Cardinal Wuerl gives Communion to a father during the Oct. 26 White Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral honoring the gifts of people with special needs. (CS photo by Leslie Kossoff)
Cardinal Wuerl gives Communion to a father during the Oct. 26 White Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral honoring the gifts of people with special needs. (CS photo by Leslie Kossoff)
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Most of the people attending the annual White Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Oct. 26 wore white, as a means of recalling the vows made at baptism, that all are called to live as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual Mass honoring people with special needs and those who serve them.

 “What a beautiful and wondrous gift to know God’s creative and loving power is at work in each of us,” the cardinal said in his homily. “Whatever our gifts, we can offer (them) in love and then, we can simply be there for one another.” 

 People with disabilities participated in various ministries at the Mass, including as readers, altar servers and gift bearers.

 “God has a beautiful plan. In this plan, everyone counts. There is room for all of us,” the cardinal said.

The Archdiocese of Washington’s Department of Special Needs Ministries sponsored the Mass, and that office has helped foster 17 new parish special needs ministries, six new catechetical programs, three new parishes offering American Sign Language at Masses, two new Rosaria community homes, eight additional Catholic schools educating students with disabilities, three new community resource programs, a newly formed parish ministry for those living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a newly formed Veterans Advisory Committee, and the newly formed D.C. Guild of the Catholic Medical Association.

After Communion, Father William Byrne, the archdiocese’s Secretary of Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns, said a few words about the Bethlehem House and its nearly three decades of work supporting families of people with special needs via creating communities where the disabled and non-handicapped lived together.  Bethlehem House’s founding director, Dolores Wilson accepted the Cardinal’s Award, and she received a standing ovation..

Later, Wilson explained how she first came to begin the work of Bethlehem House. “I was 25 years at the Kennedy Institute, serving children with disabilities.  I watched the children grow up to be 21 and heard the cries of so many parents. ‘Who will take care of my child when I die? Who will take them to church?’ At about the same time, I heard Jean Vanier speak at a conference and I just knew God was directing me again to look at their needs. It was a call to get out there and get something done.”

Several men from St. Francis of Assisi Deaf Catholic Church in Landover, Maryland were eager to share their experience of the Mass via an interpreter.  “The Mass was 100 percent perfect.” signed John Daigle. John Cordero noted that the cardinal flashed the sign “I love you” to the deaf community as he walked by, “and that made the connection all the more strong.”  

Mary O’Meara, the executive director of the Department of Special Needs Ministries, said, “Today’s celebration was the Church at its best.  Celebrating the liturgy with no barriers, as one body of Christ.”   

At the end of Mass, Cardinal Wuerl made a special request of the congregation, saying, “We need you to teach the whole world what love is.”