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New Forum to Support Spiritual Needs of People with Learning Difficulties

Independent Catholic News -  A new forum has been launched to provide specialist advice and resources for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities; their families, carers and support workers. Intellectual disabilities include Down's syndrome and autism; cognitive disabilities include dementia and people who survive a stroke. Directed by Cristina Gangemi and Dr John Swinton of the University of Aberdeen, the Kairos Forum is a response to research carried out with the University of Aberdeen into the spiritual needs of people with intellectual disabilities. The official launch will take place at the Charterhouse in London on 19 April.

Cristina Gangemi is the former disability advisor to the Archdiocese of Southwark. She is a practical theologian who has worked as a national advisor to Catholic and ecumenical groups and has a long history in working alongside people with Intellectual Disabilities in the area of spirituality and religious practice.

Professor Swinton is Professor of Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at the University of Aberdeen. He is also Director of the University's Centre for Spirituality, Health and Disability. With a background in mental health nursing before entering academia, Professor Swinton's book Spirituality and Mental Health Care: rediscovering a forgotten dimension (2001) led the way in exploring the impact of spirituality on the practice of mental health care. His work on spirituality and Cognitive Disabilities, alongside his recent book Dementia: Living in the Memories of God (2012), promises to achieve the same.

Describing the mission of Kairos, John Swinton said: "Spirituality is a broad concept. For some people it relates to religion, but for others it is much broader including things such as meaning, purpose, hope and love. The Kairos Forum is not a specifically religious organisation. It seeks to meet people's religious and spiritual needs.

"It's not complicated really. Life without meaning and without people who will help us to find meaning is not what any of us want. If we can begin to look at one another as full human beings who realise that we need one another, then society will be a better place. The Forum is one place where we can begin to build communities within which each of us can truly belong. Whether you are religious or not, spirituality can be the beginning of belonging."

Cristina Gangemi added: "We really hope that The Kairos Forum will be of great service to people of all abilities, enabling them to put their intuitive ideas about the importance of spirituality into practice. It often looks as if society has forgotten what it means to live in community. This can be particularly difficult for people whom society perceives as different. The Forum aims to foster communities where the stories of people with disabilities can be narrated, received and responded to, in a way that is empathic and hospitable. By focusing on the spiritual, broadly defined, we can begin to understand what it might mean to be a whole human being and to live lives that are marked by friendship and togetherness."

Funded by independent charitable trusts with no public funding, the Forum will provide support in very practical ways through expertise, practical resources and consultancy, including: Facilitating a support network for those living with and working in this field, including online discussion forums. Developing resources to assist individuals, families and professionals to meet the expressed needs of people with disabilities. Providing a consultancy service - through a team of experts - to help implement person-centred spiritual care, support and accompaniment for disabled people. Working with schools to enable teachers and pupils to explore and gain insight into disability issues.

Developing and producing educational programmes and materials for lay people and professionals (for example those working in the NHS and local authorities), for carers, and for people who themselves have a disability.

For more information see: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/kairos-forum


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