According to Gangemi, the essence of disability theology can be defined as "a way of exploring the Christian Gospel and the very essence of God through the life experiences and expressions of people who've been disabled."
While Vanier is Catholic, the story of L'Arche and the study of disability theology have been taken up especially by members of the Anglican Communion, Gangemi said, explaining that because of this the conference will also feature ecumenical speakers.
As someone who has been working in the field for more than 20 years, Gangemi said that while Catholic theologians are taking an increasing interest in disability theology, "it's a missing bit of what we do as a Church."
"Disability isn't a special occasion, it's an everyday occurrence, it's part of who we are as Church," she said, voicing her hope that the fact that LUMSA University is hosting the conference will help to ensure that disability theology "is part and parcel of what universities and Catholic studies have in the future."
One concrete sign of the Church's increasing interest in persons with disabilities is the recent Jubilee of the Disabled, held June 10-12 as part of Pope Francis' wider Jubilee of Mercy. During the jubilee, Pope Francis said discriminating against the disabled is "ugly," and insisted such persons ought to be loved, rather than hidden from society.
Gangemi said that in her opinion, while the topic of disability theology has always been needed in the Church, the need is more dire today due to the "urgent drive to obtain the perfect human."
"The disabled person still lives in a very paradoxical place," she said, noting how currently in the UK, the only factor allowing parents to get a full-term abortion at 40 weeks gestation is for reasons of fetal disability.
"Even the day that you're born, (right) before you're born if you're known to have a disability and it's decided that you shouldn't exist, you can be aborted."
The paradox, she said, is that if the disabled child survives pregnancy and is born, they are then protected by legislation which deems them "an equal and valued human being" and provides for their needs.
With the Church "it's the other way around," she said. "Because of our stance on life as gift and our protection of the unborn child, the disabled person's life is totally respected and valued." But once the disabled child is born and baptized, "there's almost nothing for them to do."
"So the theology of disability doesn't say it's about belonging, it says 'what are you going to do in your parish, and how are they going to belong?'"
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