By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published March 17, 2016
ROSWELL—As she said goodbye to her students, Maria Khote kissed each one on the head. “Adios, mi amor,” she said, as each child hugged her tightly.
Khote brought 13 families from St. Joseph Church in Dalton to the biannual Faith and Sharing Mass, hosted by the archdiocesan Disabilities Ministry on Sunday, March 6, at St. Peter Chanel Church. The Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop David P. Talley, was followed by a potluck dinner and brought together families from throughout the archdiocese who have a child with a disability.
In his homily, Bishop Talley spoke of the bond among all the attendees, whether they were strangers or loved ones.
“The powerful language we all speak is love. This holy Mass is about God’s love for all of us,” he said. “From the very young to the very old, with all our gifts and even all our challenges—God loves us all individually—every member of this beautiful little flock of Jesus.”
Bishop Talley, who has long been a friend and advocate of this community and ministry, talked about the importance of Lent as a time to intensify prayer and fasting and to be “especially good and generous to those in need.”
“Our goal is a life lived with Jesus. He is the goal,” he said, adding that the Gospel reading of the prodigal son was especially relevant during this Year of Mercy.
“That father had every right to be hacked off at his son, but he forgot about everything he did wrong, kissed him on both cheeks, and welcomed him home,” he said. “We are not called to stack up what is wrong with us. We are called to lift up what is right with us. And the thing that is most right is the gift of life. That is the best gift we have.”
It is up to us to ask God to be a part of our lives, the bishop said.
“Through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation and at the holy altar of love, where we receive the presence of God through food and drink, we allow God to come and live with us—to love us,” he said.
Bishop Talley spoke of the importance of the sacraments as he introduced Moises Dominguez, a young man whom he confirmed at the Mass.
Spiritual benefits of inclusion
The Mass featured music written and performed by Jeanne Lyons, special needs religious education coordinator at St. Peter Chanel, and her students. John McCarty, who is non-verbal and a participant in Lyons’ ministry, wrote the prayers of the faithful for the Mass using a special communication tool designed for those with disabilities.
James Griffin, 8, who read one of the prayers of the faithful, said participating in this role at Mass was the best part.
“My favorite part was doing the reading because I’ve never gotten to do that before,” he said.
James’ mom, Heather, said her son was very excited to participate and practiced many times for his debut. She was touched by the spirit of the Mass, and its attendees.
“It was just beautiful. It’s the first time I’ve been to something like this, and I just thought it was wonderful,” she said.
In a later interview, Lyons said that the Mass has made a lasting impression on the people of St. Peter Chanel.
“Being able to welcome families affected by disabilities as our honored guests by hosting a Faith and Sharing Mass at St. Peter Chanel was a wonderful experience for our parish,” she said. “It brought together so many different St. Peter Chanel ministries that were inspired to work together as a team to provide a celebratory meal for such beautiful families.”
“The Faith and Sharing families truly ministered to the many St. Peter Chanel parishioners who chose to attend, who do not have immediate family members living with disabilities. They are still coming up to me a week later, saying that the beautiful witness of the families has inspired them, opened their eyes to the profound spiritual benefits of inclusion, and deepened their faith to a degree that they had not anticipated,” Lyons said.
As Khote, who recently started a formal religious education program at the Dalton parish for those with disabilities, hugged her students, she encouraged them to attend so they could benefit from that same feeling of inclusion.
“Often when you have a child with a disability, you feel very isolated. And in many cases our parishioners are immigrants, so they feel even more isolated,” she said. “But coming to this Mass, they see a deacon in a wheelchair; they see other families like themselves. They see the bigger picture. They can see that they are part of something bigger.”
For information and resources for those with disabilities, visit www.archatl.com/ministries-services/disabilities-ministry or contact Maggie Rousseau, director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-920-7682.