When some people first lay eyes on Diane and Stan Raczkowski’s son, Shane, they see a burden.
A 28-year-old man, Shane cannot walk, clean or dress himself. He gets nourishment for his 65-pound body through a feeding tube, and speaks with difficulty through the tracheostomy in his throat.
His parents look and see the love of their life. He’s the best thing that’s happened to them, Diane said.
“We love him just the way he is. It is hard, don’t get me wrong, but we feel so blessed by God that he would think we’re worthy to raise Shane and take care of him,” Diane said. “He truly is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to us.”
He’s not a burden, she said, but brings out the best in others. His big smile brightens those around him, and he’s taught his parents to trust in God’s plan for life.
“After having Shane, we learned to let go and let God,” said Diane, who attends St. Francis Cabrini Parish with her family. “God uses him right where he is with all his limitations.”
To the outside observer, there’s not meaningful interaction with a disabled person, Father Roland Freeman said during the Special Religious Education Mass April 19.
People with disabilities have “all kinds of inadequacies that our society would say are failures,” he said, but hidden behind that is a person with dignity and worth.
Families, friends and educators involved in the Archdiocese of Denver’s religious education program, one of some 40 ministries supported by the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, gather for the annual Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception to recognize the value of every person, especially those with disabilities.
The Seybert family has attended the Mass since their 14-year-old son Jacob, who has developmental disabilities, started in the program as a toddler.
The Mass is a sensory experience with many colored balloons, art projects, laughter, joyful music and affirming touch, said Lisa and Ron Seybert, the parents of four children.
“It’s like the Gospel unfolding in front of you,” Lisa said. “The love just radiates from this place on this day.”
Each of the archdiocese’s parish-based special religious education programs along with other special needs homes present an art project during the Mass. The students are “stars of the show” and participate in the interactive Mass.
It’s also a time to build community among families and those with disabilities, said Lisa, whose family also attends St. Francis Cabrini Church.
“I couldn’t be more supported,” she said about her experience.
Through the program, her son Jacob was instructed and received the sacraments of reconciliation and first Communion.
“They helped coach me through confession, because confession is a little different (for the disabled),” she said.
Father Freeman and Sister Mary Catherine Widger, who have helped plan the Mass and led the program for years, bring “a lot of laughter and joy” to religious instruction, she added.
Sister Widger, of the Sisters of Loretto, said the Mass is about giving respect and recognizing the needs of the disabled.
“These students have exactly the same needs we do—to be accepted and loved,” she said.
It’s also a time when conversation about the dignity of life can begin.
“I feel like hearts change at this Mass,” Lisa said. “My kids will talk about this Mass for a long time afterwards. It’s like a stepping stone to open up discussion.”
And the discussion often revolves around virtues and love.
“Jacob has brought the virtues out of our family,” she explained. “He doesn’t follow social rules—so we learn to be patient.”
Their family has learned the meaning of love.
“He’s nothing but pure love,” Lisa said. “And you will see that in the others who are disabled, because they don’t have vanity. They don’t struggle with some of those other faults that we do. It’s almost more love than you know what to do with.”
The Raczkowskis feel the same way about their son.
“Because of Shane, I think we have changed as people and we have seen things in a different way,” Diane said. “Our faith has grown by leaps and bounds.”
Mail: Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, P.O. Box 100316, Denver, CO 80250