S.S. Anne and Joachim is a ministry to parents of children with disabilities. The inspiration for this ministry came from two sources. The first came from attending a “Women of Grace” study group in 2008 where participants were required to read Full of Grace Women and the Abundant Life by Jonette Benkovic.
In chapter five the author told us that while meditating she began contemplating how God sees the events in our lives. Her meditation led her to ponder the meaning of the star that guided the magi to the baby Jesus. In this meditation it occured to her that "The glorious star was God’s own compass, which directed the wise men of the Orient - Gentiles - to the Christ Child. Clearly they were transformed by the experience, drawn into a life changing encounter with God’s only begotten Son. They risked their own lives to protect this Child, returning home by another route instead of reporting back to Herod, as the king had instructed." Benkovic counted all the bright stars in her life - her husband, children, the gift of faith, her parents, etc. But then she thought about the stars that weren’t so bright (obvious). The situations, events and people that she described and who led her to Christ, summarized what it had taken me years to learn in my own life.
The most difficult challenge I faced in life, having a child in the autism spectrum, at a time when there was no clear identification or treatment, also brought me closer to Christ. And suddenly I wanted to bring that knowledge to the parents of children with disabilities. I wanted them to know that this deviation in how they expected their life to be, can do the same for them. Only other parents who have parented a child with a disability understand how challenging life can become. And one of greatest challenges is the isolation that is frequently part of rearing a child with a disability.
I know what it feels like to feels like to have to fight for what a child needs, including understanding, acceptance and to create a life where the child feels safe and the family is in tact. Couples with a child or children with a disability have a much higher divorce rate that couples of typical children. They need to know that they can be a couple and that they can grow closer because of their child.
The second “nudge” came when, I noticed an increase in the number of parents who brought children to church who had some type of disability. While many of the disabilities were physical, I suspected there were others whose disabilities were cognitive in nature. Their behaviors caught my attention. I was pleased and excited to see them and their families in our parish home. My observations and interest in disabilities were the result of having studied disabilities in college, and from working for close to ten years in the Disability Services office at the University at Buffalo. But my inspiration to suggest a ministry for the parents of children with disabilities came from personal experience. I know what it means and what it involves to be the parent of a child with a disability.
I am the mother of a thirty-seven year old adult child with a disability, and I know and understand that the paths of the families that I’ve observed at Mass is quite different from that of families who do not share this experience.
So as I observed these families I thought how positive it would be for them to have their spiritual needs addressed with others who had already “walked the walk,” and recognized the stars. I chose to assist parents in recognizing that there is light at the end of the tunnel and to let them know that in spite of how challenging parenting may be, they can experience numerous blessing if they allow God’s presence in their lives and invite the Blessed Mother to bless them and their child.
This ministry allows parents to freely express their frustrations, concerns and joys. It provides someone who can assist them by praying for their child, their families and themselves. It give them someone who understands their concerns and helps them grow in their faith and reliance on the Trinity and the Blessed Mother to help them discover that their child is a star in their lives. I have grown with others by walking this path.
by Linda Amabile (member of the diocesan Disability Action Team)