By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
For the students in Holy Innocents Society programs, Sacramental preparation is merely the first step.
“Our goal is community,” said Patricia Hertz, president of the organization designed to provide religious instruction to those with developmental disabilities in the Diocese of Trenton. “We are one Church.”
About 100 members of the society, parents, caretakers and mentally challenged children and adults gathered Oct. 28 in St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, for its annual luncheon and Mass, during which individuals with disabilities were active as acolyte and gift bearers.
In his homily, Father David Swantek, pastor of St. Martha Parish, who served as principal celebrant of the Mass, invited those in attendance to choose which of two songs best encapsulated the day’s Gospel where Jesus responded to the blind beggar Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), giving him the gift of sight and declaring, “Go your way, your faith has saved you.”
“Jesus didn’t greet Bartimaeus by saying, ‘I love you just the way you are,’” the priest said, quoting lyrics from the popular song by Billy Joel. “It’s like from ‘Amazing Grace’: I once was lost and now I’m found, was blind but now I see.’ The beauty of Amazing Grace is that it finds us when we are lost.”
Love seeks out those who are sick or broken, and acts in their best interest whether they desire it or not, Father Swantek continued as parents and caretakers nodded knowingly.
“Love is choosing the good in a child, which you guys have to do all the time,” he continued. “Because you love them, you don’t want them to stay where they are, because where they are is not in their best interest.
“But draw them to where they can be,” he encouraged. “Love makes demands and comes to help us respond to them. Jesus equates love with goodness. He prefers ‘Amazing Grace.’ What is on your playlist?”
The Holy Innocents Society, created in 1964 by then- Bishop George W. Ahr, is dedicated to the spiritual welfare of those with intellectual, cognitive and/or developmental disabilities who cannot function in traditional religious education programs. Catechists prepare these students of all ages for the reception of their Sacraments, and through programs of continuing religious education, prepare them to take an active role in the greater Church community. It is composed of six chapters that meet at parishes throughout the Diocese: Jesus the Good Shepherd, Beverly; Divine Mercy, Trenton; St. Mark, Sea Girt; St. Mary, Middletown; St. Martha, Point Pleasant, and St. Justin the Martyr, Toms River.
“We need to get out there and get these kids in here,” said Kathy Jobes, coordinator for the program at St. Martha Parish. “We want children to make their Sacraments.”
Jobes extended thanks on behalf of the organizations such as the Knights of Columbus chapters throughout the Diocese who serve as primary sources of funding. Grand Knight Ed Wolfe of the St. Martha chapter, upon receiving a plaque of appreciation from Hertz, said, “Look at the children! How could you not want to bring joy? The world doesn’t accommodate them, we can.”
Joyce Chmielenski, administrator for 26 years of the society that meets in Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, said the program serves about 25 students ages 16 to 67. “There’s camaraderie amongst the students and the parents; we all have each other,” she said.
Father Thomas Barry, parochial vicar in St. Justin the Martyr Parish, expressed his admiration of the society. “No matter our differences and shortcomings, we are God’s people, and support of the Church is so important,” he said.
For more information on the diocesan Holy Innocents Society, contact Patricia Hertz at firstname.lastname@example.org.