Ministry works, serves persons with disabilities

January 14, 2014

HOUSTON — When it came time for Penelope Khuri’s son Gregory to prepare for his First Communion, it was important to Khuri that he receive the same quality preparation as his twin sister Helena. At that time, St. John Vianney Catholic Church, where Khuri is a parishioner, didn’t offer CCE classes that met her son’s special needs. Diagnosed with a high functioning variety of autism, Gregory wouldn’t be able keep up with the regular CCE classes, and the secular special needs school he attended at the time didn’t provide the Catholic background his sister had experienced. 

St. John Vianney Catholic Church, recognizing the importance of welcoming all to a life of active faith, with the assistance of the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities, and Khuri, along with Carolina Sayago, coordinator of religious education at St. John Vianney, instituted adaptive CCE classes to serve the expressed need for faith formation for all.

“The Catholic community has been my foundation, and I wanted it for my children,” Khuri said.

That was in the fall of 2010, and since then their adaptive classes have met the needs of Gregory, now 9, and many other children within the parish. 

In its bid to promote inclusiveness, the ministry, under Associate Director Charleen Katra’s leadership, assists parishes in welcoming and accepting persons with disabilities into the full life of the Church in a number of ways. 

This ministry offers training and education for parish leaders, families of persons with disabilities, youth ministers and other interested parishioners. 

“The more options you give, the more people you can serve,” Katra said. ”Full inclusion is our goal.”

It provides resources and adaptive teaching materials to enable persons with disabilities to be fully engaged in faith formation. “No situation or circumstance should prevent someone from faith and formation,” Katra said.

The DSF-funded ministry also helps build community, through such events as the annual weekend retreat at Circle Lake Retreat Center, where families of persons with disabilities come together for learning sessions, prayer, reflection and fun. In addition, Katra’s job encompasses raising awareness about what they do, so that parishes initiate, as St. John Vianney did, their own programs to welcome and include parishioners with disabilities.

“It is the right of every Catholic to have faith formation in the ways and means that meet their learning styles and or abilities,” said Katra, who has been with the ministry for 15 years and has a background in special education. “It is important for sacramental preparation and celebration. We have a lot of work to do, but we are going in the right direction for sure,” she said. 

Looking ahead, Katra said the goal is to have a point person at each parish to help coordinate a more organized approach for the ministry. She said also they are working to improve support for people with autism and mental health issues, both of which, she said, are on the rise.

“We’d like to focus our effort and energy on giving the resources and support for families and parishes to help us better serve those key communities,” Katra said. For more information on the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities, contact the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis at 713-741-8730.