Special needs Mass at Christ the Redeemer

On Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m. Christ the Redeemer Parish in Atco will celebrate a special needs Mass for youth with Downs syndrome or autism.
The parish began the special needs Mass in August. Also during the summer, the parish’s Office of Faith Formation held an event for special needs students, siblings and parents, where art, music and drama were used to teach the youth about the Mass, and how the prayers and the music all relate to the Last Supper.
The summer’s activities were coordinated by members of SPEAKArts Creative Arts, Music, and Drama Program. Based in Voorhees, SPEAK (Special needs Parents Educators And Kids) provides support and education for families and others involved in the care of special needs children.
With special needs students from Christ the Redeemer Parish already involved with their families in the monthly family catechesis program, parish leaders felt it was time to provide a program that would better help the youth understand the Mass, and got in touch with SPEAKArts.
Juliana Maffei, founder of SPEAKArts, and Pam Valentino, Arts Advisor for SPEAKArts, spearheaded the summer program at Christ the Redeemer.
In organizing the summer programs and the liturgy, Valentino explained that “it was time to expand, and get our faith involved.”
Children learned about the different parts of the Mass, re-enacted scenes from the Last Supper, and created a painting that now hangs in the parish hall.
Valentino’s two sons, 12-year old Billy, with autism, and 7-year-old Donald, with ADHD, participated in the summer program and fall
liturgy.
During the liturgy, celebrant and pastor Father Thomas Barcellona “has the youth participate in the Mass as much as they would like to,” said Theresa Budniak, Director of Religious Education for the parish.
The children made the Mass booklets and selected the songs. As well, they served as lectors.
The children “get a wonderful sense of accomplishment,” Valentino said.
Maffei’s 15-year old, John, is autistic, and also participated in the program, which has now changed his participation in weekly Mass with his family for the better.
“Now, we go to Sunday morning Masses together, and we are all able to participate together,” Maffei said.
“I’m grateful to Father Tom,” she said. “He really has a heart for special needs children and their families.”
In a letter to Father Barcellona, Janet Richardson wrote that the children were “a profound source of energy and grace to me…. I flashback to the innocence and guileless spirit of these young people and my heart is lifted.”

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