in a synergic way, are at the side of persons with disturbances of the autistic spectre.
In the awareness that it is important and necessary to stimulate commitment in this sector, for the improvement of services and for the promotion of research, just as it is essential to be at the side of autistic persons and their families, it can be affirmed that in all these wonderful activities our heart cannot but be confirmed strongly in hope.
Christian hope – as Pope Francis affirms – “is not simply a desire, a wish, it is not optimism: for a Christian, hope is expectation, fervent expectation, passionate for the ultimate and definitive fulfilment of a mystery, the mystery of God’s love, in which we are reborn and already live. And it is the expectation of someone who is about to arrive: it is the Lord Christ who makes Himself ever closer to us, day after day, and who comes to introduce us finally in the fullness of His communion and His peace. Hence, the Church has the task to keep lighted and well visible the lamp of hope, so that it can continue to shine as sure sign of salvation and can illuminate for the whole of humanity the path that leads to the encounter with the merciful face of God” (General Audience, October 15, 2014).
At a time when often it is hard to find reasons for hope, and especially in face of the problem regarding disturbances of the autistic spectre, which often are difficult not only to diagnose but – especially in families – to be received without shame or turning in on oneself in solitude, we are called to put our trust again in God. Now, even if by definition hope looks to the future, it is rooted in the today of God, who cannot but love and who seeks us tirelessly. God, in fact, is unbounded goodness and benevolence; He takes care of His children and will never abandon those He has called to enter in His communion, whatever the difficulties might be.
In this horizon of faith, sensitization to neurological or behavioural disturbance, which up to short time ago could be considered a social stigma is, fortunately, acquiring ever greater consideration in the area of diagnosis and research, as well as in those of care, school and work insertion as well as support in spiritual growth. This is a sign of hope, as it emerged also on the occasion of the International Conference promoted two years ago by this Holy See Dicastery on the theme: “The Person with Disturbances of the Autistic Spectre: Encourage Hope.”
This notwithstanding, there must never be failure in everyone’s commitment to foster hospitality, encounter, solidarity in a concrete endeavour of support and of a renewed promotion of hope, taking into account especially the fact that autism is prolonged for the whole of life. Deriving from this, therefore, only an alliance between the health, socio-sanitary and educational sectors, as well as insertion, where possible, in work activities to enhance personal autonomy, can ensure the continuity of the care over the course of life of these our brothers and sisters. By making possible a functional integration between the specific evolutional age services and those of the adult age, the person with autism is enabled to preserve the acquired capacities with the competent interventions in the youthful age, avoiding their regression and the negation of the resources employed.
In this onerous but not impossible commitment, the effect of the educational, health and social interventions, in support of persons with disturbances of the autistic spectre and of their families, can be a valid incentive to identify and promote effective and efficient policies, thus creating on the territory and also in low-income countries – as Pope Francis affirmed when meeting with autistic children and persons and their families on November 22, 2014 – “a complete and accessible network of support and services,” which can “help families to overcome that sensation that can arise sometimes of inadequacy, inefficiency and frustration.”
Following Pope Francis’ invitation, which especially in this Holy Year of Mercy, stimulates believers and non-believers to rediscover attitudes of hospitality and fraternal solidarity, let us take charge in our lives of the acceptance and inclusion of autistic persons and their families, in the certainty that in this way, we are witnesses of genuine and joyful hope in the Church and in the world.
To all health workers, to researchers, to educators and to technicians of psychiatric rehabilitation, to the pastoral and social workers, to teachers and especially to autistic persons and their families I express the wish for every good and joy in the Risen Lord. Alleluia.
Vatican, April 2, 2016
H.E. Monsignor Zygmunt Zimowski[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]