Greeting people as they arrived for the Diocese’s annual Mass Celebrating the Gifts of People with Disabilities, Jenny Laudeman demonstrated loud and clear the message she wanted to share.
“I want to tell the people coming to the Mass today to be nice and loving and kind to others, especially people with special needs,” she said. “Make them happy; don’t make them sad. Make them feel joy and happiness and love. Treat them just like anyone.”
Laudeman, 37, has Down syndrome. A member of St. Joseph Parish in York, which hosted the Mass on Nov. 17, she said she volunteered to serve as greeter.
“I like to help people out,” she said, as she distributed worship aids for the Mass, and welcomed parishioners and guests with a friendly smile and a ready-to-serve attitude.
The annual Mass is sponsored by the Diocesan Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities, and recognizes and elevates the gifts of persons with disabilities. The Mass welcomed in a special way those who have physical or developmental disabilities, and the inclusion was evident during the parish’s regular 12:30 Sunday Mass, as people with walkers, wheelchairs, white canes and a service dog entered the pews.
Several persons with disabilities served as greeters, lector and altar servers, and members of the deaf community were also present to worship, with the assistance of Sign Language Interpreter, Ginny Stack.
Awaiting the start of Mass with fellow altar servers, Joey Gerzewski said “I come here to this Mass on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, as we begin to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord during the Holy Season of Advent.”
“When I come to Mass, I just want to feel the presence of God in my heart, and we should all try to do the same,” said Gerzewski, a member of St. Rose of Lima Parish in York.
In his homily, Bishop Ronald Gainer said that often, a disability is the first thing people notice about others.
“But today, we recognize the giftedness of every one of us,” he said. “We come to worship here at Mass in absolute peace, when each one of us can be ourselves, and not have to worry or be embarrassed, concerned or anxious. We can be ourselves here before the Lord as he has made us and bring ourselves, with our gifts and our limitations, to worship Jesus Christ.”
“Those of you who have a family member – son, daughter, brother or sister – with some disability know much better than I how your family member is a teacher, and how you have learned from them, how your unconditional care for your loved one has brought you to a new level of being yourself and holiness, drawn out from you certain strengths and virtues you never thought you had, didn’t have, except for the grace of God,” he said.
“Today, we thank God for all of that, and the love that you receive in return from your family members. God is great. He has gifted all of us, and today we celebrate the gifts of every one of us,” the bishop said.
At the conclusion of the Prayers of the Faithful, the bishop imparted a special blessing for those with disabilities:
“Lord our God, today we lift up to You all those with special needs. We ask You to fill them with every grace and blessing. May they offer their bodily limitations in union with Christ on the cross for the salvation of souls. In hours of loneliness or discouragement, we ask that You be with them, giving them strength and a tangible sense of Your love and peace. For their loved ones, accompany them on their journey and ease their anxiety and fears. Surround them with the love and strength of others, so they may experience the healing presence of the communion of saints. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The Diocesan Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities assists in Christ’s mandate to create a Church that fully recognizes the dignity, rights and potential of all people. This mission involves consultation and training of people in parishes, providing information and assistance to persons with disabilities and their family members, and creating awareness of the needs and gifts of people with disabilities to the parish, Diocese and community at large.
The office oversees a Parish Advocacy Program, made up for parishioners specifically trained to assist the pastor in working for and with parishioners with disabilities. It also provides ministry to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and hosts an annual overnight camp where participants enjoy hiking, swimming, games, fishing and arts and crafts.
For more information about the Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities its programs, services and resources, contact Larry Kiley, Director, at 717-657-4804, ext. 322 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.hbgdiocese.org/disabilities-ministries.
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness