|US leaders urged to put respect for human dignity at center of issues|
Catholic News ServiceDENVER — The Secular Franciscan Order urged U.S. business leaders and government officials, including the next U.S. president, to approach economic and political issues with the "foundational premise" that "all of creation, especially human life, has dignity and value."
Such an approach "sets the stage for recognizing that: people with disabilities have value, disabilities are a normal part of life, we should assume people with disabilities want to be meaningfully engaged in society, and their participation contributes significantly to the fabric of society," the order said in a statement released Oct. 19 during a meeting in Denver.
The order's national body -- representing 13,400 secular Franciscans across the country -- unanimously endorsed the statement and pledged prayer and action over the next year.
"This vision," the statement said, "seeks to preserve the dignity of a wide range of people -- persons such as those with Down syndrome or other disabilities, victims of human trafficking, elderly persons in declining health, the poor among us, refugees who come across the border, homeless children everywhere."
Recognizing people's value is an issue of justice that goes beyond charity and runs counter to "today's cultural notion that some people are disposable," the order said.
Some "are despised because they're costly, inconvenient or requiring too much time. This involves everything from aborting babies thought to be less than perfect ... to organ donation pressure ... to so-called compassionate death."
The national body said members of the order would commit themselves to prayer and activities focused on issues confronting the nation's leaders in 2013 "and beyond," especially during the Catholic Church's Year of Faith, instituted by Pope Benedict XVI.
The yearlong program of worship, catechesis and evangelization opened Oct. 11 and runs to Nov. 24, 2013.
The group also said its Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Commission also will coordinate "action items for the 30 secular Franciscan regions across the U.S."
During the national gathering in Denver, the Secular Franciscan Order presented its Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Award to Janice Benton, director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, which is based in Washington.
"Don't think of disabilities as exceptional. ... We say it's a normal part of life," said Benton, describing her advocacy work. She herself is a secular Franciscan.
"You should make assumptions that people with disabilities want to be part of our community," she added.