"This reaching out for 40-45 years, watching everybody go up to Communion and come back again, was his longing for the Eucharist," Gangemi said. "And if you think of what Jesus did and what Jesus said, he made a special focus on people who are left out."
"His lament, 'why not me?' was no different than the psalmists and the people that were exiled. So I think that's got to stop, my hope is that that will stop, she said."
In 2016, Pope Francis told an Italian group that excluding anyone from parish life because of a disability is wrong, stressing that it is better to "close the door" of a parish than to exclude the disabled.
Disability catechesis, Gangemi said, is not simply about making sure people with disabilities have access to the Sacraments, but is more broadly focused on "how can we ensure that every single person, born and baptized, can be an agent of evangelization and can have the faith echoed down to them so that they can echo down the faith to others."
"People with disabilities who become active in the Church through their own creative skills then become people that can evangelize to others and call others to salvation," she said.
The catechetical conference was proposed in 2016 by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Council for the New Evangelization, and approved personally by Pope Francis. Gangemi, who has a number of family members with disabilities, was invited to help organize the event because of previous Vatican conferences on disabilities she'd arranged.
So far, 420 people who work in catechesis have signed up, coming from professions and countries all over the world. Archbishop Fisichella, Baroness Sheila Hollins of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and representatives from dioceses around the world will present methods for the catechesis of disabled people. Participants will also have an audience with Pope Francis on day two of the event, demonstrating the Pope's keen interest in the topic.
In her comments to CNA, Gangemi called the conference "historic," since it is among the first global events to address the topic of catechizing those with intellectual disabilities.
Gangemi is also partnering with the Archdiocese of Newark's office for Pastoral Ministry for Persons with Disabilities, to launch a parish training course on catechesis for the disabled.
The goal, she said, is to engage people so as to "try to make a shift in the way we see and think" about disability, "because the Catholic Church teaches that all life is gift."
"That's our starting point: all life is gift," she said, and voiced her hope that the conference would be "the beginning, and that those of us who live now will leave a legacy for those to come, that it won't die."
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