In 2001, on the model of the French “Christian Office for Disabled Persons”, there was created “Emmaus” Centre within the Ukrainian Catholic University by Zenia Kushpeta, as a response to the difficult conditions in which families with disabled people lived. At that time in Ukraine, as well as in other post soviet countries, there were created practically no opportunities for integration and development of people with an intellectual disability. Most of them stayed in institutions and geriatric hospitals. Families with disabled children could not count on a support from the state. Social organizations just started to get established. The society was not ready to accept them because of the lack of appropriate knowledge about people with an intellectual disability as well as because of the lack of vision about their place in the society. It was considered that people with an intellectual disability were only a burden for their families, that they were not needed, and their life had no sense. Their families were often ashamed of them, and people in the streets either ignored or mocked them.
“Emmaus” Centre was founded with the purpose to spread the idea of new vision of the society, where there is a place for every person and each one is accepted as a God’s gift, where the dignity of everyone is valued, despite his/her intellectual or physical disability.
The origin of the “Emmaus” Centre is not accidental. In the chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24, 13-35) we read about two disciples going from Jerusalem to Emmaus after the death and resurrection of Jesus. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus joined them, but they did not recognize Him (“But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Luke 24, 16). The disciples continued their way to Emmaus not even suspecting that it was God Himself who was walking alongside. They tell him the story they have recently lived through – about the terrible death of their Teacher, who they were so hopeful about, and rumours about His resurrection. So Jesus started to teach them, explaining the Scriptures they could still not understand. When it was toward the evening the disciples asked the Stranger to stay with them. They shared their meal. At the moment when Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it their eyes were opened. At last they understood who accompanied them on their way. Then Jesus vanished from their sight. The disciples were saying to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24, 32) Then the disciples of Jesus returned to Jerusalem to tell about what they saw and heard.
Mission of the “Emmaus”
As the disciples could not immediately recognize Jesus in the Stranger walking alongside, so it is often difficult for us to recognize God’s presence in those who is beside us. Emmaus is the place on the way to which hearts of the disciples get ablaze by the God’s fire and become burning.
On the way to Emmaus there comes the revelation – the disciples start to understand that God did not abandon them, that they were not left alone – Jesus Himself accompanies them on their way.
On the way to Emmaus the disciples’ life is filled with joy and gets a new sense – they wish to share the Good News with others. They return to Jerusalem transformed.
Similarly, we in the “Emmaus” Centre, with burning hearts and experience of meeting “Other” in relationships with intellectually disabled people, want to tell everyone what we discovered about the true nature of our friends with an intellectual disability. In reality, in the broken, wounded body and mind people with an intellectual disability conceal a special mystery and vocation.
Today many people, particularly people with an intellectual disability and their families, are walking the road of life in despair and loneliness, like the disciples of Jesus from this extract of the Gospel, until they reveal the healing love of God and neighbour.
The “Emmaus” Centre is created as a place where people with an intellectual disability and their families can find accompaniment and consolation. The Centre also seeks to support all people who take care of the disabled.
Following the example of the disciples, who, having shared the meal with Jesus, rediscovered the sense and hope at the moment of the communion of hearts, the “Emmaus” Centre encourages creation and growth of space and possibilities for uniting people with a disability and those around them. For all of us need to have friends and to be important for someone.
Therefore, “Emmaus” supports the movement “Faith and Light” (communities of sharing and celebration, uniting people with an intellectual disability, their families, and young volunteers), “L’Arche-Kovcheh” (in Ukraine there are currently 5 day programs-workshops, a house for temporary living and a coordinating office), integrative theatre “Laughter and Tears” and others – these all are places where disabled people can find friends and develop as personalities.
Objectives of the “Emmaus”
“Emmaus” Centre has a threefold mission:
- To draw attention of the society to the special gift, beauty, and vocation of people with a disability and to witness about the dignity and value of each person. Therefore, “Emmaus” holds presentations and seminars in different institutions (universities, schools), parishes, seminaries, youth groups, etc. It deals with publication of books and supplementary materials, organizes film shows, holds spiritual meetings for young people, encourages seminarists and other students to pastoral practice, organizes integration programs of disabled people into the society (in particular, into the environment of UCU), supports integration theatre “Laughter and Tears”, establishes contacts with social organizations and religious communities in the spirit of ecumenical dialogue.
- To support people with a disability, their parents and friends, as well as those who take care of disabled people. It is done through organization of sharing groups, individual support, formations, retreats and common prayers.
- To promote creation and growth of communities. The “Emmaus” Centre encourages people to create communities which would respond to the practical and spiritual needs of people with an intellectual disability and their families; supports the already existing communities, particularly “L’Arche-Kovcheh” and “Faith and Light”; prepares young people for volunteer work and friendship with intellectually disabled people.