On Saturday May 21, thirteen special needs children and youth from Saint James parish received the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation from the hands of their pastor, Father Pablo Muñoz. The church was filled with many family members and friends who accompanied them for this long-awaited for ceremony.
It was a typical Saturday at the parish. Many new families were coming to register their children for religious education and something happened which deserves to be shared. It was a day in September in 2009. Several parents approached Sister individually and asked her “what can you do for my child?” These children suffered from autism, others from cerebral palsy, others from Down Syndrome, others were blind or deaf, and others suffered from sicknesses which were completely unknown to us. This has always been the way our Church—through the workings of Divine Providence—has developed new ministries. We realized that we had to respond to the call of the Suffering Christ who was present in each child. However, it was not until March of 2010 where we were able to gather all of these families who had sought us for sacramental preparation for their children and spiritual assistance for their families. It took some time to develop a plan of action since we did not have a clear idea or method on what to do or how to begin… we did not even know a single sign in order to communicate ourselves with those who were deaf… nothing. Maybe that is the reason God sent these children to our parish—in order to demonstrate that this is His work and not anyone else’s.
And this is how it began. On a Sunday, the pastor began inviting families who had children with sicknesses, disabilities or any type of suffering to join us for our first meeting. Ten families gathered for that first meeting. Soon after, the group grew and new families started joining us almost every weekend.
We choose Blessed Carlos Gnocchi, an Italian priest who dedicated his life to disseminate the Church’s teaching on the mystery of suffering, to become the groups’ special patron. Blessed Gnocchi lived during the Second World War and began caring for the crippled and abandoned children who suffered as a consequence of the war. Later his ministry expanded to care for others who suffered from all types of difficulties.
The objectives of our group…
The first objective of our group consisted in inviting the families to share their experiences and difficulties, in order to help them realize, little by little, that the cross is always a blessing from God to the family, the parish and for the entire Church. The cross is always a grace from God. These children and youth had been chosen by God in order to share in the Passion of Christ. Their children were already united to Christ in His Passion. However, this had to be accepted freely—by the children themselves and by their parents. They had to accept this as a grace from God. From that point forward, we had to help them unite themselves to Christ more intimately through the sacraments.
In time, we could see the transformation that was occurring in the hearts of their parents. Oftentimes, when we encounter suffering of this kind we get angry at God and ask “Why has He punished us in this way?” The transformation lies in recognizing that suffering of this kind is actually a tremendous gift and grace from God. The cross is always a source of blessing because God works everything for the good of those who love Him. In order to see this, however, we must have great faith. And this is our task as priests, religious and catechists. This was our main objective, which in time bore great fruit in numerous conversions. Many parents began accepting the will of God and returned to the Church after being “angry” at God and having a severed relationship with Him and His Church.
The second objective of the group was to catechize the children and youth, using all the available means, to receive the sacraments: Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation. This is how we began to deepen our knowledge of the sicknesses of these children who at first glance seemed impenetrable souls. The invaluable aid offered by professionals (autism experts, sign language interpreters, psychologists, etc), along with the loving gift of self on behalf of the catechists and the religious, helped us “connect” with these special souls. It is worth noting the incredible support and aid given by archdiocesan personnel dedicated specifically for this ministry of working with the disabled.
The results were astounding: the joy of a deaf girl who upon realizing that God had become man and given His life for her was the instrument God used in order to touch the life of one of the volunteers who explained these mysteries to her through sign. The autistic children began communicating with their catechists and expressing marks of love for Christ and the Cross. Each of them, little by little, began demonstrating signs of their knowledge of the essential truths of our faith. They started by making the Sign of the Cross, then by praying, and although many could say no more than “Jesus,” “Jesus” when they saw a crucifix or upon showing them the Blessed Sacrament, this was enough to prove it was all worth it.
And that is how we arrived at this great day. On May 21, after going to confession, these thirteen of these children and youth from the group received Jesus for the first time and others received the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Holy Mass was celebrated with great tranquility, each of them being quiet and attentive, with the great joy that they would receive Jesus that day. All of the children and youth from this group are the treasure given by God to our parish and to the Church. How many graces will God pour out through them upon the Church—through their sufferings and those of their families!
“The Christian pedagogy of suffering must, above all, teach children in a practical way to not keep their pain for themselves, but rather to give their pain as a gift to others… [They] must know that the pain they are experiencing has a great power over the heart of God.” ~Blessed Carlos Gnocchi
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