SPIRITUAL AND RELIGIOUS CONCERNS
Henry A. Marquardt
For many people with mental retardation, it is difficult to sort out feelings, emotions, and needs, and to give expression to them. Also, the means and opportunities to satisfy their concerns are not always easily available. It is important to understand these two factors in relation to the history of this population with regard to their religious education and faith development, and the status of the Church today with regard to its ministry to people with disabilities.
For those who were raised in the Catholic tradition, this age group was served by a Church whose primary ministry was a sacramental ministry to people with handicaps. They received Baptism, Penance, First Communion, and Confirmation. Matrimony and Priesthood were ruled out because of the presence of disability. People with mental retardation were given basic education for reception of the sacraments, but there really was no follow-up or ongoing challenge to grow in their faith commitment. Mental retardation automatically conferred sainthood. Their goal was achieved. The Church could breathe easy. Also, this group was sheltered from knowledge and awareness of bereavement process and from education about human sexuality--both means of continued personal growth. Religion stressed offering up one's handicap as a means of bearing the cross.
The focus of the Church has changed significantly in recent times. It now takes a holistic approach with its parishioners. The major concern is not just the soul, but the total person. Development of personhood is vital for salvation. Religion should assist a person in discovering her identity, and the goodness, talent, and beauty that God has given to her. Preaching "love your neighbor as yourself" takes on a whole new meaning. It is important to know that one is lovable and has an inner gift to share with others. Thus, liturgy, services, and religious education become experiences of personal growth. The Church calls