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‘Let them shine with their gifts’

People with disabilities gather for annual liturgy

POMPANO BEACH | Jeannette Salvatierra, a resident of Cooper City, is legally blind, meaning that she does not drive a car and can no longer read as voraciously as she once did. But the book author and motivational speaker sees a happy irony in her situation.

Dolores Hanley McDiarmid, left, a Catholic lay minister and one of the main organizers of the annual Mass and reception for persons with disabilities in Broward, hugs Doris Mancebo of St. Vincent Parish in Margate. This year's Mass and reception took place Nov. 19 at St. Gabriel Church in Pompano Beach.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

Dolores Hanley McDiarmid, left, a Catholic lay minister and one of the main organizers of the annual Mass and reception for persons with disabilities in Broward, hugs Doris Mancebo of St. Vincent Parish in Margate. This year's Mass and reception took place Nov. 19 at St. Gabriel Church in Pompano Beach.

“We can find in a disability an opportunity for ourselves to grow because we are able to be quiet,” said Salvatierra, who served as a gift bearer at the annual Mass for persons with disabilities in Broward County, held Nov. 19 at St. Gabriel Church. A similar Mass was celebrated in Miami-Dade County the same day, at St. Patrick Church in Miami Beach, by Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino.

“Vision is very distracting and when you don’t have vision you are able to see inside and look for answers through prayer, meditation and through reflection,” said Salvatierra. She authored a 2016 motivational book, available in English and in Spanish, called “Living in Gratitude Mode: Your Passport to Abundance and Well-Being.”

Disabilities, she said, provide people with a great opportunity to learn about themselves and find a new place in the world “because everybody is here for a purpose, for a service. You can serve in your home as a mother or daughter or husband, or through a ministry, a profession, through your talents, and put your talents into the world to help others.”

“Disabilities also allow you to develop other senses and to enjoy life through tactile senses and sense of smell and hearing,” said Salvatierra, who noted the wide and highly up-to-date array of audible books that are now accessible to the visually impaired.  

The South America native, who has led a career in sales, marketing and business development in Latin America, said she hasn’t let her disability slow down her love of travel. In 2014, she walked a portion of the popular Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route in Europe.

“I was able to see the bright light of Spain in June: It was so blue and intense I was able to see it, but that was unusual. It was an amazing, great experience and I met other blind people walking The Way, including a gentleman from Finland who was walking with his guide dog.”

Bernadette Guilarte, from the Marian Center, prays during the Mass for the physically and mentally challenged of Miami-Dade County Nov. 19. Bishop Peter Baldacchino celebrated the Mass at St. Patrick, Miami Beach. The Mass was organized by the Archdiocese of Miami and Best Buddies International.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Bernadette Guilarte, from the Marian Center, prays during the Mass for the physically and mentally challenged of Miami-Dade County Nov. 19. Bishop Peter Baldacchino celebrated the Mass at St. Patrick, Miami Beach. The Mass was organized by the Archdiocese of Miami and Best Buddies International.

Persons with disabilities are also more than capable of serving in various capacities at Mass and in church life, according to Dolores Hanley McDiarmid, a public awareness project manager for Lighthouse of Broward who also has a master’s degree in pastoral ministries from St. Thomas University. Lighthouse is a Fort Lauderdale-based educational center promoting rehabilitation and healthcare solutions for the blind or visually impaired. McDiarmid helped organize the annual Mass and reception where Father Anthony Mulderry, St. Gabriel’s pastor, presided.

“A lot of people don’t know what to do with people with disabilities and one of my missions was to help people be around people with disabilities and let them shine with their gifts — and not just on one Sunday a year: This is how it should be every Sunday,” she said.

At the Mass at St. Gabriel, two visually-impaired Catholics — Joe Palona and Francesca Marinaro— read the Sunday readings in braille.

“If you have someone with a disability let them be involved, incorporate them,” McDiarmid said. “And if the (disabled) person makes noise we need to get over that.”

On hand for the Mass was fine art painter Greg Burns, who displayed a series of his scenic landscapes — including waterway scenes from South Florida — following the annual Mass.

Born with arthrogryposis, a muscle and joint disease which affects the use of his arms and legs, Burns draws cradling the pen in his hand, and watercolors by holding the brush in his teeth. He lives seasonally in Pompano Beach and Oklahoma but travels widely for his painting.

Recalling that he entered his first art show in 1961, Burns said he has spoken frequently to students about art and people with disabilities. He can’t remember a time when he was not drawing.

“I always think of art like speaking or writing — as a form of communication and an emotional thing,” Burns said. “When it comes to art, you can do anything until you think you can’t. I tell students the only secret to success is not quitting, and eventually you will see that your interpretation is just as valuable as anyone else’s.”

In terms of a faith connection to his paintings and drawings, Burns said he sees everything he does as a kind of nod to creation and to God.

Some of his favorite places to find inspiration are in France and Italy, as well as on safari in Africa and trips throughout the Mediterranean. He just started a picture of a local oceanfront motel in Pompano Beach.

“I’ve done thousands of paintings, and all of these are homage, the landscapes especially are. They all are sort of physically prayers, I think,” he said. 

Doris Mancebo, a visually impaired member of St. Vincent Parish in Margate, was on hand for the Mass, where she talked about her background in modeling and now as a student of languages at Florida International University. She hopes one day to work as a translator, diplomat or teacher. She also has been associated with Lighthouse of Broward, which she said helps break a paradigm about the blind.

“They help the blind to do basic things the right way, and orientation and mobility, how to take a bus, clean your house, organize your documents, how to file your taxes,” she said. “Little things become major things in (a blind) person’s life.”

Joe Palona, left, and Francesca Marinaro, far right, pray the Our Father with St. Gabriel parishioner Peggy Keating, center. Palona and Marinaro served as readers at the third annual Mass and reception Nov. 19 for persons with disabilities in Broward County, held at St. Gabriel Parish in Pompano Beach.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

Joe Palona, left, and Francesca Marinaro, far right, pray the Our Father with St. Gabriel parishioner Peggy Keating, center. Palona and Marinaro served as readers at the third annual Mass and reception Nov. 19 for persons with disabilities in Broward County, held at St. Gabriel Parish in Pompano Beach.


Comments from readers

Sister Lidia Lidia Valli - 11/29/2016 09:33 PM
Our students and adults who are part of the Hand Bell Choir were proud to play and pray with many friends. Thank you Bishop Baldacchino for your kindness.

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