Diocese to hold workshop on how to better minister to Catholics with disabilities

by Lance Murray

North Texas Catholic

April 6, 2016

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7.3 percent of Tarrant County's two million residents report having a disability. The Diocese of Fort Worth is working to better minister to this population. 

FORT WORTH  Some sit in wheelchairs, or walk with the help of a walker or cane, their physical disabilities hindering their movements. Others battle mental or cognitive disorders, while others have visual or hearing problems, the so-called “invisible disabilities.”

They are members of a large segment of our population who often feel set apart from the rest of society because of their disabilities. Many of them are members of Catholic families.

To help improve how the Diocese of Fort Worth reaches out to its disabled community, the Office of Faith Formation and Children’s Catechesis will hold a workshop titled “Open Wide the Door of Mercy” April 30 to instruct directors of religious education, catechists, parents, and other lay people on ways in which the Church can better minister to this ever-growing population.

The workshop will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Pastoral Center at St. Patrick Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth.

Keynote speaker will be Sister M. Johanna Paruch, Ph.D., a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. She is on the theology faculty at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and travels the country presenting workshops on catechist training, catechist retreats, and catechesis for persons with disabilities.

The event is inspired by the Jubilee Year of Mercy designated by Pope Francis, running from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 2015 to the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016.

Ministering to the disabled was a big part of the ministry of Jesus Christ, and it’s a point of emphasis today as Catholics nationwide try to make the Church more inclusive and inviting to this segment of the population.

The number of families affected in the Fort Worth Diocese could be large, but officials aren’t sure what that number is.

“As of right now, it’s hard to say because we don’t keep a statistic in this area,” said Marlon De La Torre, director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the diocese.

In Tarrant County, 7.3 percent of the county’s two million residents report having a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the United States, 12.6 percent of the nation’s 320 million residents say they are disabled. In Texas, about 3 million people report having a disability, or 9.1 percent of the population. The Centers for Disease Control reports an even higher percentage of exceptionality, a somewhat broader category, among minors.

De La Torre has been evaluating the needs of the disabled community in the diocese for a long time.

“When I held the first mini-workshop back in 2011, it was met with overwhelming response, and it helped initiate the process of training catechists through the St. Francis De Sales Catechist Formation Program, and assisted in organizing resources and links that many in the community had no idea existed,” De La Torre said. “This next conference is the next step that will hopefully lead to a full-time staff member in my department.”

He said creating an office for disabilities would be a beneficial step for the diocese to take.

“Establishing an Office for Special Needs will let the Catholic community know that all of God’s children deserve our very best, and will bring to light the need to evangelize and catechize these children and their families,” De La Torre said. “It will open the door for more people to volunteer their time and talent in the area of special religious education and hopefully garner donations for resources in this area.”

Paola Araujo-Quintero, director of faith formation for the diocese, said the effort to bring more disabled people into the Church’s mainstream is important.

In August 2015, she offered a workshop on catechesis for people with special needs to see how much interest there was in the subject. About 60 people attended that event, and she said she expects roughly 100 people to attend this month’s event.

It’s all in an effort to bring the faith closer to families whose Church lives sometimes have been met with obstacles, frustration, or a feeling of exclusion.

 “A lot of times they don’t come to the religious education programs because they don’t know they are available to them,” Araujo-Quintero said.

Sometimes, they call looking for the programs, and some people in the parish don’t know how to help them. The families’ problems only become apparent later in the process.

That doesn’t “give that child an opportunity to really thrive” in the Church, Araujo-Quintero said.

She said that people with special needs “are dear to my heart.”

In some cases, people with disabilities might shy away from attending Church because, “they don’t feel welcome,” she said.

But that’s avoidable, Araujo-Quintero said.

“There are ways that we can work with people with special needs,” she said.

For more information on the workshop, contact Lucia Romo at 817-945-9358 or e-mail . Early registration ends Friday, April 15. Deadline for all registrations is Friday, April 22. Register online.

FORT WORTH  Some sit in wheelchairs, or walk with the help of a walker or cane, their physical disabilities hindering their movements. Others battle mental or cognitive disorders, while others have visual or hearing problems, the so-called “invisible disabilities.”

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