In June of 2019, two parishioners came to me to ask if I was aware of families who come to celebrate the Holy Mass with us who have children with special needs. Most of them have autism in different degrees, with mental and/or physical challenges. They have made me aware that most of these families are not coming regularly to the church because they are not comfortable coming with their children whose special needs may disturb other parishioners by the way they react or behave during celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Most of them would just stay in the crying room so that they can exit whenever the parents cannot control the reactions of their children. So, the two parishioners proposed to me if I would be willing to have a celebration of the Holy Mass exclusively for them since there is no regular Holy Mass offered in the whole Diocese of Raleigh for these families. And I said yes and started initially to have the celebration of the Holy Mass every other Saturday of the month. We made an invitation to those families and made them aware of what we planned. We began this program in November 2019.
During the Holy Mass we follow the Liturgy for Children’s Mass. We invite those family members to actively participate during the celebration to read the readings, the prayers of the faithful, and instead of giving a homily, we read a story book for children that is related to the theme of the liturgy that shows colorful images and simple words that could be understood easily by them.
With what we are doing so far, the family, especially the parents, are appreciative because they feel welcomed and accepted in the community despite all the challenges and struggles that they face every day with their situation. What is important also is after the Holy Mass we offer snacks for the families so that little by little we can get to know each other better and hopefully, by listening to each other’s family stories about having children with special needs, we can form a community of support for each other.
We are still in the initial stages of this program. We are looking for ways how to sustain this and to come up with better ways to respond to their spiritual needs. These children with special needs opened our eyes to see God’s beautiful creation in them.