By Kay Cozad
NOTRE DAME — The Sacred Heart Crypt Church was filled with a joyful noise on July 14 when the Friends of L’Arche/Emmaus Community members of South Bend celebrated a special Mass with Holy Cross Father Tom Jones, current pastor of Sacred Heart, and members of the parish at large. The eucharistic celebration is an annual event that has integrated some of the disabled members of the area into parish life.
The Friends of L’Arche/Emmaus Community, a group of disabled adults who gather for spiritual formation and renewal as well as socialization, have met for over 30 years in a variety of settings.
Originally initiated by Virginia Bosco, a mother of a disabled daughter, along with Holy Cross Father Tom Smith, currently director of Holy Cross Missions Center, the program, based out of Sacred Heart Parish, is modeled after Jean Vanier’s L’Arche community concept, where assistants — caregivers of those with disabilities — and the disabled, also referred to as core members, live in single dwelling homes interdependently in an attempt to care for each other in a transformative relationship.
Unfortunately the original plan to purchase a single dwelling in South Bend that would become one of the 135 official L’Arche communities did not come to fruition. So the disabled population in the South Bend area continues to live in group homes or waiver apartments with support staff to assist them with their daily living efforts.
Father Smith says, “We decided to be happy with who we are and create a community of religion with people with disabilities who join us in prayer. We are learning what is most fundamental to our religion — loving, treating everyone with equal respect and openness.”
He and a group of caring volunteers at Sacred Heart work together to extend a welcoming hand to interested handicapped adults and continue to correspond with the L’Arche group in Chicago in an effort to maintain their mission.
Currently Diane Beach of Sacred Heart Parish and Shelly Zabukovic of Our Lady of Loretto, are the lead volunteers. Providing spiritual formation activities as well as social events that integrate core members with the parish population is their goal. The Friends of L’Arche/Emmaus Community is governed by an informal board with six members and financed through donations.
The group meets in the Parish Center twice each month for Mass, to which they are transported by staff members or Friends of L’Arche volunteers. Zabukovic, who coordinates all volunteers, the Masses and other activities, secures meeting locations, sends out invitations, e-mails and finally calls each of the homes of the disabled with information or reminders. She also works tirelessly to coordinate rides for those who are in need.
Her passion for this work stems from living with two disabled siblings. Her husband also has a challenged sibling and has lived in a L’Arche-like community serving the disabled.
“It’s incredibly rewarding,” says Zabukovic, adding, “It helps us find the gift in everyone. I encourage anyone to join them. You don’t have to be part of any group. It’s based on spirituality. We celebrate Mass but it’s non-denominational,” she says passionately.
Each year fresh, new activities are added to the roster of old favorites for the Friends of L’Arche/Emmaus Community. Old favorites are the Thanksgiving meal, Christmas party and annual spring retreat. The Sacred Heart Parish Center offers a perfect spot for these activities with its chapel, meeting and banquet rooms.
But dances, picnics and even ball games are offered as well. Along with staff and adult volunteer helpers, Beach reports that there are several Notre Dame students who participate in the activities, one of whom plans to move to a L’Arche community upon graduation.
The July 14 Mass was celebrated with music and singing by the choir made up of musicians and several Friends of L’Arche core members, one of whom strummed his guitar joyfully. One of the readings was proclaimed by a core member and all partook of the Eucharist and liturgical prayers. Each core member has his own style of worship and the friendly smiles were contagious.
“We all have a relationship with God and not the same way to show it,” says Zabukovic. “All the different ways are good. Some shout out prayers. All are expressing joy and love.”
She adds, “And it’s good for our folks to see how the parishioners pray.”
Father Jones, who stepped in for Father Smith, who was unavailable for the July 14th Mass, celebrated his inaugural Friends of L’Arche Mass that day and moved about the crypt as he delivered his homily on supporting each other as the apostles did. “We come needy and vulnerable. And we receive from the people we serve. … It’s an exchange of gifts, in love, in Christ,” he says.
Of the Mass shared with the Friends of L’Arche/Emmaus Community 30-year Sacred Heart parishioner Denise Hagerty says, “We enjoy their coming. They’ve been coming a long time. We see the faces so we feel connected to each other.” She and her family looked forward to participating in the picnic following the special Mass as well.
Father Jones remarks, “It’s an important part of our ministry in the diocese and our church. This is good for our community. They teach us how to enjoy the moment … as they overcome their disabilities. That’s the kind of attitude, as part of Christ’s community, they mentor to us.”
For information on the Friends of L’Arche/Emmaus Community at Sacred Heart Parish contact Shelly Zabukovic at [email protected]
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