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Bishop Burbidge calls for a more inclusive community

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Bishop Michael F. Burbidge challenged Catholics to be more inclusive of people with special needs at the Mass for Persons with Disabilities at Holy Spirit Church in Annandale Sept. 29. The Mass and reception afterward were sponsored by the parish, the diocesan Office of Faith Formation and Porto Charities. 

Deacon Mark Arbeen read the Gospel from Luke — the parable of the rich man who went to Hell and the poor man named Lazarus who went to heaven. In his homily, Bishop Burbidge said he thought the rich man’s sin was one of omission. 

“I do not think the rich man intentionally and deliberately did anything evil,” said Bishop Burbidge. “He did not order Lazarus from the gate. He did not treat him intentionally cruelly. The failure of the rich man was that he simply did not notice Lazarus right there in his midst. Instead, the rich man accepted him as part of the landscape.”

All of us can become blind to the suffering around us, said Bishop Burbidge. He urged the Massgoers to reject complacency and look for ways to help the neglected and those in need. 

“I am very proud of how our diocese does this in so many ways, through our Respect Life Office, our Catholic Charities programs, Porto Charities, ministries within our parish and school ministries,” he said. “In particular, I want to highlight today the Expanded Services and inclusion and Options programs that our Catholic high schools and some of our elementary schools (have), where those with learning challenges and gifts are part of who we are and what we do. 

“In these schools, (students with special needs) show others the face of Christ and bring out the best in all of us. It is my expressed desire and hope and intention to makes these expansion programs part of every parish and every school.”

Some 15 Catholic schools in the diocese, such as St. Mark School in Vienna, Holy Cross Academy in Fredericksburg and Holy Spirit School, enroll students with special needs. Many more hope to open their doors to students with special needs in the coming years. 

Parent Jessica Maleski came to the Mass to thank Bishop Burbidge for his support of inclusive Catholic schools. She works at St. Veronica School in Chantilly and her son Danny, a first grader, was one of the first to enroll after the school began accepting students with special needs. 

“Danny is the youngest of seven and it’s nice that he can do Catholic schools like all of his siblings did Catholics schools,” she said.

At St. Veronica, the students with special needs are in the classroom with their peers and are pulled out of class or get assistance from a teacher in class when the need arises. “The teachers over there are fabulous and supportive. The environment is great,” said Maleski. “Everyone is onboard, so it's fun to see.” Danny is a fan, too, she said. “He loves it.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019