By MAGGIE ROUSSEAU, Commentary | Published March 22, 2019
This is a difficult time of year for me. March is the anniversary month of my son Christopher’s passing and so he is in my every thought. Christopher had a rare genetic disorder. He had multiple, severe disabilities and was medically fragile. His disease caused him to have physical differences that were very noticeable to others. People would stare at us, and I would catch their eye and they would quickly look down. Always, the wound in my heart tore open and bled. The pain was often too much to bear. Tears would swell. A lump grew in my throat. But rather than avoid the obvious, I always chose to use that opportunity as a teachable moment. And Christopher would help by smiling and singing—sharing his God-given gifts to touch the hearts of others.
I imagine it is the same for many individual and families living with Down syndrome, a chromosomal disorder which causes varying degrees of physical and intellectual disability. Individuals with Down syndrome have such a recognizable difference that it causes other to pause. As Catholic parents, we have heard it all—we are all made in God’s image and likeness and God doesn’t make mistakes. But we wonder, did he forget to tell everyone else? Why can’t they see that my child’s life has value? When we say that we welcome all, are we making an effort to get to know each other so that we can appreciate and enjoy all that we each have to share? Do we recognize the blessing that all life is to each of us as a true blessing from God?
The Disabilities Ministry of the Archdiocese of Atlanta works with parishes to help ensure meaningful participation of individuals and families living with disabilities in the life of the church and shares the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) Statement of Belonging:
“The church acknowledges that all persons belong to the Body of Christ by virtue of their baptism and that disability is an ordinary part of life. From this follows the responsibility of each parish to acknowledge the inherent dignity of each person and to provide access and full integration to individuals with disabilities. Therefore, each parish is called to provide access into all aspects of the communal life of the church, engaging in relationship and offering appropriate supports. Thus, each person is empowered to achieve the fullest measure of personal participation, belonging, serving, and flourishing as a member of the Body of Christ.”
March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. This day of awareness reminds us to open the eyes of our hearts, to see beyond differences and recognize the gifts that we all bring to the table. It is a time to re-evaluate how we serve each other and what more can we do to welcome all. Individuals and families of children living with a disability know that we feel welcomed in our parish family when we are included, and we know we belong when we are missed.
I miss my son. Our family and friends who took the time to get to know Christopher and who loved him too, miss him as well. God is good! And he definitely does not make mistakes. We are forever blessed.
For more information on the Disabilities Ministry or for support in your parish, contact Maggie Rousseau, ministry director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.