By Clemente Nicado
Antonia Orozco’s eyes shine when she speaks of the progress her daughter Daniela has made, thanks to a catechetical program for children at the Archdiocese of Chicago. A decade ago, this mother of Mexican origin was desperately seeking an organization that would give new life to her daughter who suffered from microcephaly (abnormal growth of the brain), but luck had turned its back on them.
One day Orozco learned about a parish program called SPRED. From that moment on this word became a blessing to her ears. “Before, my daughter had no friends outside of the family circle, she could barely communicate, was sad, had low self-esteem, was quiet, and very anxious. Today she is a different girl; she communicates, left her shyness behind, and is active with friends,” Orozco says.
The miracle, which made 17-year-old Daniela smile, has also transformed the lives of hundreds of children, youth, and adults who receive help from the Special Religious Development (SPRED) program. The program is aimed at people with special needs such as mental disabilities, cerebral palsy, autism, and severe epilepsy. The program’s mission is to form small communities of faith in parishes that shelter people who have developmental disabilities and learning problems. Father James McCarthy, current SPRED director and considered the project’s founding father, says that in 1960 he pushed for this initiative after recognizing that “the number of parents asking for a program that would prepare their children to be inserted in the parishes and receive the sacraments, was growing. The positive impact of SPRED is not only with the disabled person, it also has repercussions on the family and their surroundings,” McCarthy says.
The goal of the catechesis of disabled persons is to develop a sacred sense of church, Christ, and of God. It is a process to help people enter in communion with Jesus Christ within a community of Christian faith.
After an hour of concentration exercises, the community goes to an area of celebration. There they begin with a life experience, develop awareness and each one of the godparents help their godchild to remember the events according to the goal. According to SPRED, “the goal is to interpret life in view of the gospel. Due to their intellectual limitations, a wide range of emotions must be awakened during the process. In the end, there is a message from the gospel, precise and short, in the form of a blessing for each participant. It is followed by music and sharing at the table.
Alicia Arocha, who has legal custody of her 14- and 15-year-old grandchildren, considers that the program has helped them spiritually. “They like being here. They enjoy the sharing, going to Mass, and to the special events. They needed to interact with other children,” Arocha says. “They may be children with disabilities, but they are children of God, and it is cruel when they are not viewed as such in other places.”
Would you become involved in service to people with developmental disabilities? What do you consider you could contribute?