featured image

David and Mercedes Rizzo discuss the experience of taking their daughter, who has autism, to an inclusive Stations of the Cross service.

This time of year, during the Lenten season, many parishes have Stations of the Cross and other Lenten activities or services. For families who have a loved one with special needs this can be an opportunity for inclusion but can also come with challenges. The Stations of the Cross may be unfamiliar and hard to follow for persons with special needs. After all, parishes usually only pray the Stations as a group during Lent and not as part of the Mass. It may be a completely new experience, and this can be problematic for those who have a hard time in new situations.   

We were invited, along with other special-needs families, to participate in an inclusive Stations of the Cross service. The participants were members of our daughter Danielle’s special needs young adult group, as well as parishioners who had come to pray the Stations with them. As we waited for the service to begin, Danielle seemed a bit agitated and unhappy. Her sister took her for a short walk, and we were nervous that she would not be able to participate. Fortunately, by the time the service started she had become her usual calm and happy self.  

Soon we too could relax and felt an atmosphere of welcoming in the church. Each of the stations was announced by the Deacon with the familiar and traditional formula: “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.” This was followed by a person with special needs or a family member reading a short reflection “Through the Eyes of Mary.” We had not heard that version before and it was a beautiful way to experience each station. So many people with special needs and their parents have turned to Mary at some point during their journey so to listen to Mary’s thoughts and reactions as she watches her son’s passion unfold was stirring and inspiring. 

Danielle is non-verbal and unable to read, so we read the words for her as she stood at the ambo with us. Danielle had station seven: Jesus falls for the second time. As parents of children with special needs, and as human beings, we have all felt that we have fallen, but the image of Jesus falling and suffering as He carries His cross conveys a degree of courage that we can draw from when we need to. 




When we finished the fourteenth and final station, a change seemed to have taken place. Our steps were lighter, our shoulders no longer quite so hunched. Our hearts, so burdened just moments before, had lightened too. There was room now for joy to enter in.

Our Catholic tradition provides us with the gifts of sacrament, liturgy, prayer and devotion. The opportunity to participate in activities such as Stations of the Cross allows those with special needs and we who love and care for them to partake of God’s gifts and make them a regular and cherished part of our lives. Over time, the Stations can become a familiar part of our faith practice. Moreover, seeing people with special needs engaged actively in such parish activities shows us the love, generosity, and vitality of the special-needs community.  

However you choose to pray them, the Stations of the Cross can help you make sense out of the mystery of the cross. They can lead you to a place where joy can enter in.    

Share your thoughts with the Catholic Mom community! You'll find the comment box below the author's bio and list of recommended articles.

Copyright 2024 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Images: copyright 2024 David and Mercedes Rizzo