People with special needs, joined by family members, friends and supporters, attended the Archdiocese of Washington's inaugural White Mass on Oct. 24 at St. Matthew's Cathedral.
People with special needs, joined by family members, friends and supporters, attended the Archdiocese of Washington's inaugural White Mass on Oct. 24 at St. Matthew's Cathedral.
Persons with special needs, their families, friends and supporters filled the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on Oct. 24 for the Archdiocese of Washington's first White Mass. The celebration honored "the gifts and giftedness of everyone in Christ's church" according to Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl, who celebrated the Mass.

"God knows no favorites," he repeated multiple times throughout the celebration, paraphrasing a verse from that Sunday's First Reading from the Book of Sirach.

Mary O'Meara, the executive director of the archdiocese's Department of Special Needs, said having the Mass was important "to show our unity in celebration and embrace of all in our archdiocese regardless of ability and disability."

"It shows we are all a big part of the body of Christ," she said.

The White Mass included intercessions read and gifts brought up by several people with special needs and their supporters, and beautiful music sung by the cathedral's Schola Cantorum. Mass attendees had been encouraged to wear some white in honor of their baptismal calling. In remembrance of baptism, the Mass began with a blessing of the congregation with holy water. Baptism, Cardinal-designate Wuerl said in his homily, is what makes everyone family.

"Everyone stands in his sight, precious," he said. "All should be able to take part in every aspect of the life of the Church."

Prudence Shaw of the St. Francis Deaf Catholic Church said, "I was very happy that Cardinal-designate Wuerl did not talk in depth about specific disabilities himself" in his homily, because highlighting particular special needs over others could be divisive. "But instead he focused on the uniqueness of being made in the image of God."
Fellow St. Francis member Sally Mooney agreed that the White Mass was "very inclusive of all persons with disabilities."

Ricky and Elizabeth Garcia and their sons Ricky Isaac and Christian came to the White Mass as a family after hearing about it through a deacon at their parish, Our Lady Help of Christians in Waldorf. Nine-year-old Christian has autism and attends a public school to get the services he needs. Because of that, the Garcias are always looking for more CCD resources for him.

"We're glad to see there's more support for autistic and special needs children," Ricky Garcia said of the acknowledgment the White Mass gave families like theirs.

Elizabeth Garcia said that the Catholic Church is "catching up as well as everybody else" with help for those with special needs.

Members of a new Camden, N.J., branch of "Faith and Light," an organization for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, drove down to Washington for the White Mass on the suggestion of Dolores Wilson, who was hoping to give them some inspiration.

"I'm very encouraged this Mass is being held to honor persons with disabilities," said Wilson, a Faith and Light USA East vice coordinator and director of D.C.'s Bethlehem House for those with disabilities. "It creates an awareness and understanding that we're all gifted."

Cardinal-designate Wuerl said he hoped the White Mass would become a "fixed tradition" like the other annual "color" Masses: the judicial Red Mass, the law enforcement Blue Mass and the health care Rose Mass.

In his concluding remarks, Cardinal-designate Wuerl asked everyone to look at their thumbs to remember their uniqueness. "No one else has that print," he said.

Bethlehem House resident Colleen Ruppert has Down syndrome and was one of the intercession readers. After the Mass, which she called a "beautiful liturgy," Ruppert said she appreciated the cardinal-designate's advice about thumbs. "I think it's good for everybody to hear, to pass that message," she said of everyone's distinctiveness. Ruppert's parents Carl and Antoinette were advocates for those with disabilities.

Another White Mass attendee with special needs advocate-parents was Mark Shriver, whose parents Sargent Shriver and the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver were acknowledged by Cardinal-designate Wuerl at the White Mass for their work in developing the first catechetical material for children with special needs. Sargent Shriver was also present at the Mass.

Mark Shriver said the White Mass re-emphasized the importance of supporting those with special needs. "[The Cardinal-designate] spoke so beautifully of the giftedness that we all have regardless of disability," said the vice president and managing director of Save the Children USA.

Corinne Brennan, a member of the St. Francis Deaf Catholic Community, said the Mass was "even more of a recognition, acknowledgment and confirmation of people with special needs."