We All Have Gifts

Oct. 9-15, 2003
We All Have Gifts
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Bishop James Moynihan celebrates Mass for people with disabilities

People oftentimes lack understanding of persons with disabilities. Their misunderstanding can lead to believing that persons with both visible and invisible disabilities are to be pitied, to be treated differently or to be ignored completely. But to the 250 people who gathered for the Mass for Persons with Disabilities at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Sept. 28, disabilities are not something to be masked or ignored, but rather celebrated as a unique gift.

“Having a disability doesn’t mean that you should be hidden. We want everyone to feel welcomed into the church and feel support and encouragement from the parish community,” said Rachael Perkins, who worked with the diocese and the CNY Developmental Services Office to organize the 11:30 a.m. Mass. Organizers sent invitations to more than 150 families for the Mass, celebrated by Bishop James Moynihan. It was the sixth annual Mass for Persons with Disabilities. Aspects of this year’s service were different from previous year’s; this year, students from the youth group at Holy Family Church in Fairmount welcomed participants. One thing, though, remained constant –– the Mass welcomed those with disabilities into the church community and celebrated the diocese’s commitment to them.

During the homily, Bishop Moynihan praised the courage and determination of people living with disabilities. “My brothers and sisters, to you who are very special guests today, members of the disabled community, I would like to call you the ‘enabling community’ because you enable us to give you a hand and do the work of the Lord,” he said. “Also, your prayers enable us in a very special way,” added Bishop Moynihan. “I am sure that your voices reach God with far greater speed and much greater power than do the voices of some of us supposedly able-bodied folks.” The physical wounds endured by people with disabilities aren’t the most serious wounds they must endure, pointed out Bishop Moynihan. “The most serious wounds are those that come from the ways we may look at this person, or by the way this person has been looked at by others. They are the wounds that come from a realization that he or she is a source of anguish or worry to parents and family,” said Bishop Moynihan. All people, no matter what their physical, emotional or mental status, possess the capacity for love, said the bishop. “The one essential gift we all need to give and receive is God’s love,” he said. “Each and every one of us gives glory to God.” He continued by remarking on the 25th anniversary of the 1978 Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on People with Disabilities. The document calls for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the spiritual and social life of parishes. This commitment inspired the diocese to create the Office of Ministry for Persons with Disabilities. In June the office was closed, but the people of the diocese are still working on behalf of persons with disabilities. Dennis Manning, director of Catholic Charities, said in June that despite the office’s closing, the diocese’s commitment to people with disabilities continues.

The diocese’s commitment has continued through the work of people like Theresa Reiser, a parishioner of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal. Reiser was an active member on the advisory board of the Office of Ministry for Persons with Disabilities, and she still tirelessly gives of her time and talent to raise awareness of persons with disabilities and advocating the inclusion of persons with disabilities. “Maybe we don’t have an office, but the ministry still exists,” said Reiser. “Bishop Moynihan considers the ministry important and wants to work with us to continue our work.” Many people lent their talents to the office, particularly Tom Cunningham, who served as the director for the past seven years, said Reiser. There are indications that people want the ministry to continue, but it is a challenge to bring everyone in the diocese together, she said. Reiser is trying to establish a list of individuals who have a commitment to helping disabled persons. “I am trying to reach people who can help us hold the office together in some way,” said Reiser. “The great work that has been done should continue.”

Though it may be ambiguous now, in some form, the ministry for disabled persons will continue. For now, the faithful people of the diocese continue to carry on its work. God is working miracles through them, just as He does with every person –– disability or not. “The way that God chooses to work in me may be very different from the way God chooses to work in you, or in someone else,” said Bishop Moynihan. “God made us to be different, but He still accomplishes His good purposes in all of us.”

Individuals who are interested in advocacy for persons with disabilities are invited to contact Reiser at jreiser@stny.rr.com.

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