Jill Boughton
Freelance Writer
September 20, 2016 // Local

Physically, intellectually challenged come together to celebrate differences, grow in faith

Jill Boughton
Freelance Writer

By Jill A. Boughton

When Peggy Go learned about a retreat in the Fort Wayne area for people with disabilities, she wondered: Why not also have one at the South Bend end of the diocese? She spoke with Allison Sturm of the Secretariat for Evangelization, who explained that such events like these result from passion at the grassroots level rather than top-down sponsorship. Because this area of ministry is a priority, the diocese is happy to offer advice and publicity; but the initiative comes from those who have the call and the passion.

Initially, Go, whose 23-year-old daughter, Veronica, has Down Syndrome, thought this response let her off the hook. After all, Veronica has received all the sacraments of initiation and is an altar server at Holy Cross parish. However, the idea of putting on a retreat for Veronica and her friends would not go away. But, having no outline, how would she structure such a retreat, she wondered.

She thought of the book, “God Is Like” written by her friend, Little Flower parishioner Julie Walters, long before Veronica was born and reissued in 2000. Although written with preschoolers in mind, it also seemed appropriate for those with intellectual disabilities.

Retreat participants heard the message that God loves them just the way they are.

Go invited Walters and three other friends to work on the retreat with her: among them, Pam Peterson has experience writing Sunday School curriculums, and Ruth Sanford has not only taught Trinity School students with special needs, but is a technology whiz. Walters and Sanford also once worked with others to develop a preschool curriculum for their Christian community, the People of Praise. As they began to brainstorm, they were very conscious of the presence of the Holy Spirit in every detail.

They experienced God’s leading as they created retreat flyers and issued personal invitations. The nine participants who joined them on Saturday, Sept. 17, were a variety of sizes, ages, religious backgrounds and abilities, but most of them were very comfortable with each other. They were quick to smile, to share what they had, to offer assistance, to comfort and to encourage. Their planning was also enriched when Veronica sat in on one of the planning sessions and let them know what she found boring or confusing.

Early on, Sanford discovered online a remarkable young woman with Down Syndrome who calls herself “Jenny the Jewel.” Through her writing and speaking, the organizers were able to help the retreatants come to see that they are not mistakes: God made them and loves them just the way they are.

Through Walters’ book, conversation, practical experiences, craft projects and lively songs, they helped their learners discover how God is like a rock, Jesus is like a light and the Holy Spirit is like the wind.

The Secretariat for Evangelization welcomes opportunities to join with people throughout the diocese who are trying to serve and create spaces for all to come together in community and find Christ. To learn more about the initiatives of the Ministry for People with Disabilities, contact Mary Glowaski, secretary of evangelization, at 260-399-1458 or [email protected].

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