Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
Photography: Jim Davis & Jonathan Martinez
MIAMI BEACH | Anthony Kennedy Shriver smiled big after the White Mass, not only for photos but for the satisfaction.
"When I see someone with special needs come to Mass, I've succeeded," Shriver said after the annual Mass for people with disabilities, which he started in 2013. "Every person has a gift from God worth sharing."
The third annual event, named for the white uniforms of medical workers and others in healing professions, brought 200 people to St. Patrick's Church Nov. 21. Archbishop Thomas Wenski served as the main celebrant for a Mass that included laity, Sisters of St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, black-robed Knights of Malta, and clients of Shriver's organization Best Buddies.
"It's a celebration of special-needs children and adults," said Michael Goodman of the Knights of Malta. "It's a recognition of their contributions, on how they're a blessing to us and to each other."
In keeping with the theme of contributions of the disabled, most of the prayers and readings were done by graduates of Best Buddies' "Global Ambassadors" program for public speaking.
"I like speaking to a lot of people," said Demetrius Dozier, who gave the welcome and briefed the congregation on the reason for the White Mass. "I love everybody."
The disabled not only spoke out, they played and sang out. A half-dozen from the Marian Center School and Services performed "Ave Maria" on handbells. Offering another version of "Ave Maria," by voice and piano, was Marlana VanHoose of Johnson County, Ky.
VanHoose has performed around the country at churches, conferences and sporting events, including the 2014 NBA championship. She also performed at the White Mass last year.
"I felt inspired," she said after the Mass. "God has blessed me to sing."
In his homily, Archbishop Wenski held up the Miami-based Best Buddies as a model of the society that Jesus called for: a "culture of encounter" that cares for the weak and vulnerable, rather than rule and dominate them.
"In a culture of encounter that nourishes friendship among persons of equal dignity and worth there is no one so poor that he or she does not have something to offer, to give to the other," he said. "And, at the same time, there is no one so rich that he cannot receive from the other.
"Those who some might consider poor or unimportant because of developmental disabilities are capable of giving much, and those considered rich in material or intellectual gifts can and do receive so much from them," the archbishop said.
The idea for the White Mass goes back to the 1930s, when the Catholic Medical Association began to link their profession with Christ's life. It's an annual Mass in Atlanta, St. Louis and elsewhere. Shriver was inspired to start the tradition in the Miami archdiocese after his mother began one in Washington, D.C.
The White Mass is also associated with St. Luke, called "the beloved physician" in the Bible, and some dioceses hold the event on his feast day, Oct. 18. In South Florida, however, it's commonly held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
The Miami Beach Mass served as a catalyst for a new series in Broward County, which held its own White Mass on Nov. 21. Another 200 people showed up at the second annual event at St. Malachy Church in Tamarac.
That Mass, co-hosted by Lighthouse of Broward, began with a procession of special-needs people, along with friends, families and caretakers, who laid white roses at the foot of the altar. As in Miami Beach, many disabled also took part, including two blind people who did the readings using Braille.
Father Dominick O'Dwyer, pastor of St. Malachy and the main celebrant of the Broward Mass, preached on how people living with disabilities are inspirational to others. He encouraged them to be strong and to continue living life fully.
Dolores McDiarmid, public awareness specialist at Lighthouse, said it was good for people with various disabilities to attend one event. "People tend to stay in their own bubbles," she said. "Getting them all together gives them a chance to form new friendships."
A reception afterward featured light sandwiches and beverages, sponsored by parishioners and the Knights of Columbus. Dessert was two sheet cakes baked by Joel Tepperberg, a client of Lighthouse, who also baked for last year's White Mass. "Sinfully delicious" was McDiarmid's tongue-in-cheek verdict.
More seriously, she added: "I am reminded that Jesus calls us to serve, and we all did that. We served the least, those who are sometimes ignored or forgotten, as well as those who are living well and meaningful lives with their disability. And it was done with warmth and joy."