Synodality and Imperfections

Prior to the Coronavirus lockdown and restrictions, I celebrated Mass with the Bethesda Catholic community. It’s a community that promotes the inclusion of persons with disabilities into the liturgies, through sensory-friendly Masses.  At the Mass there were parents along with children of various ages and located at different points on the autistic spectrum. 

It was my first-time celebrating Mass with persons with this type of disability. The Mass was celebrated in the Pastoral Centre of Holy Trinity RC Church, Arouca, Trinidad and Tobago.  The location was spacious and air-conditioned with comfortable chairs placed in a semi-circular position, and the Altar in the centre, all on one level. 

The behaviour of the children was aligned to what was expected of children with autism. Some sat in silence listening attentively, others walked around the liturgical space, while some sat in their chairs with uninterpretable movements.  I remember one participant walked towards me during the homily and gently touched my cheeks and walked away. 

When these unusual behaviours occurred, I initially felt agitated, disturbed, uncomfortable and disoriented.  These feelings were triggered because I am accustomed to celebrating Mass designed for predictable and controllable behaviour.  In a word, the liturgical celebration is designed and sanitized for so-called ‘normal’ people.  Liturgies are not designed to accommodate persons with disabilities. Yet, even closed-off sanitized spaces for crying ‘so-called normal’ children are designed. 

On that occasion with the Bethesda community, I learnt a fundamental lesson about the synodal journey.

How do we intentionally include the excluded?

Communities such as Bethesda were forced to develop, not as a means of assisting the wider community to include the weak and vulnerable, but because the wider community ignored and neglected the weak and vulnerable’s basic human need of belonging.

As we form a synodal Church, the call is not to sanitize the People of God of the weak and vulnerable, or to sanitize our pastoral activities of the reality of human weaknesses, failures, inadequacies, or imperfections. 

If God becomes incarnate in the imperfection of human nature as a means of salvation, then a synodal Church is called to immerse itself in the imperfections of its community participants on its missionary journey.

3 thoughts on “Synodality and Imperfections

  1. Good afternoon Fr. Don thank you for sharing. This is certainly an eye opener for me, never even thought about people with disabilities attending holy mass.


  2. What a wonderful perspective, so few are able to reflect and identify with this particular population in the Community. So you Fr Don are doing your part in bringing awareness and sensitizing the Community the needs of this vulnerable population. Thank you for your words of inspiration


  3. Bethesda is an amazing community that is poised to set an example not only for the autistic community but sets an example for all communities of persons with disabilities. We need to find ways to support this organisation in its efforts to change the parameters of what it means to work. WHEN WE SUPPORT OTHERS WE SUPPORT OURSSLVES. BETHESDA IS THE LIVING PROOF OF THIS.


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