Bishop Nelson Perez is getting busy with his plans to meet people where they are throughout the Diocese of Cleveland.
One of his first stops after being installed as the 11th Bishop of Cleveland on Sept. 5 was at the second Faith & Light Cleveland Pilgrimage of Compassion on Sept. 9 at Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in Euclid. Brian Daw, coordinator of the group, said this was the second year for the pilgrimage, which included a variety of activities, singing and lunch. The event concluded with Mass celebrated by Bishop Perez.
“At the heart of the pilgrimage were people of disabilities, their families and friends as we pray for a more inclusive Church,” Daw said.
As pilgrimage participants gathered for Mass, they processed from the shrine’s dining hall to the outdoor church led by an accordion player while singing some of their favorite songs, including “This Little Light of Mine” and carrying a Faith and Light banner with their slogan, “To live friendship with persons with an intellectual disability.” Some walked, some were in wheelchairs; some have hearing disabilities and some have intellectual or physical disabilities.
The verses of the opening song, Carey Landry’s “Companions on the Journey,” mirror the group’s goal of an inclusive Church: “No longer strangers to each other, no longer strangers in God’s house; we are fed and we are nourished by the strength of those who care. We have been gifted with each other, and we are called by the Word of the Lord; to act with justice, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God.”
There were two people signing including Father Ben Jimenez, SJ parochial vicar at St. Augustine Parish in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, which has a robust ministry for the deaf and hearing impaired.
“What’s good about today?” Bishop Perez asked the congregation as he began his homily.
Replies included the weather, the food, getting to meet the new bishop and the opportunity to be in community.
“Six years ago, I was the pastor of a parish in Philadelphia. And now here I am as your bishop. I’ve been your bishop for like three days,” he said, “and I’m delighted to be here. He talked about how God is present in the Eucharist and in this community, relating to the reading that stated: “whenever two or more are gathered in my name, I’m in their midst.”
He encouraged the group to be happy. “Sometimes the pope says we Catholics look like we’re sucking on a lemon. We should be joyful,” he said. The bishop also used an analogy from the movie “Forrest Gump.”
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get, unless you get one of those boxes with a diagram,” he quipped. “And that’s what you get in community life and family life. You never know what you’ll get . . . someone will eventually get hurt, have their feelings hurt because we human beings can be a piece of work. We know that,” he said.
He said there will always be issues and hurt in life – it’s what happens when people live together. “Sometimes we don’t even know that we hurt someone,” he said. “Sometimes we’re on the giving end and sometimes we’re on the receiving end of the hurt, but in the end we can work these things out.” He said God calls us to live in community because “ultimately, he is community: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
After Mass, representatives of the group presented the bishop with bouquets of sunflowers and other small gifts. He patiently greeted each person, made small talk and posed for photos.
Daw said Faith & Light Cleveland has conducted Masses for more than 50 years, but the pilgrimages are new additions. “We’ll assess the pilgrimage and decide if we will continue to have them,” he added. Daw said the group is trying to encourage more inclusivity of people with disabilities in the Church and its ministries. At one point, there were about 19 Faith & Light communities in the diocese. “Currently, we have about five, but we’re trying to start more,” he said.
For more information on Faith & Light Cleveland, click HERE.
Information about L’Arche Cleveland, which offers communities celebrating people with and without developmental disabilities, can be found HERE.