by Tom Racunas
In Catholic life, the parish is where the rubber meets the road.
Sometimes, that rubber might be on a wheelchair tire. The mission of the special-needs ministry is to serve and support parishes in facilitating opportunities for a relationship with Christ by ensuring the fullest participation possible in the Catholic faith for all parishioners, regardless of ability.
The work of the church happens at the parish level. In “Living as Missionary Disciples,” the U.S. bishops teach: “Because the parish, through its pastor and members, is typically the first contact that Catholics have with the church, ‘it is the responsibility of both pastors and laity to ensure that those doors are always open.’ It is in the parish that one becomes engaged with the church community, learns how to become a missionary disciple of Christ, is nurtured by Scripture, is nourished by the sacraments, is catechized and ultimately becomes a disciple of Christ. Successful evangelization and catechetical initiatives must be focused on the parish and parish life” (pages 13-14).
Our archdiocese is having an important discussion of how we can more fully open our doors to those with special needs.
The archdiocese has three key initiatives for the next several years to help us grow as disciples of Jesus and make disciples for Jesus.
Each of these initiatives has two to three goals. Recently, the goals of our three key initiatives were updated. The archbishop promulgated these goals last October.
New and notable among them is that the archbishop has asked parishes to commence outreach that is inclusive and supportive of parishioners with disabilities, beginning with participation in faith formation programs (including sacramental preparation) and participation in the liturgy.
So, how do we “commence outreach”? What do we mean by “disability”? Who and where are the parishioners with disabilities to whom we need to reach out? How do we begin?
There is no single answer. The parish is a family of families. Just as every family has a unique set of characteristics, so does each parish family.
In order to help parishes unpack this goal and determine starting points, a meeting will be held in every region of the archdiocese for pastors, leadership and interested parish family members.
Parish advocates will be recruited to serve as a liaison between people with disabilities and the parish and between the parish and the archdiocesan special-needs ministry.
If you have an interest and want to be a part of the conversation with your pastor about how your parish can become more inclusive and accessible, contact the special-needs ministry office for when your regional meeting will take place.