Pope Francis, Autism, and More Separate Masses…

Pope Francis, Autism, and More Separate Masses… November 23, 2014

I’ve been to parishes where special needs children fidgeted and made noise all through mass and no one bats an eye.

I’ve also been to parishes where everyone within ear shot turned around and gave the parents dirty looks til they moved to the cry room… where they got more dirty looks.

In fact, the first ever Catholic church I went to with any regularity was in downtown Nashville. The pews were filled to the brim with every type of person imaginable; homeless people that talked to themselves, nuns, families with wailing kids, old folks, young folks, richly and sloppily dressed. And the mass went on.

I’m glad the families in the video above are finally able to have church back into their lives. No family or child should ever feel unwelcome in a Catholic Church… the noisy, diverse, universal Catholic Church.

But (you knew there was going to be a “but”) do we really need yet another separate mass catering to a specific group of people? How are people not accustomed to dealing with autistic children’s behavior ever going to be accepting of them if we separate them from the general congregation?

It seems to me the problem is not with the special needs children and their families but with the intolerant others. Intolerance is usually based in ignorance. Separating special needs children from the general congregation just keeps perpetuating a cycle of ignorance because knowledge is gained through life experience and exposure.

How can we be a church for all if we insist on being divided? There are actually churches here in Charlotte that are divided by ethnicity, language, and race. How sad. You know what would be even sadder? If we also lost the presence of the altar server with Down Syndrome and all the beautiful special needs children and their families, who are the true embodiment of being pro-life.

I certainly appreciate what Pope Francis is trying to do to make these families feel welcome and having these types of conversations are good at dispelling ignorance.

The Vatican’s first-ever conference on autism, “The Person with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Animating Hope,” was held on Nov. 21 – 22. Organizers told the Associated Press the event is the biggest medical conference of its kind on autism, gathering more than 650 experts from 57 countries. Autism Speaks co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright addressed attendees – including families – at the conference on volunteerism. Watch their remarks here. Mrs. Wright received a standing ovation following her speech.

To close the conference, Pope Francis held a special mass for attendees and families.

I just have mixed feelings about separating these families from regular worship.

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