In remarks following the funeral Mass for her younger sister Jane, who had Down syndrome, Mary Rourke of Davenport spoke of the gifts she gained in their relationship.
“It has been a great privilege to be the sister of Jane Rourke. I think she has been a great evangelist in the consistency of her joy that lit up the lives of others,” Mary said after Mass Oct. 10 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Oskaloosa. Most recently, Mary experienced her sister Jane’s “constant affection, joy and gratitude when she lived with me for several weeks last winter. The world needs the highly developed skill and intelligence of the doctors and nurses who cared for her in her last hours on earth. The world also needs, as much or more, the childlike wonder, simplicity and joy that so many of us lose when we are older.”
Triathlete Casey Thompson of Sigourney also discovered the blessing of accompaniment in his relationship with a person with special needs. Preston McNurlen’s disability does not allow him to run, so Casey provides the muscle power and Preston provides the smiles, whoops and hollers that encourage them both.
Respect Life Month, which we celebrate in October, provides an opportunity to explore our relationships with others and to enhance our understanding of the significant role that accompaniment plays in embracing all lives. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, cites a passage from St. John Paul II’s “Gospel of Life” encyclical which speaks to the value of accompaniment.
St. John Paul II observed that “together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love (Evangelium Vitae, No. 6).”
Our call to action is clear. When we accompany another person, we enrich two lives, ours and theirs, the first steps in fostering a new culture of human life for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love. Isn’t that what we all long for, after all?
• Accompaniment isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept. We begin with the resources we have, the gifts we have been given by God. For starters, pray. Catholic Relief Services, CRS Briefing for October 2019 offers a wonderful prayer that broadens our understanding of accompaniment (https://tinyurl.com/yx9ul7v3).
• Visit the USCCB website for Respect Life Month materials (www.usccb.org), which include bulletins on different aspects of life. One, titled “How to Build a Culture of Life,” states “When we encounter Christ, experience His love, and deepen our relationship with Him, we become more aware of our own immeasurable worth and that of others. His unchanging love is the source of our God-given dignity, which, therefore, cannot be taken away. When someone is facing great trials, we need to walk with them on their journey, intercede for them, and be open to sharing Christ’s love however He directs. We simply need to follow where he leads.”
• Volunteer at a pregnancy crisis center in your community or offer to accompany a woman dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.
• Tutor — a child or adult — in a school or community center in your neighborhood or town.
• Offer your talents and skills in English as a Second Language classes offered through your community. Expect to benefit from the experience as much if not more than the individual you tutor.
• Participate in Jail/Prison Ministry through the Diocese of Davenport. Or get involved in restorative justice by learning to serve as mentors and members of Circles of Support. Or become a pen pal. Contact Kent Ferris, director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
• Team up with an individual with special needs for road races, Sled Hockey, Challenger Little League or other sports leagues.
• Obtain training in your parish to become an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion to bring the Eucharist to people who are homebound or living in care facilities. Or become a regular visitor.
Accompaniment requires time, a desire to learn, a willingness to set aside preconceived notions and a sense of gratitude in appreciation for the gifts we gain in relationship.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor