MESSAGE by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
on the Occasion of the Flame of Hope at the Phanar
for the World Summer Games of the Special Olympics
(Tuesday, June 21, 2011)
|Distinguished guests, beloved friends, and – most especially – dearest young men and women, athletes of the Special Olympics,|
It is a profound honor and sincere joy to receive here, in the courtyard of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Flame of Hope for the Special Olympics World Summer Games opening in Athens this Saturday, June 25, 2011, at the Panathenaic Stadium. Although we shall have the distinct privilege and pleasure of attending the opening ceremony in person, we are delighted to welcome and witness this powerful symbol of assurance and aspiration.
This flame is indeed a reminder to us – in the church as well as in society – that we must be open to all people without discrimination. Our world must be a place of hospitality and community, of caring and sharing, especially for those among us that we tend to forget or take for granted, that we tend to ignore or exclude, that we tend to dismiss or patronize. When we marginalize people – whether through our attitudes or our actions – we overlook our calling as human beings to embrace and “love one another as God loves us,” namely with dignity and equality despite our limitations and vulnerabilities. This is why, in his first Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us that “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are in fact indispensable.” (12.22) Every person – those with disabilities and those without disabilities – is unique in the eyes of God. We are judged – as a society and as human beings – by the way that we accept and include those among us with special needs.
Inter-dependence is the key here. For, although the secular world stresses independence, we are in fact called to live as individuals and communities dependent on God and on one another. None of us is a burden for the rest; and none of us should bear the burden alone. To quote St. Paul again: “We all bear one another’s burdens in order to fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
Permit us to tell you a story from the fifth-century Sayings of the Desert Fathers. One of the great monks of the Egyptian desert, Abba Agathon, was once asked to care for a man with cerebral palsy. This disabled man asked the well-known spiritual elder of Egypt to carry him several miles to the nearest town. There, he asked Abba Agathon to buy him some food. Later, he asked him to buy some clothing. The disabled man kept demanding more and more from the monk. Finally, Abba Agathon was asked to return the man with cerebral palsy to the place where he found him. On each occasion, Abba Agathon simply responded to the request, without expressing any complaint. The story closes with the following words: “The disabled man said: ‘Agathon, you are truly a blessed man.’ Raising his eyes, Agathon saw no human being at all; for it was an angel of the Lord.” Thus, young men and women with special needs are nothing less than angels in our midst.
Dear friends, the Special Olympics provide a unique opportunity for all of us to remember that we are not a complete community without one another. During the World Summer Games in Athens, we will be reminded that people with disabilities are first of all people, not disabled. They are created in the image of God, just as we are. They are fragile, just as we are And that is a profound lesson, for which we are grateful – first and foremost – to them – to you.
We thank you for bringing the Flame of Hope to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We wish you a safe journey to the host country, Greece. And we look forward to celebrating with you these very special games in a few days.