Attending Mass regularly and on time might be a challenge for some able-bodied people. Yet for almost a quarter of the community who are disabled there are many blocks to access even before receiving the Eucharist.

These were made apparent at the “Enabling Communities — Everyone Has a Part to Play” workshop held on September 4 at the St Columba Centre in Ponsonby.

The workshop was organised by the Auckland Catholic Justice and Peace Commission for Social Justice Week.

Nearly 60 people attended and two of the best sign language interpreters in the country took turns translating to the packed out room. People broke out into “groups of inclusion” to brainstorm questions for reflection at the end of the presentations. Bright yellow
accessibility checklists for auditing parish physical environments were distributed.

The speaker line-up featured Teresa Thorp, Caritas Aotearoa NZ advocacy and research manager, Rachel Marr and Eric Matthews, both pastoral workers for the Catholic Deaf community, and two wheelchair-bound parishioners — Dartanyan Muliaga and Kolotita Tupou.

Cultivating better access, acceptance and a sense of belonging in the parish were needs clearly expressed on the night. Mr Muliaga spoke of his desire for full participation but there is no ramp access to his local Catholic church in Auckland.

Building a “culture of solidarity and mercy” was Ms Thorp’s key message. “He taonga rongonui te aroha ki te tangata — goodwill towards others is a precious gift,” she said on behalf of the New Zealand Catholic bishops.

Photos from the monthly Mass service celebrated in sign language were shared by Mr Matthews. He and Ms Marr both sign in Gospel-reading videos that are delivered daily on the Catholic Diocese of Auckland — Deaf Community Facebook page.

“For us the workshop helps to raise awareness in the Catholic community about the presence of Deaf members — it’s important as we’re a thriving community! We want to access different forums of Faith and Faith practices and [are] always striving to walk alongside our hearing Catholic brothers and sisters. What that looks like, is access,” Ms Marr said.

Mrs Tupou, a long-time social justice advocate, officially recognised by the Tongan Royal Family for championing the disabled, shared the wisdom of the night, ”Why wouldn’t you help others when God blesses you?”