Hundreds of children, adults, family members, and community leaders and participants gathered on October 28 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew’ the Apostle in Washington, DC for the Ninth Annual White Mass. Celebrating the gifts of persons with disabilities and the Deaf community, the Mass has been growing in size across the years, with more and more people — both with and without disabilities — participating in both leadership and participatory roles.
Msgr. Charles Pope delivered the homily at Mass — transforming the concept of “special needs” into a recognition of “special gifts and talents.” He reminded the congregation of the importance of belonging, and the responsibility of acceptance — and encouraged everyone to open their eyes and see ourselves and our neighbors as God sees us — created with purpose and not measured by age or ability.
Many of those serving on the altar or sharing readings from the Lectionary or intercessory prayers were children and adults with disabilities who are parishioners in churches in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. Jeni Stepanek, the mother of the late teen poet and peacemaker Mattie J.T. Stepanek, and a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, Maryland, was among those asked to read a petition during the prayers of the faithful.
“What a privilege to be able to participate so fully in this extraordinary celebration,” Stepanek said. “And what an honor to be offered the petition that invites prayers for those in special needs ministries and those served by special needs ministries who have died, but who are remembered as role models of purpose and God’s presence – including my own son.”
Stepanek added that the Mass occurred on a very special day – the Feast of St. Jude Thaddeus – patron saint of hopeless situations, and to whom Mattie had a special devotion. Born Matthew Joseph Stepanek in 1990, Mattie took “Jude Thaddeus” as his confirmation name in 1998, and “from that day forward,” his mom said, “he celebrated life and his shared ‘Heartsongs‘ messages of hope and peace with the name that he said brought together God’s purpose with his choices – Mattie J.T. Stepanek.”
During the homily, Msgr. Pope – who provided pastoral care to Jeni and to Mattie and his brother Jamie during the 1980s and 1990s – mentioned Mattie when sharing personal stories about local Catholics with disabilities who lived with purpose and who found God’s glory even amid suffering. Mattie, who died in 2004 just before his 14th birthday, served as a catechist in his home parish of Most Holy Rosary in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and was an inspirational speaker and bestseller author, who reminded people of all ages and abilities about celebrating our unique reason for being, and about the importance of not only including others – but of embracing others with God’s love, and celebrating them with hope and peace.
Msgr. Pope also mentioned that the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Guild was in the process of gathering information and support to explore and further Mattie’s possible Cause of Canonization in the Catholic Church. After the Mass, members of the Guild shared newly created cards with information about Mattie’s life and Cause and introducing the new Guild website, and with “Mattie’s Prayer” — created especially for children and families and teachers.