The Emmaus Community is a successful example of how people with various disabilities can be integrated into society. In this case, into the vibrant academic environment of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. This is the story of Nadia and Khystyna, two young women who work there.
Nadia Kalachova studied economics for four years. But her childhood dream was to be a journalist. When that dream came true, she discovered the Lord had given her something unique.
“The search for God and for your own vocation go hand in hand, because when you find God, He is the one who helps you discover your vocation”.
While attending the School of Journalism at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), Nadia started deepening her knowledge of God. “When I came to UCU”, she says, “I brought some unresolved questions with me. My parents are part of the Protestant community, so I had a certain experience of faith. But in all this, I was searching for order and I had doubts”. Interesting classes, conversations with her teachers, and listening to the faith experiences of her friends, revealed to Nadia how God works in everyday life.
Once her studies were completed, Nadia had to think about a career. “I had ambitions about being a journalist, but at the same time, I prayed and asked God where He wanted me. Little by little, the road opening up before me pointed me in the direction of people with mental disabilities”.
It all began when she read Dorota Terakowska’s book “The Chrysalis”: the story of how a family copes with their daughter’s particularly serious form of Down’s Syndrome. Soon afterward, Nadia met Roman Maksymovych, a young man affected by the same genetic pathology. Nadia was struck by the way he recited Saint Paul’s “Hymn of Charity”, from the Letter to the Corinthians.
“We try to see in people with disabilities, the dignity, and gifts that God has given them,” explains Nadia. Then we try to help them find their place in society because the Lord has given each one a mission in life. Members of the “Emmaus” community at UCU, to which Nadia belongs, call people with disabilities “friends”.
Nadia finds her inspiration in Jean Vanier, founder of the “L’Arche” Community, a voluntary organization that supports and assists people with special needs. Nadia identifies with the following phrase: “It is not only the weak who need the strong but also the strong who need the weak. Because with their weakness they awaken in us the energy of tenderness”. Nadia recalls the many occasions when people with disabilities helped her rediscover this tenderness, something she describes as a “need” rather than a “reward”.
“Don’t be afraid to take the first step in discovering the uniqueness of people with special needs”, says Nadia. But do be aware that certain things can only be learned with time. It is not always easy to build relationships with these new friends. Nadia describes her own experience of feeling she had failed to connect with them at all. That is because, in today’s world, everything must be immediate. People with special needs, on the other hand, teach us to slow down.
Discovering the mystery and uniqueness of people with special needs takes time and patience, explains Nadia. They reveal their gifts slowly and in a deep form of communication. Which is why, with simplicity and spontaneity, they teach us how to trust.
Nadia and Khrystyna speak tenderly about Katrusia, who needs particular care and attention because she suffers from both cerebral palsy and autism. They marvel at her ability to communicate positivity to everyone around her. Even the cheerful sound of her voice when she says “Hello” is enough to put people in a good mood, they say. Her sweet and discreet way of helping others to appreciate small things they may not even have noticed before.
Pope Francis often speaks of the revolution of tenderness. He teaches us that tenderness means using our eyes to “see” the other, listening with our ears to “hear” the other. Perhaps we all need that kind of grace in order to be bearers of God’s mercy, tenderness, and love. Vatican News Department