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Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

May 1999

The following Links for Learners resource is offered to those who would like to use St. Anthony Messenger in an educational setting or for further study at home. This resource is prepared with high school students in mind, but can be adapted for other age groups. We will feature one article for further study each month. Back issues, beginning in May 1997, contain this resource. Up until December 1998 it was called a teacher's guide or classroom resource. Teachers with access to computer labs should encourage students to access the article directly online. Students have our permission to print out a copy of the article for classroom use. We encourage you to subscribe to the print edition of St. Anthony Messenger, where you will see all of the graphics, and more articles that you might find useful on a variety of topics. Please let us know how we can improve this service by sending feedback to

Please see our links disclaimer located at the end of this document.

Links for Learning

1. Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

    • Religion–the sacraments; the diverse needs of our community.
    • Social Studies–the legal rights of the disabled; resources for caregivers.
    1. Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs such as:

Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.

Parents will also find some of this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table, in home study or at family activities.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Link for Learners.

Catholic social teaching

Inclusion program

Eucharistic minister


National Conference of Catholic Bishops

Special needs

Canon law





Mental retardation

Prayer corner




The Catholic Church’s Teaching on Persons with Disabilities

Kevin’s approach to Jesus in first Communion is a sign of the Church’s openness to all. Here are references to some of the documents declaring the Church’s welcoming approach:

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in November 1978, issued the "Pastoral Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on People with Disabilities." The address for the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities can also be found at their Web site.

In November 1998, the 20th anniversary of the pastoral statement on disabilities, the archbishop of Seattle, Alex J. Brunett, issued a commemorative statement, which can be found on the Web site of the Seattle Archdiocese. Here you’ll find a good discussion of the theology of inclusion, the desire to have all people an active part of the Christian community.

The Catholic bishops believe that disability is a condition of the human body, not the human spirit. Disabled persons therefore have the right to participate in the sacraments as full members of the Church community. How does this teaching match up with our own thinking? What do we feel when we see a person with special needs going to receive the Lord in holy Communion? Are our hearts open in love, ready to embrace all?

To illustrate the belief of the Catholic bishops, take another look at the story. Kevin’s understanding is limited, yet on target. He understands that church is over when the people hug and shake hands and talk. That’s why he was ready to leave at the sign of peace before receiving his Communion. Kevin knew the signals. He felt the spirit of the celebration of Eucharist. And he knew what "Pray!" means. How many of us, in our complicated lives, can focus on prayer as quickly and simply as Kevin does?

You can order the Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments, a 1995 guide published by the Catholic bishops for persons with disabilities, through the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Sacraments for the Differently Abled—Kevin’s First Communion

This story is a fine example of intergenerational love and support within a family. A grandmother with expertise in religious education steps forward to work with her daughter-in-law and grandson to prepare him for his first Communion. The teaching challenge—the young boy is mentally retarded. How to teach a love and understanding of the Eucharist to a boy with a limited learning capacity motivates the family and the parish community.

Your class or discussion group can begin talking about the story by looking for parallels in their own life experiences. Are there physically or mentally challenged individuals in their families or parish communities or schools with whom they interact? Can they describe the challenges they face, and how they themselves interact with them?

You can also gather stories from other sources. Read through the Gospel stories to find the many situations where Jesus reaches out to people with disabilities and challenges. One simple example is the story of Zacchaeus. Being short of stature, he could not see Jesus over the crowds, so he climbed a tree to get a glimpse of him. Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, rewarding his efforts with a personal visit. There are so many other stories of Jesus touching the blind, the chronically sick — all the people whose special needs were so often ignored by society.

You can brainstorm or search through other sources such as books, movies and television for more examples. You may recall Chris Burke, the actor with Down Syndrome, from his television role with the show, Life Goes On. He now has a small recurring role on Touched by an Angel, playing an angel himself. What does Burke’s portrayal of an angel tell us about God’s love?

For more information about Burke, see his autobiography, A Special Kind of Hero, and look at the Burke page at the site of the Arc of Arkansas Performing Arts Camp.

Burke’s role as an angel is an interesting one, reminiscent of some people’s belief that the differently abled have come to this life to teach the rest of us how to respond in love by helping them. They have a high level of spiritual awareness, some say. Certainly the differently abled teach us all about how to live a Christian life. Their courage and determination teach us respect and tenacity. Their simplicity and dependence teach us to love unselfishly. Their diversity, their different needs teach us to face our own needs in truth. What’s your opinion?

Service to the Differently Abled

It’s far too easy for many of us to live only in our own narrow worlds, oblivious to the special needs of others. Parish and school service programs call for youth to participate in helping others. But do we still put up barriers that keep us from offering support to those most in need, or to those who are different from us? Do we choose only the comfortable service projects?

This month’s article can open us to the courage to extend a hand beyond our own comfort zones. Teens can research their community resources to find a special need for service. With the power and reach of the Internet, perhaps a youth group can correspond with teens with special needs, even if they can’t actually meet or visit with them.

Or, in Kevin’s story, can teens offer to continue teaching Kevin about Jesus? Can they sit with him in church, and receive the Eucharist with him? Look for opportunities in your own parish or community. The parents and caregivers for people with special needs can often use a break or a little extra love and help. There’s no doubt that special training may be required in some situations. Look for the areas where, with some orientation and guidance, you can make a contribution.

In New York City Rick Curry, a Jesuit brother, runs the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped. The group conducts workshops for artists with disabilities. Locate other programs such as this one, or think of some ideas for programs that could be started.


Resources for Parents and Caregivers

One of the remarkable things about this month’s story is that it is Kevin’s grandmother who initiates preparing him for first Communion. Parents can perhaps be reluctant to bring their children forward for the sacraments when physical or mental challenge is present. But again, the Church is open and welcoming, not just in policy but in the person of fellow church community members and family. Certainly one of the messages of this story is—don’t hold back. Come forward in hope. Don’t be afraid to approach the church. If your parish does not have a religious educator on staff who is experienced or qualified to work with the differently abled, you can explore resources in other area parishes. Or try looking on the Internet for your own diocese’s Web site, where you may find lists of parishes and resources.

For information on the legal and policy resources on the civil rights of people with mental disabilities, see the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

Peter Rosenberger writes a fine article on the challenges of working a full-time job and taking care of the physical needs of his wife, who is a double amputee. The article is featured in Outlook magazine online.

Humor so often helps us to raise our spirits, no matter how difficult the situation. You’ll find a cartoon titled "Dizabled" at the Outlook site. The cartoon highlights a wheelchair stuntman.

You can access a network of information and resources through the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center site.

Other resources:




Further Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site's archives. - The New York Times - The Los Angeles Times - Time magazine - CNN - MSNBC - This site will take you to a number of online publications. - The Associated Press - The Chicago Tribune - People magazine The Washington Post The History Channel - The Miami Herald - The Close Up Foundation - ABC News - Channel One's online resource

Links Disclaimer:

The links contained within this resource guide are functional at the time the page is posted. Over time, however, some of the links may become ineffective.

These links are provided solely as a convenience to you and not as an endorsement by St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications of the contents on such third-party Web sites. St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications is not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites and does not make any representations regarding the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party Web sites. If you decide to access linked third-party Web sites, you do so at your own risk.

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