Building bridges for an inclusive Church

21 Dec 2020

By Theresia Titus

By Theresia Titus

Personal Advocacy Service Executive Director Ray Ryan. Photo: Rachel Curry.
Personal Advocacy Service Executive Director Ray Ryan. Photo: Rachel Curry.

For more than three decades, Personal Advocacy Service (PAS) has been a bridge for those with intellectual disability to be a part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth.

Speaking with The Record, Executive Director Ray Ryan shared his hopes for the agency he has led since early-2016.

“Our mandate is to facilitate the inclusion of people with intellectual disability, into parishes of the Archdiocese, by running small groups within some parishes and provide people with intellectual disability with a one-on-one volunteer, or what we call as an advocate,” Mr Ryan said.

“We train our advocates, and they are then linked one-on-one with a person with intellectual disability.

“We formed the group in the parish environment, consisting of six people with intellectual disability and one advocate for each member of the group,” he continued.

Those with intellectual disability, as Mr Ryan explained, are those who were born with learning difficulties.

“[They are] people with different abilities, but they generally do not fit well into mainstream activities and have been marginalised in the past,” he said.

“We are trying to assist them in integrating fully into the parish communities. Now, the way we do that is, we have separate group meetings. The small groups in each Parish meet fortnightly together our advocates, for a two-hour session.

“Quite frequently, the volunteer advocate is the only unpaid connection that many of these people have in their lives, as many of them may not have family members or carers to help them. Hence, their advocate is the only unpaid carer in their life,” he added.

“We aim to facilitate community interaction and community participation by attending the group sessions and Masses at their local parishes, although it is quite a challenge.”

Mr Ryan believes it is essential that the Catholic Church should be inclusive, especially for those who have been marginalised because they have different abilities.

“It’s an imperative of our mission that we include everyone having different abilities, of other race, language, [and] should not exclude anyone. This agency is a response to that imperative, as many do not have a voice. In most cases, someone else must speak for them. In the case of intellectual disability, we are one of the voices that speak for them within the Archdiocese,” Mr Ryan stated.

With small groups spread across 12 parishes within the Archdiocese, PAS aims to further branch out.

“[At the moment], we have only 87 people with intellectual disability in our groups and 125 advocates. We also know that there are a lot more people with intellectual disability around Perth, who do not attend Masses. Hence, we need to go out, and each parish needs to reach out into its community, identify these people, and then actively invite them, and welcome them into the parish community, give them some valued role,” Mr Ryan expressed.

“We have just appointed a new person as Parish Inclusion Coordinator, and it’s her role to approach parishes, help and encourage them to recruit volunteers. [We need to] make sure the Church is a welcoming community for people with intellectual disability.”