by Debby and Randy Robertson
We both noticed the boy a few seconds after he jumped up from his pew. A youngster with wavy brown hair, he had a smile on his face as he darted toward the sanctuary. Before we knew it, he plopped himself down in the presider’s chair right during the middle of Mass. The boy ran his fingers along the chair’s arms and nestled into the seat of honor in front of the whole church. All eyes inside the church that day shifted immediately to Father Joseph Gibino, the celebrant.
We all wondered, “What would Father Joe do?” At just about any other Mass, the situation would have been tense, stressful and embarrassing for everyone involved. However, this incident happened at Holy Trinity, Whitestone, during a monthly special needs Mass. Father Joe, who was busy clearing the altar after having distributed the Holy Eucharist, looked over and smiled. He calmly finished his work, walked over to the podium and addressed the congregation.
“He’s welcome to sit in my chair as long as he wants, as long as he promises to take care of me in my old age,” Father Joe said, and everyone exhaled and laughed.
As the coordinators, we are excited to celebrate the first anniversary of the special needs Mass at Holy Trinity on Oct. 30 at 12:30 pm. To help mark the occasion, the Advocates for Special Needs of clusters 7, 8 and 9 in Northeast Queens are working together to give the Mass a more regional feel and inclusiveness.
On a more personal level, our daughter Mary, 10, has autism and has been the driving force behind our determination to see the Mass grow and flourish. Mary celebrated her First Holy Communion at Holy Trinity in the spring of 2010. Shortly after, we were asked to help get the Mass going.
What started as a small gathering of 35 people in the chapel last October blossomed into a unique and much-anticipated monthly celebration averaging close to 100 people. Attendees include those with autism, Down’s Syndrome, hearing impairments, emotional disturbances and physical disabilities. While there is an expectation that attendees will follow traditional Church protocol, the reality is that the Masses are generally a bit noisy and some out-of-seat behavior is permissible.
The special needs Masses are full Masses, complete with singing and music and homilies that speak directly to the special needs community. Petitions are written to ask for God’s help for those with special needs and for those who care for all of our special brothers and sisters.
Light refreshments are provided following each special needs Mass. The informal gathering allows parents to network and share ideas and strategies. Over the past year we had special themes including an Easter egg hunt in April and a barbecue cookout with hot dogs and watermelon to kick off the summer in May.
Our family looks forward to the special needs Mass each month and will continue to do what we can to serve the community. After the anniversary Mass on Oct. 30, future special needs Masses are scheduled for Nov. 20 and Dec. 11 at 12:30 p.m. We hope you will join us.