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Blind lector overcomes obstacles

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Blind since infancy, 11th-grader Andrea Darmawan, a parishioner of St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax, loves to lector — even if it means overcoming a few obstacles. 

For starters, she is a self-confessed procrastinator with a fear of public speaking. 

“I’m an introvert and walking around with a cane is definitely an attention grabber,” Darmawan said. “Then there’s the fact that I often wait until the last minute to prepare, but the Holy Spirit really comes through for me.”

Another potential hurdle is her blindness, the result of a doctor’s misplaced good intentions.

“The doctor meant well, he really did,” Darmawan said, before describing what happened next.

Born eight weeks early, the doctor put her in an incubator with a steady flow of oxygen to help sustain vital organs such as her heart and lungs. The excess oxygen, however, caused her retinas to detach from her eyes, a condition called retinopathy, or ROP for short.

“My confirmation saint is St. Lucy for obvious reasons,” Darmawan added. 

St. Lucy, an early Roman martyr whose eyes were removed during her martyrdom, is venerated as the patron saint of the blind.

In fifth grade, Darmawan first heard the call to serve at the altar, but her blindness made that a major challenge. 

“I really wanted to serve, but at the time I didn’t realize how visually reliant being an altar server had to be. Then one of my CCD teachers came up to me and said, ‘Well, we could get you to lector.’ She trained me for a few weeks and then I was good to go,” Darmawan said.

As for the practicalities of reading, an organization in New York City called the Xavier Society for the Blind sends Braille transcripts of the Scripture readings for each month well in advance.

“I knew she would be an excellent lector because of her spirit of joy,” said Father David A. Whitestone, pastor. “When she approaches the pulpit to read, she commands the attention of the congregation. She is truly an inspiration, a witness to the fact that what might be seen as a limitation can, with faith, be a testimony to what is possible when one responds to Christ's invitation to love and to serve.”

 Her mother, Indah Setiowati, noticed this quality, too.

 “As a mother, I feel blessed, too, because every day, there is always something that I can learn from her,” Setiowati said. “One day, she told me jokingly that she does not need to be worried if the church had electricity down when she reads because she does not need light anyway and can read in the dark.  Andrea always sees things in a positive way.” 

 Naturally though, the thought of what life would be like if she could see surfaces for Darmawan occasionally. 

 “What would happen if the Lord had allowed me to see or if he allowed me to see now?” Darmawan asked. “I realized that there are so many people whom I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t become blind. My family wouldn’t even be here in the United States because there wouldn’t have been any necessity.”

When Darmawan was 4, her mother tried to enroll her in schools in her hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia, but was faced with rejection by school administrators who said they could not give her daughter constant care.

“That triggered my mom who said, ‘Look, the only thing wrong with my daughter is that she is blind. She has a right to be educated just like everyone else.’ My mom applied for a job in Washington and was blessed to get it. And now I’m here and very blessed to have so many awesome people in my life. The Lord was the one who made all of this happen.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019