Welcome to the world of the disabled

At this time, when I am leaving the “Pacifico-Andina” Province and returning to “Europa Sur-África”, I have been asked to share something about the World of the Disabled – the heading for this article. This is one of the treasures that was given to me during the 28 years I have spent in Peru and Bolivia. It is from this World – which I got to know thanks to the "Frater" (Christian Fraternity of Infirm and/or Disabled Persons) – and with it that I rejoiced and suffered with enthusiasm.

I inherited this option and commitment in 1990 in Bolivia, on the death of Ana Van der Straten, one of our sisters, whose last years were completely devoted to the Frater. I felt very strongly that I had to continue in her footsteps and, as they say here, if the Frater gets hold of you, there’s no escape! And that’s the way it was – it got hold of me! 
 
The Fraternity is the apostolic movement that many of you know, which came into being in France. It attracted me immediately, in Bolivia, through its liberating spirit and approach and, when I arrived in Peru, I looked for it straight away, as I wish to do wherever I may go… 
 
Yes, it is a Movement with a liberating approach, made up of people who are handicapped and, therefore, on the sidelines, on the margins of society and even more so in those marginalised societies of our world which, to conceal the reality, are described as "developing".
 
With them we are constantly seeking the development and integration of each person, embedded in the strength of the Gospel. It is a lay movement, the laypeople lead it but we advisers (religious, priest or lay) have our place in the co-ordination teams. That was how I learned to live this, participating as far as possible in their life, their festivities and their struggles; in the passing of a law that was passed through their meetings, petitions and marches – a law that has still not been put into effect, or only to a very small extent. 
We have succeeded in becoming visible on thousands of occasions, in this big city of Lima. People are beginning to know that we exist. 
 
They have succeeded in being taken into account, like any other group, in the life of some parishes. They have succeeded in convincing themselves that their possibilities outweigh their limitations. Ana used to say: What courageous people they are!! – and that is the case. There is great effort for training, for a holistic training. To do this they make projects and look for collaborators. I have witnessed great changes in persons …
 
"María, like so many others, lived confined in her house with her family, she never believed in any possibilities: what is the point is studying if you are not going to go out? etc. She got to know other young people in the Frater, she obtained a wheelchair and, one day, she was already 22, having got clear instructions, without looking for anybody in the house to accompany her, understanding very well that she could not continue to be dependent, she said: ’I’m going!’ She was very close to the door, she opened it and slammed it… nobody believed her, but on reacting and finding that she was not in the house they went out into the street and found she had already gone around the corner and was looking for a taxi, alone, etc. That was the starting point. She finished the primary and secondary studies and followed courses in accounting and computing." 
 
She was in various co-ordination teams in the Movement and now is responsible, at national level, for her Secular Institute. 
Yesterday, at a farewell function for me, she gave her testimony and stressed that, with me, we had succeeded in being, quite simply, friends. I understood that the core of the question in our accompaniment and counselling is to be found in this: being friends. 
 
Father François, the founder of the Frater said not to begin by inviting, nor by wanting to make changes; we must give disinterested friendship, we must listen, serve and later, sometimes much later, the commitment comes. 
 
In the city of Lima, there are fifteen groups and I accompanied the co-ordination group in Lima during the last six years. 
They have succeeded in having a “Casa-Hogar” (House/Home) as a service to persons from the provinces who need to come to Lima for rehabilitation and who are not able to have accommodation here. It is a transitory stay, not permanent, just for as long as the need is there, a few months, sometimes a year or more. And they return to their home place with a spirit that is already changing then into different persons. 
 
And I could continue recounting innumerable life stories, but the greatest success has been what I received from their richness and their friendship. For that, I ask that you accompany me in giving Thanks to our God of Life who makes us live, together. In this World of the handicapped we must live with the Hope that Another World is Possible, as we said at the World Social Forum. 
 
All my affection to our "international" community of Little Sisters and laity of the Assumption. 
 
Sr Cristina
14/12/2011
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