This is an article from when Lily and I went to the special Mass. It was reprinted with permission. To see the article on the Salt Lake Tribune website click here.
Lily Smith, 9, who has Down syndrome, is held by her mother Suzie Smith of Holladay, during the Mass.
(Jim Urquhart / The Salt Lake Tribune )
'Together . . . we are truly gifted'
Special Mass celebrates the contributions of people with disabilities
By Jessica Ravitz
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 10/27/2008
Draper - Cindi Vega sat near the front of the church, her guide dog, Romy, curled at her feet. Around her, a handful of churchgoers signed back and forth in a flurry of silent conversation. Nearby, several people in wheelchairs found their places along the aisle, moving past Scott "Scotty" Bonn, 23, who rocked in his seat and threw his head back to take in something higher.
About 50 people came out to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church last Friday evening for a special disabilities awareness Mass, the first of its kind for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. Hosted by the Diocesan Commission for People with Disabilities, the Mass loosely coincided with the 30th anniversary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' statement on people with disabilities, a document that emphasizes the dignity of all in a unified church - "one flock that follows a single shepherd," a diocese statement read.
"It's not the disabilities but the abilities that make you who you are," Utah's Catholic Bishop John C. Wester said to the congregants, most of whom bore no visible disabilities. "We have gifts God gives us. . . . But there are other gifts that are far more important, and they're gifts you can't buy in a store."
Wester spoke of "gifts of the heart," of the ability to learn from, love and forgive one another. "You already know that which is superficial and that which is profound. . . . Together, as the body of Christ, we are truly gifted."
As he addressed the audience, others read and hymns rang out, a sign-language interpreter stood front and center sharing the words and spirit.
Vega, 37, of Taylorsville, was helped to the stage, and with Romy peeking from behind the podium, her fingers traced the Braille of her reading. John Lipsey, a 23-year-old Westminster College student, sang with a small group of performers, his BrailleNote - a laptop computer of sorts - serving as his songsheet.
When the time came for the Eucharist service, Scotty, who has Down syndrome, his 13-year-old brother, Trevor, and two others walked their way down the center aisle to present the bread and wine for consecration.
Some who showed up were there less for Mass, per se, and more for the evening's message.
Suzie Smith, president of the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As her 9-year-old daughter, Lily, who has Down syndrome, cozied up for cuddles when she wasn't climbing around the pews, Smith explained that the lesson of the evening - one that reminded us to focus on what people can do vs. what they can't do - is universal, one that crosses all faith lines.
It was an experience that moved Angelica Robles of West Valley City to tears. As her 16-year-old daughter, Franceli, who is deaf, and two others signed after Mass their enthusiasm about the service, exclaiming - with the help of an interpreter - "Wow" and calling the evening "beautiful" and "full of spirit," Robles stood by, her eyes welled with gratitude.
"I feel good that they would do this for us, for our special families," she said.
The goal of this special Mass, one that commission members hope to host annually, was, in part, to highlight the importance of "making it possible for people with disabilities to feel welcome within the church," said Debbie Adams, who serves on the commission.
The desire to feel welcome is something the Bonn family can relate to, said Scotty's dad, Bill. "A lot of times, we feel left out." he said during a reception after the service. "And it hurts to be left out of something."
But the Farmington family, which attends St. Olaf Parish in Bountiful, has made inroads when it comes to church. Scotty "was the first altar server at the parish to have a noticeable disability," the proud father said. "I think the parish is stronger because of it."
Jessica Ravitz writes about religion and spirituality. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8776.