You are on page 1of 4


Archdioceseof Chicaso SPECIALRELIGIOUS

2956SouthLoweAve.Chicago,Illinois 60616

December 2016 Volume9l Number4

Thereis a certainconsistency, apredictablerhythmin thedevelopmentof Spredcommunitiesof

faith. There is a certainebb and flow to the birthing of Spredcommunitieswhich is usually
triggeredby u call for help from an anxiousparent,a compassionate pastor,or aperplexed
directorof religiouseducation.

Musing overtheeventsofthis pastyearmy personalinteractionswith parentsof all walksof tife

continueto touch my heartin a very specialway. I am drawn into a certaincomaraderiewith
them astheir storystrikesa very personalchord deepwithin.

My fust child wasborn with an immediatelydefinabledisability. Wthin minutesof her first

breath,shewaslabled. "Down Syndrome,"the doctorsapologeticallydeclared."So sorrlr"
th"y remorsefi.rlly
whisperedastheypresumedto know my child, certainofthe grim futurethat
awaitedher. Againstall advice,my husbandandI embracedher andwelcomedherinto ow
lives andinto ourhearts.

As supportsystemsworkedtirelesslyto mold andshapeher tofit intothe normsof societyso

that shecould be acceptableto others,we were delighting in her uniqueness,enjoyingher
charm,and reali zingher greatcapacityto appreciatelife and draw us into a wonderfi,rllove
story. We were gifted with her for a brief six years. Shemadea lasting impacton our lives.

Following the deathof my daughter,I very tentativelyacceptedan invitationto join a small

community of faith at a neighboringparish - the Spredcommunity that had reachedout to
welcomemy chiid. I soondiscoveredthat labelswereunimportantin the intimate,respectful
setting. Friendshipand acceptancewere at the coreof eachpartnership My participationin
this small loving community opened-y mind andmy heart. I beganto seefaith formation,
sacraments, EucharistChurchandmy own personalrelationshipwith Godthrougha new lens.

Spredwas a freshapproachto faith development.Friendshipwas at the heartof ourjourney

toward a deeperawarenessof God in all of life; a senseof sacrednessof ail beings,andthe
realuattonthat Chrnchis all aboutbelonging- finding a placeofunconditionalacceptanceand
love freelyglven. I wassmitten.

PARE]YT By taking a personalrisk to give myself to this small caring community,a spiritual family, I
sunenderedto ajoumey ofthe heartinsteadofthe intellect. I found a sacredplace,rny spiritual
home. Friendsandcatechistsof all ages,a diversityof ethnicheritageaswell asa vastarrayof
gifu andvulnerabilitieshavetouchedmy iife andenrichedmy faith. I haveenjoyedpartrrerships
with both childrenandadultswith varyingabilities andwaysofbeing, Theyhavealteredmypace;
challengedmy presumptions;drawnme closerto God; andsimplyhelpedme to laughandem-
bracelife more frrlly. We may not alwaysconnecton the sameintellectualor conceptualplane,
but we bond emotionally.This is wheremysteryresides;this is wherewe find God.Spredis an

When I sit acrossa table in a coffeeshopwith anotherparentandabsorbtheir story or in aphone

conversation,or at a churchgathering,Iconnectin a specialway. Th.y addressa deeplonging
for othersto accepttheir child andhonorthe child's personhood.Thereis a cry for justice,a
demandfor righteousness.Th"y minimize the commandto love. One cannotachievelove. It
cannotbe mandated.Love is an unfolding.Love is a gift.

I like thesereflectionsby HansReinders,Professorof EthicsinAmsterdam.r

"'Wehave undergonea parad.igmshift from charityto rights. It is importantthatin our focuson

rightsandchoice,we do not forgetthefi.rndamental point,whichis, thatbeinglovedasthefuml-
ment of our lives canonly be received.The reasonwhy it is importantis thatbeinglovedand
b'efriendeddoessomethingfor you that rights and choicecannotpossiblydo. It brings you the
invaluableexperienceofbeing chosenby someoneelse.Whateverit is thatrightsandchoicecan
do, they are not going to make me your ftiend. ... FriendtHp, like love, is other-dependent.
Neither rigtrtsnor choiceareother-dependent.Basically,rightsandchoiceareaboutyou making
otherpeoplecomplywith what you want. Understandingthedifferencemayhelpusto conceive
a richervision of inclusionthanwe havebeenworking with thusfar."

Thus,I believethat manyparents,teachers,catechists, pastorsandcaregiversaredupedby the

cu:rentillusion of inclusion.I suggestthatwe tuck themisleadingbannerof incluion awayinto a
dark place especiallywhen we enterthe arenaof catechesis, faith formation and sacrament,
lnsistingonplacing a child with analtemativecognitiveor developmentalway of absorbingand
interpretioglif. in certainsettingswill frustrateboththe child andthehost. If a child is accepted,
for instance,into a retgious educationprogramwith the caveatthatthe parentattendor another
studentwillbe assignedasanaideto assistinprojectsthatholdlittle meaningor arenot apartof
the skill setofthe child, then,arewe not drawing attentionto differences?Thisprofile doesnot
draw upon andmrhre the grftsofthe child with specialneeds.Is thistrue hospitality?

Reindersfurtherpoints out thatthereis anaturalenvironmentin which personscanflourish. At the

heartofthis is desirefor honestatfaction anda calling into relationshipby another.Aparent or
teacherwho respondsonly to the edictof inclusionoverlooksthe deep-seated hungerofthe child
or adult for a placeof welcome,acceptance, and respect.Our friendslong for a placewhere
differencesarecelebratedandwherethereis no expectationof changein ordertofit in. They
long for friendship that embraceswho they areratherthanwho they could be. Relationships
cannotbe drivenby conscience, but by choiceand athaction.Patoonizing relationshipsservethe
giver and depletethe receiver.Genuinefriendshipis areciprocalencounter.Itnourishesboth.

Earlier this yearI respondedto an invitation, a call for advice,from a gatheringof catechetical
leadersin Chicago. Their concemwasto find behaviormanagementoptionsfor childrenwho
werebeingmainstreamed into theirreligiouseducationclasses.Despiteaides,studentassistants,
parentalpresence,challengescontinue. Thereis a degreeof comfortwiththe child who sits
quietly.But thereis anadmissionof concemaboutwhatthe child is ableto absorbto preparefor

On theotherhand,therewasa dishrbing accountregardingayoungmanwho physicallyneeded

to beremovedfrom a liturgical settingdueto disruptivebehaviours.Affirming nodsevidenced
rurtoldstories.The expresseddesirewasto changebehaviors.In response,I remindedthem
thattheyarein the rninistry of catechesis
ratherthan in behaviormanagement.I suggestedthat
the instructionalapproachto religious educationmaynot respondto the cognitiveor develop-
mentalcapacitiesof somepeople,includingthoseon the autismspectum. As long astheywork
in a classroomsettingandfocuson conceptsaboutGodwith a teacher-pupilmodelof catechesis,
theywill beplaguedby unforseenbehaviours.

exchangeairedthe following concenu:

*How to tell parentsthat their child belongsin Spred?The

for Spred.Offer it asa gift andtime-honoredprocess.

tParentsarenot alwayshonestaboutthe disabiltyof a child..sometimes

th.y denyit.
Theresponse:If you suspectanything,requesta homevisit. Getto know the child.
Offlerto bringtheparentsto observea Spredsessionat oneofthe resourcesites.Don't
offer Spredasa lessera]ternative.Honor it.

*Why not aidsor parentsin the classroom?Theresponse:

this drawsattentionto the
child anddrawsattentionto the differences.It is not assistance
a changeofapproach.

*Isn't it goodfor the otherchildrento experiencehavinga child

with specialneedsasa
peer.Theresporzse: Absolutely! However,thechild with a disabilityshouldneverbethe
objectof a lesson.Bring the groupstogetherfor liturgicaleventsmakingenhancements
to respecttheir way of encounteringthe sacred.Sharesocialeventsin theparishand
occasions thatfoster friendshipratherthan caregiving.

I remindedthe participantsthatthe Spredmethodwas developedwith a clearfocuson thechild

andthe adult with a wide rangeof specialneeds. Researchevidenceda call to changethe
methodfrom a teachingmodeto a relationalapproachgrorurdedin the experience of
friendshipwith otherswho chooseto walk at their pace,enterinto their world andengagein the
journeyof faith sideby side. The Spredapproachasksthe catechistto change,to offer andto
exploretheplaceswhereour friendswill leadusto urearththewonderofourmercif.rl andlovinq

Faithmustbe anchoredin conversionandsubnrissionto God'sway. The hospitalityof God

beginswith presence.The call of Spredcatechistsis an invitationto becomeloving hosts,the
reflectionof God with us. Thepoint of entryis throughthe heart.What a wonderf:l optionfor
our friendsandfor eachof us! JuliaHess

t HansReinders,Receivingthe Gift ofFriendship.2008

+2-l Introductionto SpredEnslishand Spanish 6-10Mon.6pm Dec. 12,Feb.13,27
SpredCenterSaturday Feb.11,18,25,1:00to6:00pm 11-16Tues.7pm Dec.13,Feb.1428
2956SouthLoweAve,ChicagoIl 60616,312-842-1039 22+ N1oo.7r Dec. 12,Feb.73,27
+3-l Role Orientation. Enelish and Spanish
SpredCenterSaturday March 11,18,20171:00to 6:00pm SPRING MAMRE DINNER DANCE FUNDRAISER
2956SouthLoweAve,ChicagoIl 606i 6,312-842-1039 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Sunday,April 23, 2017



pecial ReligiousDevelopment,Arch
of Chicago,2956 S.Lowe Avenue,Chicago, PERMITNO.2769
60616,September-May Subscription$20.0
Editor Sr. Mary ThereseHaninglon S.H.