Disability not an impediment to full communion

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, April 30, 2017

Disability not an impediment to full communion

No one is excluded from the love of Jesus. That’s the message that Margaret Garbacz, facilitator of the RCIA program at St. Symphorosa Parish, wants people to take from Carlos Rivera, 26, and his family.
Marge Garbacz, RCIA facilitator, practices for the Easter Vigil with Amanda Rodriguez, her brother Carlos Rivera and their mother, Julia Rodriguez, and other parishioners going through the RCIA process dat St. Symphorosa Parish on April 10. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Marge Garbacz, RCIA facilitator at St. Symphorosa Parish, holds the hands of Carlos Rivera during rehearsal for the Easter Vigil on April 10. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

No one is excluded from the love of Jesus. That’s the message that Margaret Garbacz, facilitator of the RCIA program at St. Symphorosa Parish, wants people to take from Carlos Rivera, 26, and his family.

Rivera, who has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and has limited ability to speak. But he participated in RCIA classes all year, and received his first Communion and was confirmed at the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Symphorosa Church, 6135 S. Austin Ave., April 15.

Those are sacraments his mother hoped he would receive long ago, according to his sister, Amanda Rodriguez. But when he was a child and his mother, Julia Rodriguez, called what was then their local parish to inquire, she was told he was not eligible for the sacraments.

"The person on the phone said no, because he wouldn’t understand," Amanda Rodriguez said. "He couldn’t do it because he couldn’t read. My mom felt kind of hurt that the lady just shut her down."

That, for years, was that.

Then Amanda Rodriguez, now 31, told her mother that when she got married, she wanted to be married in the Catholic Church.

That desire ended up bringing Rodriguez, her mother and her brother back into regular practice of their faith.

The family has attended RCIA classes and Mass every week at St. Symphorosa since September.

"I was baptized and I had made my first Communion, but I wasn’t confirmed and I was talking to my mom about what if I wanted to get married in church," Rodriguez said.

So she called around to parishes near the family home and lit on St. Symphorosa. When she arrived at the first class, she had her mother and brother with her, and Garbacz said the whole family was welcome.

After learning the family’s story, Garbacz said she invited Carlos to join the class as well. He was one of about 400 baptized Catholics completing his sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, according to Todd Williamson, director of the Office for Divine Worship. About 400 people were to be baptized, and another 400 who were baptized in other Christian churches were to come into communion with the Catholic Church.

"Each time Carlos comes to an RCIA gathering, he enters the room with a big smile," Garbacz wrote in an email. "He claps and waves and responds to the love that is shared by the group — which consists of three catechumen, four (including Carlos) who are preparing for Eucharist and confirmation, and four who are preparing for confirmation in the parish, in addition to six parish sponsors. Amanda and Julia report that Carlos is truly eager to come to our gatherings. He is happy to be in a place and with a small community that shares the love of God."

In fact, the family has missed only one class all year, despite walking several blocks from their home for each session at the beginning of the year. As the weather turned, one of the parish RCIA sponsors volunteered to drive them back and forth.

"We really are a small faith community," Garbacz said.

Amanda, who was confirmed at the parish on March 24, said her brother likes listening to the Bible stories and was looking forward to his first Communion.

She likes the RCIA class because of the warmth of the people, and because of Garcbacz’s skill in explaining church teaching.

"If I don’t understand something in the Scripture, she can bring it down for the group," Rodriguez said.


  • easter vigil
  • sacraments
  • people with disabilties
  • st symphorosa

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