September 17, 2021

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Erin Jeffries

Catechists’ ingenuity helps heal wounds of isolation

Erin JeffriesThis weekend, we celebrate Catechetical Sunday. The theme this year is “Say the Word and my Soul Shall be Healed,” which we proclaim at every Mass and calls our attention to Jesus as the divine healer, particularly in the Eucharist. Heaven knows this past year has brought into intense focus our need for healing in so many ways.

All of those things got me thinking about the catechists and catechetical leaders I interact with most, those involved in specialized programs with children and adults with disabilities, and how they face a very particular challenge and its wounds—that of isolation.

Isolation and its effects have been a reality for many of the friends we have met through these programs because of age and health factors (either their own or family members). Many have had to be particularly careful during the past year and a half.

Yet, this time has highlighted some beautiful things that fill me with wonder and gratitude. I have witnessed real relationships and community; I have witnessed true ministry of leadership and presence and, without a doubt, some amazing creativity!

These catechists have made phone calls, mailed cards and care packages, and even provided blank notecards and envelopes to encourage the group to keep in contact with each other. Tangible “touch points” like that have been especially important for our friends, who either don’t have the inclination toward technology like Zoom, or don’t have easy access to it. Of course, some love the technology, so there were groups that continued to meet virtually regularly.

One group of catechists quickly pivoted to putting together monthly themed boxes complete with short videos and other learning material. Other folks made home visits and brought meals. I have received encouraging notes from catechists, which has been a tremendous and humbling blessing.

I am reminded too, of another catechist who reached out to a group of friends to help them identify ways they could be involved and do things for their community from home. They ended up making and sending messages of encouragement to first responders and caregivers in nursing homes.

Of course, this past year has brought several sad losses. Those groups communicated and came together to mourn and support each other, either at the funeral itself or praying at a memorial service. There is one catechist who has been using his professional skills as a counselor to meet with a program participant to provide support as he faces the serious illness of his mother.

This summer, we resumed offering opportunities for the larger community to gather at our Disabilities Awareness Mass which was held in June, and our summer retreat in August. I would be lying if I said there was no anxiety or second guessing about this. But here is what I saw: smiles. Hugs. Conversation. People greeting old friends and meeting new friends. The peace and joy were palpable. It was a peace that can only come from Christ.

It’s not perfect: the technology wasn’t working to livestream the Mass as we had hoped for folks who couldn’t join us in person, and we missed some old friends. But the reality that I am starting to appreciate is that the relationship is truly one of family with all its beauty and messiness. And I can say this for sure, those who joined us by Zoom for several activities during the retreat weekend were greeted with the same enthusiasm and love as someone physically walking through the door.
 

(Erin Jeffries is coordinator of ministry to persons with special needs for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and can be reached at ejeffries@archindy.org or 317-236-1448. To learn more about resources in this area, check out www.archindy.org/specialneeds or www.archindy.org/deaf.)

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