Rosie was a girl in our class whose legs were adorned with braces. None of us kids gave it a second thought. If we did, we never talked about it. I remember all the boys and girls playing "Duck, duck, goose." Though the boy who tagged Rosie was the class athlete, he trotted slowly around the circle to give his classmate a chance. It's just what we grade-schoolers did.

As children grow older, they make sense of the world by reflexively classifying people, placing them in groups, and then assigning characteristics to the group to help define the group. The generalizations we tag groups of people with devolves into stereotyping each individual who belongs to a particular group.

In the “Duck, duck, goose” game of adult life, would we play with a woman with leg braces? Once in the game, would we make every effort to accommodate her?

On the 22nd Anniversary of the American Disability Act (2012), the U.S. Census Bureau released a report that contained these statistics:

• One person in five has a disability

• More than half of these have a severe disability

• One family in every three has a member with a disability

People with disabilities reveal a mystery for us to enter into. As people of life and for life, we have a tremendous opportunity to learn from people with disabilities. Rather than allowing discomfort, preconceived notions, or even stereotypes to rule us, we want to engage in the mystery God has for us through them.

St. Teresa of Calcutta instinctively gazed upon each individual she met with unflinching love. She retrieved the lepers, the poor and the crippled from the gutters of the street. She cared for each one as if he or she was a person. Which of course they were!

"Everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others" (Pope Francis, Laudato Si', #70). Everything is connected. St. Teresa understood this: "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

How can we belong to, how can we better love people with disabilities? "Physical access [in churches] for persons with disability is important, but attitudes of openness, value, and welcome are crucial." (Making Room for Persons with Disabilities, National Catholic Partnership on Disability).

December 3 is the International Day of People with Disabilities. On this day, take a moment to reflect on our belief in the dignity of the human person, where no individual is more equal than another. How might you in your parish disengage from a sterile, impersonal, classified mindset, and engage in a more childlike, accommodating, integrated acceptance of others in our lives- especially those with disabilities?  "All persons are equally noble in natural dignity" (St. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, #89); all people reveal a piece of the mystery of God.

Let us not miss our opportunity to open our hearts to all.

Cato is director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace. Fr. Libra is the archdiocese’s pro-life director and pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Portland. Contributing was Kelsey Rea, coordinator of the archdiocese's Office for Persons with Disabilities