By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T
“Lord, it is good that we are here.”
These words spoken by the apostle Peter to Jesus while witnessing the Transfiguration were echoed by Cardinal Justin Rigali as he celebrated the annual archdiocesan Mass for Persons with Disabilities on March 20 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
“As we celebrate this Mass for the second Sunday of Lent, we honor the crosses carried so lovingly in your daily lives, as well as the gifts you bring to the Church,” said the Cardinal in his homily.
“When those crosses are heavy, we must look beyond the pains of this world and its illusions of happiness to what is real in Christ; then the sufferings of this life will give way to the joys of His resurrection.”
Participants in the Mass included people from throughout the Archdiocese who live with disabling diseases and injuries, as well as their families and caregivers. Prelude music was provided by the spanine Providence Village Bell Choir, and young adults from the Cardinal Krol Center (which is a part of spanine Providence Village) served as altar servers.
spanine Providence Village provides services for more than 95 developmentally disabled adolescent girls and women, as well as operating an adult training facility, a work activity center and an employment program for community residents.
High school students from Roman Catholic High School for Boys in Philadelphia volunteered their service to assist in seating participants and pushing wheelchairs.
“Helping out at this Mass means a lot to me personally because my brother is autistic,” said Christian Mattozzo, a junior at Roman Catholic and a member of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in Philadelphia.
Mattozzo’s classmate Daniel Matour, a parishioner of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Norristown, added, “Working with the disabled helps us to gain solidarity in the Church.”
Susan Ongirski is the representative for persons with disabilities at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia. She has been wheelchair bound since the age of 25, diagnosed first with chondromalacia and then spinal neuropathy, and has had to quit jobs due to building inaccessibilities.
“This is my first time in the cathedral,” Ongirski said. “I am overwhelmed. Seeing the priests and bishops here in support of those who are disabled is so wonderful.”
She now works as a receptionist and participates in rowing exercises on the Schuylkill River thanks to programs that enrich the lives of people with disabilities.
When asked what his favorite part of the Mass was, John Romani exclaimed, “I loved the music!” Romani, 21, is also a parishioner of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in Philadelphia and is autistic. He graduated from the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and plays numerous musical instruments including the piano, guitar and drums.
“I love the inclusiveness of this annual Mass,” said Denise McDuffy-Tucker, who belongs to St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Philadelphia. She has worked for 18 years at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia, the school from which her granddaughter graduated. “I never say ‘disability,’ but rather ‘different ability,’ and our Catholic faith includes everyone, regardless.”
Sister Kathleen Schipani, I.H.M., the administrator of the Department of Pastoral Care for Persons with Disabilities and the Deaf Apostolate in the Archdiocese, said, “Our gathering at the Eucharist shows we are one body, whether with or without disabilities, and I find inspiration in each inspanidual who participates, as well as their families and caregivers who do so much to bring them to this celebration.”
Cardinal Rigali concluded his homily by saying, “we must allow Christ to transfigure us and lead us from the difficulties of this life, so as to ‘rise and not be afraid,’ as He said to Peter, James and John.”
Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre concelebrated the Mass.
George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.