Catholic Sentinel photos by Rick Keating
Volunteer Lynda Bersani watches Michael Jordan assemble a puzzle.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Rick Keating

Volunteer Lynda Bersani watches Michael Jordan assemble a puzzle.

There were campfires, a colorful parade, boisterous mealtimes and a talent show.

Last weekend, the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office for People with Disabilities hosted the first of two family camp weekends for Catholic families with members with disabilities. 

Last weekend’s camp was geared toward English speaking families. The second camp, which runs Aug. 29-31, is for Spanish-speaking families. Both are at Aldersgate Conference Center in Turner, and follow the theme “Journey Together in Hope/Viajando Juntos en la Esperanza.” 

The camps provide an opportunity for families to relax, celebrate, share faith and build friendships with other families.  The weekends are planned with accommodations so that every member of the family can participate. 

Father Raul Marquez, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Southeast Portland, was present each weekend to celebrate Mass for the family campers.

He said the retreats offer an opportunity for the church to minister in a special way to members of the Christian community who carry the cross of having a family member who has a mental or physical disability.

“It is an opportunity for the church to remind these families that they are loved and cared for by Jesus in a unique way and that the church is here to ensure that they know they are a vital and important part of our church, as they minister to us through their unconditional love for their children as God does for all of us,” Father Marquez said.

Dorothy Coughlin, director of the Office for People with Disabilities, started the retreats more than 15 years ago. With lots of volunteer support, she coordinates two each summer.

“This has been a big support for families,” she said. “It gives them the sense that they’re not alone. Their faith journey is so rich and they share that together, too.”

During a faith sharing session during last weekend’s retreat, some parents said that, at times, they don’t feel that their parishes welcome their children because they act and look different, and that’s an inconvenience for some priests and parishioners, Father Marquez said.

“Each Christian must remember that indifference and apathy towards anyone who suffers from a mental or physical condition is indifference and apathy towards Christ himself,” said the priest. “Indeed, they are the wealth of our church and they must be treated as such. Parishes with special need's children are privileged as Christ is present in a most special way in this children.”