To help in the creation of a new ministry to serve those with special needs, the Parish of the Holy Eucharist in Falmouth was presented with a Matthew 25 Award on Saturday, June 17, during a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley.
The parish was among five to receive Matthew 25 Awards from Catholic Charities Parish Social Ministry for programs that serve members of the community. A total of $25,000 was given out, including $2,250 for the special needs ministry.
“I am so grateful for the decision of Catholic Charities Maine to put such emphasis on parish social ministry programs. Each of us is reminded, in this way, that the living of the Gospel, which is the living out of the communion which is ours in the Eucharist, is not something institutional; it is personal. It is the work of each of us. We are all called to participate in the mission of the Church to bring love and mercy to our world,” Bishop Deeley said during the Mass.
“The Matthew 25 Award is about empowering parishes to go into their communities to assist the people living on the margins with sustainable ministries, and Parish of the Holy Eucharist is clearly pursuing such an approach with their special needs ministry,” said Michael Smith, director of mission for Catholic Charities Maine, who presented the award. “The selection committee valued the importance of this ministry in our parish communities and the impact it could have on the entire diocese through the creation of a replicable template model.”
“It’s exciting to see this new ministry develop,” said Father Daniel Greenleaf, pastor. “With this ministry, those who sometimes fall through the cracks of parish life can begin to see themselves as important members who are cared for and loved.”
The new special needs ministry is still in the formation stages, but the parish envisions three areas of emphasis. The first is to raise parish awareness of the needs of children and adults with disabilities.
“It’s to create an awareness and an understanding within our own parish, but also, it’s about making our parish a friendly place for people with disabilities to come and feel accepted,” said Georgette Dionne, the parish’s director of lifelong faith formation.
The second is to integrate people with special needs into the life of the parish and to increase their involvement in parish activities, worship, and the celebration of the sacraments.
“People don’t understand or realize that their kids or grandkids can receive and should receive sacraments,” explained Dionne. “It is important that sacraments are freely offered.”
The third piece is to provide faith formation opportunities and resources for those with special needs. Some of the money from the Matthew 25 Award will be used for training team members and teachers and for the purchase of educational materials.
The parish is putting together a team to guide the ministry. It currently has eight volunteer members including a special needs teacher and parents of children with special needs. The parish’s four churches – Holy Martyrs in Falmouth, Sacred Heart in Yarmouth, St. Jude in Freeport, and St. Gregory in Gray – are also represented on the team. Dionne expects the initial meeting to be in July.
“It’s a big, big task, but we’ll start slowly,” she said.
Once the ministry is established, the Parish of the Holy Eucharist plans to share the program with other parishes around the diocese, just as it did with its Aging with Grace ministry, which received a Matthew 25 Award in 2015.
The Mass in Falmouth was held on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, more commonly known as the Feast of Corpus Christi, during which the Church celebrates the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. In his homily, Bishop Deeley spoke of Jesus’ gift of the Eucharist, how it draws us into communion with God and one another, and our call to share the mystery of our faith with others.
“The Eucharist sends us forth to remember what Jesus has done for us and to bring God’s love to others,” the bishop said. “The ministry that we honor this evening with the Matthew 25 Award is certainly an outreach to a community of people who can very much be on the periphery of our attention, those with special needs.”
The bishop just returned to Maine from attending a meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Indianapolis, during which the bishops approved new Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities. The guidelines emphasize the importance of the inclusion of all members of parishes and provide guidance for supporting people with special needs and their families, including the families of those suffering from Alzheimer's or age-related dementia.
In addition to the Parish of the Holy Eucharist, the parishes and ministries receiving Matthew 25 Awards from Catholic Charities Parish Social Ministry this year include Christ the King Parish in Skowhegan, which received $4,400 for its new St. Peter Thrift Store & Food Pantry in Bingham; St. Peter the Fisherman Parish in Machias, which was awarded $3,100 to start a community garden in support of the Machias Food Pantry; Holy Family Parish in Greenville, where a $3,000 grant will allow it to open a warming center during power outages; and St. Paul the Apostle Parish, which received $2,250 for a weatherization program.