People with disabilities want to belong to church, conference stresses

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SPRING, Texas (CNS) – Disability ministry leaders, advocates, family members and others gathered recently at St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Spring, Texas, for the annual conference of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

Charleen Katra, the organization's director, said the goal of the conference was to raise awareness about disability issues in the Church; but more importantly, it was to train Church communities on how to create a welcoming and hospitable environment at many levels.

"You want to do more than just include someone," she said. "You want to help create a home for the person with a disability, in the Church, to where they move from just being included. We want to move people from inclusion to belonging in the Church."

Part of the programming for the Oct. 21-22 conference included a sensory-friendly celebration of the Mass. The liturgy featured subdued lighting and music, softer or fewer instruments and spoken parts, and other shortened segments for people with processing delays, as well as an American Sign Language interpreter and assistive listening devices and large print missals.

The sensory-friendly Mass was a new experience for Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of Victoria, Texas, who was a keynote speaker at the conference.

Drawing from St. John Paul II, he asked participants to look beyond the evil things in the world, to "see what's positive in others," and to "maintain a love of God for them.

"Everyone should look on his neighbor, without any exceptions, as another self, bearing in mind, above all, his life and the means necessary for living it in a dignified way," he emphasized, taking the "without exceptions" phrase from Second Vatican Council documents.

The conference featured several breakout workshops and roundtable discussions, as well as a virtual registration option. More than 100 people were registered to attend. American Sign Language interpreters from the St. Dominic Deaf Parish in Houston also interpreted the keynote addresses and Mass.

Part of the work of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability is to encourage and increase sensory-friendly Masses in the Church, a ministry that's starting to grow across the country.

"Parishes are starting to see and understand this is a real need," Katra said. "If you want to accompany people, if you want to be a synodal Church, offering a sensory-friendly Mass is as equally, if not more, important for Catholic identity than, again, the importance of adapting catechetical programs and other events and programs in a parish to make them physically accessible and adapted to the various needs of diverse learners."

Editor's Note: For more information on activities in the Diocese of Evansville, visit

Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.