In promoting respect and justice for all people and strengthening unity within our diversity, our ministry with the Deaf and Persons with Disabilities encourages relationships, compassionate outreach and respect for the unique gifts that those with special needs share with the Church. Welcoming and inclusive parishes seek to empower people of all abilities to participate in the faith life of the Church, and to fully embrace the social life of that loving and vibrant community. Through the efforts of this compassionate ministry along with loving support of pastors throughout our diocese, several of our parishes now have Masses of Welcome and Inclusion to more fully serve our faithful with special needs.
VITALity Ministry with the Deaf and Persons with Disabilities also serves as a resource and advocate for families, assisting them in securing ongoing services that will allow them to maintain the appropriate care of their autistic child as he/she grows into adolescence and early adulthood. The office serves as a resource for and often offers direct services to parishes, parishioners, persons with special needs, and their families in faith formation that can serve to implement inclusive Gospel values so that all God’s people can be welcomed, included and transformed as they share a place at the Lord’s Table and build up the Body of Christ.
By: Sister Bonnie McMenamin, SSJ, Director of Ministry with the Deaf and Persons with Disabilities, and Kate Slosar, Co-Director of Ministry with the Deaf
My grandson, Jacob, is a delightful, inquisitive, smart and witty 10 year old boy; who happens to fall under the umbrella of the Autism Spectrum. . . As many Catholic families do, we introduced Jake to Mass as an infant. However, as he grew older, Mass became an over-whelming ordeal that usually ended with a meltdown. Even so, whenever we drove past our parish, Jake would point and say “Hi Jesus, I miss you. I love you.”
Thankfully, in the spring of 2015, . . . I noticed an advertisement for the Mass of Inclusion at Holy Family Parish in Sewell in our church bulletin. I called my daughter and told her that I would like to give it a try. Jake and I attended and it was a rousing success!
The atmosphere at the Inclusion Mass is very calm and quiet. With only one reading and a shorter Homily, it is geared perfectly for these special people. Better still, it is a no judgment zone. If a child acts out, it is accepted graciously by all.
Jake is always so excited to go to Mass. He reminds himself to use his “library voice.” He looks forward to the Gospel and “learning about Jesus.” Sometimes he can’t contain himself and he’ll shout out “Jesus!” or “Amen!” He may not know the words to the songs, but that doesn’t stop him from happily singing out.
Jake has not yet received his First Holy Communion, so he will go up with me, fold his arms and say “Blessing please.” He has told me that this makes him feel special. In February , he was asked to help take up the gifts. He was so proud. The Inclusion Mass is a special time to which we both look forward.
With the support of VITALity, this ministry facilitates access to spiritual development for Persons with Disabilities to “ensure that the power of salvation may be shared by all“ (Pope John Paul, II). The Ministry works to evangelize and serve Persons with Disabilities in the Diocese of Camden, so that they may be affirmed in all aspects of their faith life and reach their full potential as baptized members of the Church.
Pope Francis encourages “real inclusion” in the Church for persons with disabilities through inclusive ministry in parishes and all Catholic associations. The Church needs to reach out to persons with disabilities to arouse in them a strong sense of belonging. Their presence is vital to the life of the Church. Pope Francis encourages all members of the Church to “value the presence and witness of fragile and suffering persons, not only as the recipients of evangelical work, but as active subjects of this same apostolic activity.”
In an audience with persons with disabilities Pope Francis encouraged these people to accept their role as vital members of the Church. “Do not simply consider yourselves to be objects of solidarity and charity but feel fully included in the life and the mission of the Church. You have your place and a specific role in the parish and in every ecclesial environment. Your presence, silent but more eloquent than many words, your prayer, your daily offering of your suffering, in union with that of Jesus crucified for the salvation of the world, the patient and even joyful acceptance of your condition are a spiritual resource, and an asset for every Christian Community. Do not be ashamed to be a precious treasure of the Church…you are the richness of the Church.”
The Pope also encourages those who minister and volunteer with persons with disabilities and different abiliites… “you have received the gift and the obligation to gather this richness, to help promote it, not only in the Church itself but in all of society.” Pope Francis, Nov. 2013
Mali, Lucy and Merry show off bags filled with goodies for the children at The Ronald McDonald House in Camden.
The young ladies gathered together with other adults with disabilities to participate in the monthly GIFTS program at McDaid Hall in Westmont. G.I.F.T.S. Gathered In Faith To Serve is a monthly prayer, social and service activity for adults with disabilities. For more info, please contact Sister Bonnie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-583-6111.