Sunday, June 20, 2010
Anne DiBernardo - Florida Catholic
COOPER CITY — Like any other Rite of Confirmation, the sanctuary was filled with pews of confirmandi garbed in red robes with their sponsors at their side.
One of them was Christopher Arcentales, who like most teenagers preparing for their confirmation, had attended a two-year program to prepare him to receive the sacrament.
This particular ceremony, however, celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop John Noonan on June 6, was being held in the intimate St. Jude Chapel of the Schott Communities for Persons Who Are Deaf or Disabled.
And for Christopher and other children who are autistic or deaf, the preparation was more challenging. Thankfully, Schott Communities is a place where these children’s special needs are embraced and understood.
“We feel like it’s family here and meet other children who are going through the same challenges,” said Diana Arcentales, overflowing with gratitude that her son was receiving his religious formation at the Schott center.
She explained that Christopher, who is autistic, made his first Communion last year. “He is very happy here and has friends here who also have autism. It’s difficult trying to find a place where you fit in.”
According to Diana, the community is an extension of her own family. “Other mothers care too, they have open hearts and we are not judged for differences. We are so blessed to be part of this family. You can’t see his emotions, but he is happy to be here and looks forward to coming here.”
Bishop Noonan’s homily was down to earth. “God is here and if God is here we don’t have to be worried,” he said.
His message to the confirmandi was, “Do not be afraid, hold hands and walk into the world.”
He also joked with the kids and explained why he wears a special hat and carries a stick, explaining the significance of the shepherd looking for his sheep. He said he wears a hat because he represents Jesus and his job is to bring Jesus into the world.
The majority of the confirmandi were autistic — of 14 students, only 3 are deaf, and 2 are siblings of autistic children.
Dennis Rohan, director of religious formation at Schott, explained that it takes of a lot of effort to work with the children to prepare them for confirmation. However, he is confident they understand what they are doing because when he asks them a question they respond positively.
“We can tell by their facial expressions that they understand,” he said.
He added that “the kids love coming here,” and explained that he and the other teachers go out of their way to make it a special experience for them.
They use several techniques to help them grasp theological concepts. For example, autistic children respond very positively to repetition and sound. They love to sing and they like images and symbols they can touch.
“To prepare the children for confirmation we used large pictures of God and sang songs about Jesus,” Rohan said.
Students are taught in a way directly designed for them, among peers and friends, explained Gloria Niec, Schott’s director of development.
“They don’t feel different. There is a sense of belonging and this forms a foundation that leads to social opportunities,” she said, noting that “they just can’t call friends and go to the mall. The center creates social opportunities for special needs kids. The parents are very involved. It is a life long commitment. Most healthy children grow up and leave the house and have their own families. Parents will tell you (these children) are gifts from God because they are the best teachers about love, patience and acceptance.”
At the end of the ceremony, the confirmandi sang the 1970 Beatles hit, “Let it Be” for Bishop Noonan. The song was chosen by confirmandi Sergio Ruiz, 14, who said he is a big fan of the Beatles.
Ruiz, who is autistic, said the opportunity of being an altar server, singer and lector was a life-changing experience for him. “It gives me freedom to show my respect to the Lord.”
He also described the bishop as a nice man who is very humorous.
“Now you have received special gifts but they are not wrapped, they are gifts of the Holy Spirit,” said Bishop Noonan just before giving his final blessing.
Alvaro Rivera, who is deaf, said that now that he has been confirmed, he feels strong. “I want to keep the faith in my heart and keep coming here so that I could get my sins forgiven.”
Alexis Pena, who is also deaf, said she was excited to be confirmed. She added that she felt the presence of the Holy Spirit inside.
About Schott Communities
Schott Communities is an extension of the ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami for persons who are deaf and disabled. It was established with the belief that every person has the right to be treated with dignity and care and provides life enriching programs, services and residences to meet the special needs of people who are deaf and disabled.
St. Jude Chapel, which is known as the heart of the center, is on the premises of the Schott Communities. The chapel ministers to the spiritual needs of Catholics as well as members of other denominations in the organization.