The Birth of the “Don Gnocchi Group”
A few years ago, M. Revelación, SSVM found that she needed to expand the scope of her catechism program as she began to meet more and more parish families with special needs children. In her apostolate as the DRE (Director of Religious Education) at parish of St. James in Mt. Rainier, MD, she already worked with families, students, and catechists in a large bi-lingual program of sacramental preparation and on-going faith formation. But as more families began to come forward, the number of special needs children who had never been enrolled in any catechism program surprised her and convinced her that the parish needed a way to prepare the children for reception of the sacraments as well as to support the families.
Lilia Leon, a member of the IVE Third Order and a medical professional with family experience of special needs children, immediately offered to help M. Revelación with the project of a special needs catechism group. Blessed Don Gnocchi (1902-1956) was chosen as the patron of the group since he worked with disabled children in Italy following the Second World War and wrote a treatise on the way to develop the spiritual life of special needs children, The Pedagogy of Innocent Suffering. In this way the Blessed Don Gnocchi Group began in 2010.
Special Needs Catechism Classes
The catechism program includes visual learning, small group classes, sign-language instruction, and close parental support and at-home reinforcement. The Don Gnocchi Group also allows parents to meet and discuss the demands and unique joys of raising children with special needs.
At the end of the first year, nearly ten children made their First Holy Communion in a private mass for them and their families. They were the center of attention not for being different but for being chosen and loved by God and by the Church from all eternity. It was an unforgettable experience to see the wonder and joy on the face of a little Down Syndrome girl with leukemia as she returned to her pew after receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament for the first time.
Many of the families had believed in the past that their special needs child could not receive the sacraments or learn how to pray. In fact, these little ones are most important and often able to reach out to God more easily than other people!
Archdiocese of Washington Special Needs Conference, March 2013
The Don Gnocchi Group had an outing in March to participate in the Archdiocese of Washington Special Needs Conference. M. Revelación, Lilia Leon, Sr. Rose and Br. David (both catechists for the Don Gnocchi Group) brought a number of the children from the group as well as some parents. While educators and catechists from around the Archdiocese of Washington shared in the conference talks, activities were also prepared for the special needs children and youth in attendance.
The conference included the Holy Mass presided by His Excellency Bishop Martin Holley during which some of the children from our group were invited to bring up the gifts to altar. Bishop Holly extended his characteristic kindness and graciousness even posing for a photograph with the Don Gnocchi Group.
May we continue to respond to Christ’s love for all special children and to learn how to support their families in the Church.
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