Following Jesus’s blueprint gives Church a beautiful vision in serving persons with disabilities
May 10, 2022
Members of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe use sign language to say, “I am Church.” (Photo courtesy of Ministry With Persons With Disabilities)
HOUSTON — Jesus gave clear directions to His followers when He commanded them to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mk 16:15). This includes welcoming people with disabilities and their families into the full life of the Church.
According to Melissa Alvarez, assistant associate director of the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities of the Archdiocese, Jesus’s ministry gave a beautiful visual of how to help those in need in the community with learning differences.
“The goal is focused on the reign of God at work and present while assisting in revealing Jesus to everyone,” said Alvarez. “Our Church is one, and families and persons with disabilities are part of the body of Christ. It is beautiful to see the unique roles in which we are all called by Jesus to build up the kingdom of God through holy sacraments.”
Alvarez said the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities ensures all persons with any learning difference and their families are served for holy Sacraments in the Archdiocese. This includes consultation and formation opportunities that promote lifelong faith formation, sacramental preparation and total parish access for every baptized Catholic in the Archdiocese. Strategies, best practices and additional resources exist that support the inclusion of diverse learners.
“Over the next years, we are planning to offer new learning opportunities for parish catechetical leaders and everyone in our community in several ways, including conferences, online trainings through our Capernaum platform, and on-site trainings,” said Alvarez.
As one of more than 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), if more funding was available this year, Alvarez said additional resources could be purchased that would greatly benefit the ministry’s efforts. She said there is nothing better than being prepared with tools and resources needed to accommodate the faithful wishing to receive holy Sacraments.
“Catechists are always seeking the right tools and materials when catechizing to help support those that need assistance,” said Alvarez. “Being prepared with the right material and tools available is the best approach, and unfortunately, there are many parishes in the diocese that cannot afford these costly tools. For example, there are a number of hands-on materials that may be used for a variety of learning differences, where many persons with disabilities can benefit from.”
Toni Flagg, wife of Deacon Bruce Flagg, who is deaf and assists with deaf ministry at St. Dominic Chancery in the Archdiocese, said they are preparing for a CCE Sign-Up Day for parents and children.
The purpose is to find those children who are deaf, Catholic and cannot find religious education at their home parishes taught in Sign,” she said. At the same time the students are in CCE, the parents will be offered Sign Language Class in both Spanish and English at St. Dominic.
Mark Ciesielski, director of the Office of Aging who has been involved with the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities for the past 6 years, agrees the DSF support is much needed to continue improving upon the programs and services offered.
“There can be a tendency to not ‘see’ those people on the fringes who don’t have a voice for themselves,” said Ciesielski. “DSF provides the opportunity for ministry by creating advocacy, resources and services that make families with persons with disabilities feel welcomed in the community. The ministry also works to create viable public forums to recognize and enhance their gifts and talents for the good of the Body of Christ.”
Daniela Gonzalez, sacrament preparation specialist at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, said she is grateful for the DSF assistance given to the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities. Gonzalez said that by supporting this ministry, the families, the Church, and the entire faith community mutually benefit.
“I have a son with ADHD, which has made us as parents aware of the difficulty people with disabilities face in the community,” said Gonzalez. “With DSF support, these children will change the world by proclaiming the Gospel with their testimony, as some of them cannot talk. If we take a moment and just let them share their message, this world will be different.”
Gina Pasket, director of English faith formation for the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities, has been with the ministry for over 15 years. She agrees it is important for the faithful to give to the DSF to directly support those in the Archdiocese with learning difficulties.
“People with disabilities are the same as us, a part of our family, and deserve being served, too,” said Pasket. “They have rights that sometimes get overlooked. We are all very busy. However, they should be included, not excluded, as we all prepare for the Kingdom of God on Earth, as well as in heaven. Giving support to the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities through the DSF will allow more opportunity for all.”
For more information about how to assist the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities by giving to the 2022 Annual DSF Appeal, go to archgh.org/dsf.
The fund supports over 60 ministries, whether direct service or education, that require this critical funding to remain in operation. Out of each gift given to DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.