As the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend continues its efforts to reach out to all its faithful, the Office of Evangelization and Special Ministries is seeking ways to better serve those with varying abilities. In recent years a diocesan Disabilities Advisory Board has been established inviting those of diverse abilities and backgrounds to its membership.
In its quest for bold new evangelization initiatives, the Disabilities Advisory Board is extending an invitation to anyone in the diocese interested in working with its members to further the growth of this ministry. A meet-and-greet opportunity will be presented in South Bend at the St. John Paul II Center from 6:30-8 p.m. on April 16 and in Fort Wayne at the Archbishop Noll Center from 6:30-8 p.m. on April 23 for those interested.
Mary Glowaski, director of the Office of Evangelization and Special Ministries, says the board would like to focus its efforts on assisting parishes in inviting people with all abilities to come to church. She adds that a concerted and determined effort is being made to invite anyone with a disability or with a child with a disability, who has not received the sacraments, to connect with their parish priest, Jane Sandor from the Office of Catechesis, or the Office of Evangelization and Special Ministries.
“Our goal is to get most parishes involved in inspiring the people in the pews to invite those they know who are challenged with disabilities to come to our parishes,” says Glowaski, adding, “Many are on the periphery. They don’t have a voice. They don’t have a face.”
Reaching out can be as simple as taking the Eucharist to the homebound or providing transportation to Mass.
“Evangelization is about ‘feet on the ground,’” says Glowaski.
Though there may be an element of fear at the parish level about whether it has what it takes to serve those with disabilities, Glowaski says, God is in charge and has given His people all they need. “We want to inspire pastors and pastoral staff and their people to focus on what is possible and trust God instead of looking at why it can’t be done,” she says.
Discipleship, she says, must be intentional. “We must be willing to get into the messiness of their lives, walk with them, be open to hearing and receiving their stories. Then thank them and say ‘please come.’… It’s like inviting someone to dinner,” says Glowaski. “You want to make them feel welcome and comfortable. It’s the same at church.”
Glowaski is grateful for the generosity of other faiths in sharing their wisdom and training with her office. The focus, she says, is not on any particular program but on building relationships.
“We focus on relationship and getting people connected with a parish,” she says. “It can’t happen if the people in the pews aren’t willing to claim their identity as disciples of Jesus Christ and building relationships.”
An additional goal of the ministry is to become a resource center to the pastors and others in the diocese. Currently the Office of Evangelization and Special Ministries is developing a letter to all pastors that will include resources for parishes to reach out and care for those struggling with mental illnesses for Mental Health Awareness Month in May.
Another meaningful parish outreach is the annual disabilities retreat held at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne. The retreat welcomes those 18 and older with any disability on April 25 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. This year featured speakers will be Mary Hilger and Father Jacob Meyer. Register by calling 260-489-3537, follow the link on St. Vincent de Paul’s website or contact Jane Sandor for information at 260-399-1450 or [email protected].
“Needs are always individual, but with a blanket of love we can welcome the disabled and be enriched and challenged by them,” says Glowaski. “We are not inviting people to be like us but for us to be transformed by them and their love and experience of Jesus Christ.”
For more information on diocesan efforts to build relationship with persons with disabilities contact Mary Glowaski at [email protected].
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