People of all needs and abilities welcomed at Inclusive Thanksgiving Mass
“God has made us a family and together we will grow in love.”
That was the gathering song which opened a special inclusive Thanksgiving Mass on Saturday, Nov. 18 at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Cheektowaga. Nearly 100 people of various levels of abilities and special needs attended. They are loving Catholics who, through this Mass, were given a chance to celebrate without many of the stimuli which might otherwise distress them.
“First of all, the closeness of the space. People with sensory issues need a wider space, space to be able to walk around if they need to, to pace, move around,” said Sharon Urbaniak, Faith Formation director at St. Bernadette Parish in Orchard Park, who helped coordinate this Mass. “They need to be able to make sounds and feel comfortable doing that. The lighting is usually dimmer. The music’s shorter, simpler, less loud and brassy.”
The music for this Mass was provided by the Georger family. Parents Lesley and Phil provided the vocals while their son Ethan, who lives with disabilities, played the piano. He played with an advanced level of skill.
Advocates suggest that instead of looking upon this as an example of a person with disabilities who just happens to be a good musician, it should be seen as a demonstration of what Catholics living with disabilities can contribute, if they are allowed the opportunity to present their gifts as their abilities allow.
During his homily, Msgr. Richard Siepka told a Polish folk tale about a king who sought to plant a vast garden, and then wandered about and conversed with the various plants and trees, learning why they did not grow to their full potential and hearing numerous excuses. But the king then spoke with a lone daisy that grew and explained that it assumed this is where the king wanted it, so it would be the best daisy it could be. Msgr. Siepka then connected that story to his message to the congregation.
“I think it’s a wonderful story, because as we celebrate Thanksgiving, and we have so much to be thankful for, sometimes we spend more time recognizing what we don’t have than what we do. Instead of recognizing the gifts that God has given us, we want something else,” he said. “But just like that daisy, God made us the best person we can be, right where we are. And the best way we can say thanks to God is to use what God has given us, to be the person that we are, and thank God for what we have. And be the best that we can be right now, and be the best that we can be right where God has placed us. That’s the challenge for us all.”
Ian Morey, a resident at People Inc., delivered the first reading. Jennifer Machucki, a member of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville, served Holy Communion from her wheelchair.
While Msgr. Siepka served as the lead celebrant, Father Gerard Skrzynski stood to his right, interpreting the Mass in American Sign Language.
It is in more recent years that awareness has risen for people with disabilities and the need to respect their place as contributors. Urbaniak notes that the program God’s Family was formed at St. Bernadette Parish to assist families that include people living with disabilities. The program has since opened at St. Philip the Apostle Parish.
“Having a brother with disabilities, I was very attuned to how abandoned my mother felt in the 1960s, that there was nobody there to be supportive to her. When we started God’s Family, it was because it embraced the whole family, brothers, sisters, parents and the child. And it’s been wonderful. It’s been a wonderful program,” Urbaniak said.
For more information contact Elaine Driscoll, God’s Family Coordinator, at 716-5534-2618 or email@example.com.
Listen to Michael Mroziak reporting.