SUMMERVILLE — People with mental disabilities and their loved ones are sometimes overlooked when churches plan ministry and outreach.
A discussion session for people with mental disabilities, their families, friends and caregivers will be held at St. Theresa the Little Flower Church, Summerville, at 7 p.m. May 2. Church leaders hope to learn what the community needs in terms of support, and also will discuss the possibility of forming a Faith and Light chapter in the Summerville area, said Msgr. Edward Lofton, pastor at St. Theresa.
Faith and Light International is an ecumenical community movement founded in 1971 by Jean Vanier, a French theologian, and educator Marie Helene Mathieu after a pilgrimage to Lourdes that included 4,000 mentally disabled people and their families from around the world.
After the pilgrimage, the pair decided their mission should be to help the mentally disabled and their families find a rightful place in both the church and society, according to the group’s listing in the Directory of International Associations of the Faithful. Faith and Light is connected with the Pontifical Council for the Laity and has international headquarters in Paris.
As of 2006, there were 1,452 Faith and Light communities in 78 countries.
Seminarian Richard Tomlinson, who is completing his pastoral internship at St. Theresa, worked with a Faith and Light branch in Washington, D.C.
“The organization’s spirituality is deeply rooted in Catholicism, but reaches out to people of all faiths,” Tomlinson said. “It’s based on the idea that people with intellectual disabilities, their families and caregivers need a way to come together in prayer, and to share, reflect and support one another.”
Faith and Light communities are set up to offer support and friendship, as well as opportunities for social and spiritual fellowship, Tomlinson said. The organization is an offshoot of the L’Arche Communities, a network of homes for mentally disabled adults that Vanier founded in 1964.
“He (Vanier) believes very strongly that these folks who are the weakest among us also have a great deal to teach us about God and what he gives us, especially in our western society that is so goal-oriented and focused on materialism,” Tomlinson said. “A lot of people make real sacrifices to keep their children at home, and Faith and Light is a means for them to meet other families like them, and to help them recognize the beauty of what they’re doing.”
Tomlinson said a new Faith and Light group would be co-sponsored by Catholic Charities.
Deacon Ed Peitler, director of the Office of Catholic Charities for the diocese, said he will attend the discussion to learn more about the needs of people with mental disabilities in the diocese and what sort of services and outreach they need.
Msgr. Lofton said it has been a dream of his for a long time to establish an assisted living residence for mentally disabled adults who can live with minimal supervision. Many parents of these adults are concerned about what will happen to their children after they die, he said.
“Right now our primary goal is to get this spiritual organization going, and also to assess the needs of these families in the surrounding community so we can learn about what else needs to be done in the future,” Msgr. Lofton said.
For more information about Faith and Light, visit http://www.foietlumiere.org or http://www.faithandlight.org.