Saturday, September 15, 2012

Paralympics: it´s not about medals, it´s about passion for life

I expected to use the staircase to get to my seat, but found that I was already at the stand. Row 5 on my ticket was only a few metres from the racetrack. I was completely overcome by the view of that huge arena – goose pimple effect! I was at the Olympic Stadium in East-London. It was my initial experience of the Paralympics 2012. A moment which was one of those “once in a life-time experiences”.

Britain made it great; it wanted to show the world that anything is possible! This may sound like an exaggeration. The application of scientific knowledge is very helpful for the disabled but it is not everything. Paralympians show us above all that they haven´t given up on life despite their disabilities. Their passion for life has enabled them to overcome not only physical limitations but also psychological barriers. “Only Paralympians really know how personal a sacrifice that is,” British Paralympian Tom Aggar said. He didn´t win any medal this summer – it´s not about medals, it´s about passion for life!

The adverts in London presented Great Britain Paralympians as superhuman. Looking at the athletes at the Olympic Stadium would appear to confirm that claim. “But not many with disabilities can mutate into this,” wrote David Aaronovitch in The Times (August 30). He claimed that 64% of the disabled had some experience of hostility or aggression. The London Paralympics, with the biggest TV audience ever, could help to shape the views of the majority in society. A life, however disabled, is worth living and should be protected and supported. Each human person has a super and original value.

To meet handicapped people is a transforming experience. “There is always that fear of offending a disabled person,” Tom Aggar said. We use to be apprehensive about it! However, when you overcome the first impression – the sentiment of pity – then you stop seeing the wheelchair and just see the person. This is also the point of our faith. The body and the spirit are united in a human being. Although the person – image of God – is often obscured, it is never completely lost. We need to learn to promote every life, to touch and develop the substantial human and divine value of each person, with medical care, education, sacraments in the Church and support in families. Sometimes it is also useful to learn to let go of the little things. Human life – God´s creation – is even stronger than any disability

Monday, September 3, 2012

Where are Catholics in democratic politics?

The Tablet is a British Catholic weekly journal. In the edition of 18th August I found an article making a comparison of two Catholic approaches to political issues in the USA. It is not my intention to make any comments on the article “The great divide”. It compared the approach of republican and democratic politicians who are Catholics; it has enriched my knowledge and prompted this reflection.

The democrat, Vice President Joe Biden, aged 69, born to working class parents, represents old school American Catholicism in public life. This focused on the community, the common good, the service and the traditions of ethnic identity and the importance of powerful government. The republican 42-year-old Paul Ryan has never experienced poverty but has always been active in politics. Elected to Congress in 1998 Ryan represents a new generation of conservative politics based on individualism, on “winner-take-all competition” and on the fundamental role of free market as against powerful State intervention.

One day last week I was watching TV and during the adverts I came across the live broadcast of Paul Ryan´s speech at the Tampa Republican Convention. I listened for about ten minutes. Ryan is a highly impressive orator whose smile, gesture and voice modulation are used very effectively. The stage was his and the audience was overwhelmed by him. I felt really involved for that moment!

The election issues, in general, are focused around specific subjects. The main and unavoidable one in the present election campaign is the economic crisis and unemployment. In the Euro-American political model the right-wing political parties are more familiar with free market issues and the left-wing parties are more concerned with State intervention in citizen welfare which in turn is related to higher taxes and more power for the government.

The present economic crisis is first and foremost a moral crisis. There is too much confidence in the free market and production related to market demand; which is based on improving living standards. If this market demand (the desire of a better human life) is being resolved only by impersonal forces such as the market, then we are on the wrong path. It is inhumane to be enslaved either by market dominance or by the State/Political Party. It goes against our understanding of human freedom and human desires.

Catholic politicians must find the right balance between free-market dynamics (often ruled by “winner-take-all”) and the common good. The primary focus must be on the needs of every human person. According to the Gospel, on which is based the personalism of Blessed Pope John Paul II – politics is a ministry for the common good. It is not easy to come up with a new type of political approach; it is, however, a unique challenge for Catholic politicians. A humble position before the Gospel message is necessary for facing up to this challenge. It is neither the market nor the State which politicians have to serve; but rather each person and the common good.