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CNA Staff, November 14, 2020 / 08:00 (CNA).- Across book titles, the “Directory for Catechesis” is hardly the most catchy. But this volume could potentially transform the lives of thousands of people.
This is the conviction of Gail Williams, director of the Caritas St. Joseph center in Hendon, north London. When the updated directory – formerly known as the General Directory of Catechesis – was published in June, she was struck by what it said about people with disabilities.
“Persons with disabilities are called to the fullness of sacramental life, even in the presence of serious disturbances”, specifies the directory. “The sacraments are gifts from God and the liturgy, even before being rationally understood, demands to be lived: consequently, no one can refuse the sacraments to the handicapped.
“It means so much to have it printed in there,” Williams told CNA, “because the General Directory for Catechesis is the go-to for anyone who doesn’t really do that work. And they will often say: ‘Well, is it in the General Directory of Catechesis?’ »
“To be able to say ‘Yes it is’ is just amazing, because then you have real proof and backup that in fact the Catholic Church wants to embrace everyone and wants to encompass those who are generally ignored.”
For the past 40 years, Caritas St. Joseph has supported people with intellectual disabilities, and their families and friends, in the English Diocese of Westminster. Formerly known as St. Joseph’s Pastoral Centre, Caritas St. Joseph aims to share its expertise well beyond the borders of the Diocese of Westminster, which includes all of London north of the Thames and some outlying areas.
Williams thinks some parishes are afraid to catechize people with learning disabilities. She’s on a mission to persuade them that it can, in fact, be “a truly joyous journey.”
Her interest in catechesis began when her eldest son, severely dyslexic, started his First Communion course at the age of seven.
“No one understood how it worked. Back then it was all about ‘sitting down and reading the book’ and it was so hard for him,” she recalls.
She realized that her son’s faith grew by hearing the words spoken at Mass, as well as through the sounds and smells of the church they attended.
In 2006, Williams took a class called “Symbols of Faith” at St. Joseph’s. When she returned to her parish with a deeper knowledge of how to teach the faith to people with learning disabilities, she made a disturbing discovery.
She found that there were families who didn’t bring their children to church because they couldn’t cope with the crowds or stand still during the quieter parts of Mass.
“To go back and find out that part of my parish family had disappeared because of all these reasons was a real eye-opener for me,” she recalls. “That’s when I really felt very strongly that everyone needed to be included.”
Williams continued, “When you’re a parent of a child or an adult with a learning disability and you’re constantly on the phone with doctors, fighting for them at school, the last thing you you really need is to feel isolated. of your faith.
The last catechetical directory is the third since the Second Vatican Council. The first, the General Directory of Catechesis, was published in 1971. The second, the General Directory of Catechesis, was published in 1997. The latest version updates catechetical methods in the digital age and is likely to have a profound impact on the teaching of the Catholic faith in the world.
When Williams begins to catechize a child, she takes him to an empty church and helps him appreciate all the sensory elements: colors, sounds and smells. She can lead them down the aisle and explain why it’s so much more than an ordinary table.
“It’s not about long, convoluted words. It’s about showing them and supporting them in their own discoveries,” she said.
Williams urges parents of children with disabilities to raise the new directory recommendations with their pastors. If their parish doesn’t know where to start, she advises them to contact Caritas St. Joseph or similar organizations where they live.
“We can go out and we can train people, and we can share our knowledge, our expertise and our resources. But once you are trained, don’t be afraid to be the voice of those people who are left on the margins of your parish,” she said.
Williams noted that while her work is deeply rewarding, it can be emotionally draining. At one point, she was visiting families after finishing her day job.
“Sometimes you would spend a minute with the kid because he had had enough of school that day and he just wasn’t interested,” she said. “But then you would spend half an hour with the mum because she hadn’t seen anyone all week or he had a tough day at school and she needed someone to talk to.”
“At such times you think, ‘Well, I can’t catechize today.’ But in fact, you support the whole family. And it is so important that even if it seems impossible, in reality it is not. Kindness, patience and time are the best gift.
There are also moving breakthroughs. Williams talks about discussing transubstantiation with a child who responded by making two gestures in sign language, one meaning “change” and the other meaning “creation”.
“So you know that she actually understands that it’s Consecration, that the bread and the wine change and create the Body and the Blood. You get moments like that, which absolutely clarify what you’re doing,” she said.
Above all, Williams wants parents to know that with the latest yearbook, a new path is opening up for them.
“It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are. God can always be present in your life,” Williams said.
“Very often we get the question ‘Do they really know?’ And yes, they really do. Sometimes you have to work with someone for four years, sometimes for a year. Sometimes you can support them directly through the Communion program.
“Don’t be afraid,” she concluded. “It’s possible for everyone.”