Celebrating abilities

Deacon Tom Picciano
SUN CONTRIBUTING WRITER

ENDWELL — The Church of the Holy Family welcomed a special liturgy on Sunday, Sept. 13. The aim was to promote a deeper understanding of the “giftedness” of those who are physically, mentally or emotionally challenged.

“We are called to look beyond our differences to see that we are all one in the body of Christ. I hope it’s not something that we forget,” said Southern Region Vicar Father John Putano, the main celebrant of the Mass.

In his homily, Father Putano spoke of the story of Lazarus, the poor man who never got help when he sat at the rich man’s gate. But Putano said the real sin wasn’t that he never got help, rather that the rich man never realized that Lazarus was there. In that, Putano noted, is a powerful lesson.

“We find that God’s passionate care for the powerless will help us to remember to treat everyone in the human family like family,” Father Putano said, “So often we tend to judge without really knowing who the person is. Many times it is based on appearance. And as a result we lose out in terms of coming to know who that person is. But we also miss an opportunity to know how we are all one.”

Father Putano also related the story of four Franciscans who walked from Chicago to Washington. He said they encountered a variety of people on their journey, looking beyond appearances to learn more about individuals. It all begins, Putano added, with one step.

“We are here today because we are willing to take that first step to promote a deeper understanding.“ he said. “What better way to learn about the true needs of another than when we celebrate together as the body of Christ. Here we are reminded that without a conscious effort ofnthe part of people of good will that we will continue to think of and behave of persons with disabilities as somehow apart…not completely part of us.”

Father Putano reminded everyone of Jesus’ emphasis on people who were on the fringes of society, which should make people with disabilities a special object of their attention.

As individuals and a church, he said, “we do show concern for people with disabilities as Jesus did.”

Father Putano referred to a letter from Bishop Cunningham, which said that people with disabilities and their families have helped raise the awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities to full inclusion in the life of the diocese and our parishes.

The parish advocate program, Putano said, “challenges us to meet the needs of people with disabilities,” including home visits, transportation, speaking for those who can’t plead their own case and insuring accessibility.

The Mass also included the Beatitudes for Special People, read by Holy Family parishioner Pat Walls just after communion. “Today all across the diocese a message is being written on the hearts of thousands of Catholics. Please pray in your heart as I pray the following words…”

Walls went on to read six beatitudes which focused on the challenges faced by some and the response of those who help them. It concluded with:  “Blessed are you when, by all things, you assure us what makes us individuals is not our particular disability, but our beautiful God-given personhood that no handicapping condition can confine.”

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your understanding and love have opened doors for us to enjoy life to its fullest and you have helped us believe in ourselves as valued and gifted people.”

Fred Fusco, director of the diocesan Office of Ministry for Persons with Disabilities, quoted from part of a document from the U.S. bishops written almost 31 years ago. Fusco said it helped as the Americans with Disabilities Act was put into place in 1991.

“People with disabilities are not looking for pity. They seek to serve the community and to enjoy their full baptismal rights as members of the church. Our interaction with them can and should be an affirmation of our faith. Their can be no separate church for people with disabilities. We are one flock that serves a single shepherd,” he read.

After Mass, dozens of people spent time in the Holy Family social hall. Parish organizations had prepared snacks for all those who gathered for the 11 a.m. liturgy.

“I’ve heard people say that what’s most important is that there be a welcoming attitude,” Fusco said. “I went to the church in Oneida for their celebration. They gave each disabled person and family member a carnation as they came in the door.”

“It’s not like we can have this one Sunday or weekend event and really be fully informed about what it is that we should be doing as a church,” he said, “in order to be more accepting of people with disabilities and be more welcoming of them.”

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