By Claudia Mathis
Sun staff writer
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse was filled to capacity on Sunday, Sept. 12 for the annual Disabilities Awareness Mass.
Bishop Robert J. Cunningham served as celebrant of the Mass and Msgr. Neal Quartier, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, delivered the homily.
Joyce Leonelli, a parishioner of the Cathedral, reflected on the Mass at its completion. “It was done sensitively and it was very uplifting,” Leonelli said. “It was a beautiful celebration of the diversity of people and it raised an awareness of everyone’s specialness.”
Close to 30 persons with disabilities attended the Mass and they were well represented in its celebration. Brennan Carman served as a greeter. Andrew Bowman was the banner bearer in the entrance procession and Agnes McCray, Coleen Carman, Andre Negy, Edward Magdziuk and Mary Ann Ryan presented the gifts. Mary Martin read from Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14 and for the second Gospel reading, Sally Johnston read from 1 Timothy 1: 12-17, which Christopher Campbell had signed prior to her reading. Terry O’Loughlin offered the Prayer of the Faithful.
Also in attendance was the Rev. Catherine Patterson, Faith Program Coordinator of the New York State Office of People With Disabilities.
Tracy Villinski served as the sign language interpreter throughout the Mass for the deaf who were in attendance. Reserved seating was provided for those who wished to sit near the interpreter and also for those who presented the gifts.
In his homily, Msgr. Quartier told the story of how Shirley Sherrod, an African-American, was forced to resign from her position as Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a result of a talk she gave in March at an NAACP meeting.
Sherrod’s speech told of her conversion from hatred to forgiveness and redemption. A white man in Georgia murdered her father 45 years ago. The man was never punished. Even though there were three eyewitnesses, the grand jury refused to indict him. Experiencing extreme hatred, Sherrod initially felt she wanted to leave the South. Eventually, she decided to stay in order to change things and to help black people only. Her commitment to black people also changed when a white couple sought her help when their farm was about to be foreclosed. She sought the assistance of a white lawyer who failed to help the couple avoid foreclosure. Sherrod became indignant and committed herself to saving the couple’s farm. “That’s when it was revealed to me that it’s about poor versus those who have, not white versus black. It opened my eyes,” said Sherrod in her speech.
Blogger Andrew Breitbart posted video excerpts of Sherrod’s address to his website, cutting the speech from 45 minutes to less than two minutes. The abbreviated version focused only on the fact that she didn’t want to help white people, thereby promoting racism.
Msgr. Quartier said that there is a great lesson to be learned from Sherrod’s story. “We are so often too quick to judge,” he said. “We so easily judge each other by the color of our skin, by how thin or heavy we are, by sexual orientation, by how tall or short, by whether we meet the criteria that Madison Avenue and Hollywood puts forth as what it means to be perfect. And in doing this we create tremendous suffering and pain. We see each other’s weaknesses rather than each other’s strengths.”
Msgr. Quartier stressed the importance of celebrating and being aware of the gifts of those members of the community with disabilities. He said that all people have some kind of disability, but in spite of these disabilities, all have gifts and talents that the world needs. “Let us each look at ourselves to see how quick to judge we are, how rigid we might be in demanding that people be like we are, have our standards and live with our expectations,” he said.
Patrick Carman, 16-year-old parishioner from St. Joseph the Worker in Liverpool, sang the offertory song with great feeling. He was born with cerebral palsy and due to medical problems, is unable to eat or drink. “Singing is my Communion,” said Patrick.
Patrick said he attends the special Mass every year. “It’s always beautiful,” he said. “It’s great to get together with other people with various disabilities.”