November 2, 2011 // Local

All are welcome at the Lord’s table:

Diocese takes a new look at ministering to the disabled

By Kay Cozad

FORT WAYNE — Catholics come in all shapes and sizes, with myriad abilities and challenges. Many times those challenges have inhibited faith formation and participation within the Church. Current statistics show that only 30 percent of the disabled population attend Mass on a regular basis.

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, under the tutelage of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, has recently begun an initiative to investigate the needs of the Catholic disabled population.

Secretariat for Evangelization and Special Ministries Mary Glowaski has been charged with forming a ministry for the disabled, and says, “This initiative is about changing our vision. Our Catholic communities are impoverished without the gifts the disabled have to bring and share.”

Globally, says Glowaski, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has a long history of working with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD). “The primary goal of the NCPD is to foster full and meaningful participation of the disabled in our faith community,” she says. To accomplish that locally will require a gentle and deliberate movement.

While a few parishes across the diocese offer retreats for persons with disabilities, catechesis for special-needs children and interpreters for the deaf, this new initiative will challenge each of the 80 parishes to promote and support inclusion for all no matter the limitation. Glowaski says, “The disabled have lots of abilities. The goal of this ministry is to make sure we’re seeing each other, but also to capatalize on their gifts for benefit of all. … It’s not about us just doing something for them, it’s about their unique knowledge and experience of God that we need.”

Disabilities that may limit participation include physical, mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual. But reaching out to the broken is living the Gospel, says Glowaski. “We’re all broken. Some can navigate without a great deal of help and some need more help.”

The initiative is not a specific program but rather a changing of the vision of the Catholic faith community in the diocese. The first step challenges each parish to identify their disabled and where they are. The parishes and pastors will be asked to identify their strengths, then extend an invitation to participate to those identified as disabled in the community. Areas of church participation may include parish council, Eucharistic ministry, proclaiming the Gospel, greeting and much more.

“The question is, ‘How can we extend the invitation to the disabled to minister in this way?’ … This is no new ministry. It is an extension of Christ’s ministry in the Church,” says Glowaski, adding, this requires that each person look into his or her own heart and ask, “What can I do and who can I be for the disabled in my life,” then extend that to the broader faith community.

“It’s about relationship,” says Glowaski. “Anyone who ministers to the disabled or homebound says they receive much more from the relationship than what they give!”

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has begun this important work with meetings between Glowaski and the religious education directors and school principals. She intends to build resources for the disabled such as catechesis, with training from the NCPD. Glowaski will be available to walk each parish through the training process.

The disabled population has also been included in the Catholics Come Home campaign, which will invite inactive Catholics back to the Church Dec. 17 through Jan. 31.

About the initiative Glowaski says, “God calls us to be people with brave hearts. Just because we don’t know what to do, doesn’t mean we wash our hands of them. We do what we do best — we love people, because Jesus loved us first.”

She concludes, “It’s about changing hearts — our hearts. Then we see through the eyes of faith. When I see you through the lens of faith, I see Christ in you. And who doesn’t want to be with Christ?”

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