To celebrate and recognize those among us on the autism spectrum and to pray for a renewed sense of hope and joy in their lives and in the lives of their families, VITALity hosted a Mass on Sunday April 23.
The Mass was held at Holy Saviour Church (Saint Teresa of Calcutta Parish) in Westmont. Words of welcome were offered by Sister Bonnie McMenamin as she addressed the families gathered for the Mass.
Celebrating the Mass was Father Hugh Bradley, co-director of the Ministry With the Deaf and Persons with Disabilities. I asssisted.
The lectors, cantor, sign language interpreter, gift bearers and processional leaders were all young people on the spectrum. It was a sharing of their beautiful gifts and abilities and a blessing to see how each took such joy and pride in their liturgical roles.
Over 50 persons attended the Mass and social gathering that followed.
In my homily, I reminded the families that each day they encounter with love their world of confusion, chaos, doubt, unpredictability, limitations and boundless possibilities, and they are indeed images of God’s mercy and models of his love in the world today.
This is evidenced by their unconditional love, patience, endurance, and willingness to joyfully sacrifice themselves for the good of their children.
The Mass was celebrated as part of Autism Awareness Month. Autism spectrum disorder is an umbrella term for a group of developmental disorders that can involve varying degrees of language and social impairments, and repetitive behaviors.
Raising awareness of Autism through the celebration of the Eucharist brings others to unify in the challenges met by these families and to share their love and concern for these beautiful children of God. It also serves as a call for all our parishes to consider a regularly scheduled Mass of inclusion where these children, young adults and their families can attend Mass in their own faith community and feel welcome and at peace.
As on parent stated, “ It was such a joy to participate in the Mass and not worry one bit about how others in the church may react to the actions and sounds of my autistic son.”
We need to provide these opportunities to all our families with children on the autism spectrum and welcome them always into our liturgical assemblies.
For more information about Masses of welcome and inclusion, or for more about autism support, contact VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, Diocese of Camden at 888-26-VITALity (888-268-4825) or at vitality.camdendiocese.org
Deacon Jerry Jablonowski is executive director of VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, Diocese of Camden.