By Kay Cozad
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Office of Evangelization and Special Ministries has steadfastly encouraged strengthening ministries for those with disabilities over the years and has recently redoubled their effort with several new initiatives that have been implemented to meet the needs of all the Catholic faithful in the area.
A Disabilities Advisory Board was formed in fall of 2011 that is comprised of members who are persons with disability themselves or care for others with disabilities, as well as area businessmen and women and diocesan employees. The board has met quarterly to develop a plan for the specific areas in need with the most recent focus on education, including faith formation programs for children and young adults.
Mary Glowaski, Secretariat for Evangelization and Special Ministries, said the cost for serving some of the special needs in the Church community is negligible. “There is so much we can do before we have to spend a dime. The cost may be personal but the pay back is eternal,” said Glowaski. She cited a few easy-to-implement possible examples of meeting the needs of specific populations within the larger Church body:
• Celebrating Masses without music for individuals with autism who experience auditory sensitivity
• Celebrating Masses without incense for those who suffer with respiratory difficulties
• Providing gluten-free hosts at specific Masses for those with wheat allergies who are unable to consume the regular hosts.
“All should feel welcomed, valued, nurtured and loved at church,” said Glowaski. “We’re asking the parish to create space for everyone for full and meaningful participation.”
Jane Sandor, catechetical associate for Special Ministries, reports that several parishes have taken the initiative to provide child-specific catechesis in their faith formation program. The director of religious education (DRE) meets one-to-one with students with special needs to provide individual religious instruction either in class or at-home if the student is unable to attend class.
One parish DRE took the ARISE Together in Christ, a three-year, parish-centered process of spiritual renewal and evangelization, to a nursing home where she met one-to-one with a resident. Soon after another resident joined them. Another parish supplied a portable ramp for a youth with a physical disability who is an enthusiastic altar server. Another has invited all the residents of a group home to not only attend and participate in Mass but receive their sacraments there as well. And at least three parishes in the diocese have elevators that allow physical access to parish facilities.
“It is this missionary spirit that we are developing in special ministries. We need to go out and build relationships,” said Sandor.
Glowaski agreed, saying, “When we ask how we can meet the needs, people think of all the reason why we can’t serve. We must begin a conversation that will build a relationship — it’s there you’ll see what’s possible.”
Good news comes from the parishes that communicate with the Office of Special Ministries about the services they are providing that are successful to the outreach. The ministry then reports that news on its website to inspire other parishes to join the movement to include all people of faith. “No one parish can do it all,” admits Glowaski. “We want to see it as a diocesan, universal Church.”
The Office of Special Ministries measures its success by going to the Gospel, reports Glowaski. “The surveys don’t tell us much. … We can’t count the disabled because they’re not there.” She continued, “We know they are there — we have parents of young and older children with disabilities.”
As the diocese hosts special events and Masses throughout the year, the Office of Special Ministry personnel continue to ask the question: “How will we serve the disabled at this event?”
“How can we go out and extend love? …We are inviting people to a new vision — to be brave enough to begin to see who is not there. Then ask why they are not there, and be willing to hear the answer. We want to create a culture of welcome and inclusion at the parish level,” said Glowaski.
Sandor is excited about the renewed effort to reach out to the disabled of the Church community and says, “I think it’s an energized effort, a much needed effort and a well-supported effort. I feel our Church is not complete until we have all our members together.”
Glowaski agreed, concluding, “Persons with disabilities and their families bring a different experience of God to us — we need all of it.”
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