All faiths welcome at Afternoon of Reflection planned Oct. 28
BY MARYANN GOGNIAT EIDEMILLER
For The Bulletin
There are two advance requests for people who are planning to attend the annual Afternoon of Reflection on Oct. 28 at Our Lady of Grace Church in Hempfield Township.
One was to bring a pair of new sandals or flipflops. The other is to wear something red.
The shoes are for this year’s project — collecting footwear to send to the poor in the Philippines — and red is the traditional symbol of the Holy Spirit. That fits in with the mini-retreat’s theme of “Gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
But all are welcome, even if at this late time in the season they can’t bring new sandals or flipflops, and even if they don’t have something red to wear.
The program is for individuals with disabilities and life-challenging illnesses, and disabilities can take many forms physically, emotionally or spiritually. The afternoon includes fellowship, spiritual lessons, music, refreshments, dinner and a Mass during which retreatants share their gifts in readings and music. The Most Rev. Edward C. Malesic, JCL, bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, will celebrate this year’s Mass.
The event, which in recent years has been sponsored by the Office of Faith, Family and Discipleship of the Diocese of Greensburg, has been attracting guests of all faiths for decades. People in the fields of medicine, mental health and social services are also welcome to attend.
“Everyone who wants to come can come,” said Judith Huber of Hempfield Township, who has been organizing the events since they started 22 years ago. “We encourage people to bring their friends, family and caregivers to enjoy the day with us.”
Huber was misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1978. She learned 20 years later that she has Devic’s disease (neuromyelitis), a progressive immunological disorder that affects optic nerves and the spinal cord. The disease left her completely blind, on a ventilator and with limited movement. She needs round-the-clock care.
Until 15 years ago, she was still able to work as a coordinator of services for individuals with disabilities. That’s when she saw the need for what developed into the Afternoon of Reflection.
“I discovered that many people I worked with felt isolated and alone,” Huber said. “I wanted them to know that there are others in the same situation, that there’s a support system out there and that they needed to support each other.”
Monsignor Larry Kiniry, then her pastor at Our Lady of Grace, was confident that she could achieve her vision.
“Judy has something to offer to not only people with visible disabilities,” he said. “We all have disabilities whether it’s physical, emotional, mental and certainly spiritual. No one is any different, and Judy has a gift to speak to all people. I truly believe that she was called to this mission.”
The first Afternoon of Reflection drew 17 people and has grown to an average of around 125 participants. Some have been attending for years. One man, Jim Balf, attended every one except last year’s, when he was in the hospital.
“He passed away in January, and we are really going to miss him,” Huber said.
Kiniry, now retired, has been the moderator since the program began, except for several years when he was assigned elsewhere in the diocese. He prepares teachings on the theme, and special guests present the program.
This year, Dr. Primo Batista and his wife Henna of Greensburg will share their stories about their medical missions to their native Philippines. They are collecting the flip-flops and sandals for the poor.
Students from Greensburg Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School will serve as volunteers at the retreat, the Remedials will play music during the fellowship gathering, and music at the Mass will be provided by the organist and choir from Immaculate Conception Parish in Irwin. Sign language interpreters will be present for the entire retreat. Photos of past events will be on display, and another table has an assortment of free religious items.
Registration and fellowship begin at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 28, followed by the program at 1:15 p.m. Mass is at 4 p.m., dinner is at 5:15 p.m. and closing prayer is at 6 p.m. Participants can attend all or any parts of the program. The cost is $8 per person and that includes dinner.
For reservations, information or to volunteer, contact Rita Shapiola at 724-537-3851. Our Lady of Grace Church is located at 1001 Mt. Pleasant Road, Hempfield Township.