Special needs community celebrates with day of faith and fun

Diocese of Knoxville hosts inaugural ‘Bishop’s Very Special Day on the Sacred Heart Cathedral campus

By Gabrielle Nolan

Members of the special needs community from around the Diocese of Knoxville enjoyed a day of fellowship, frivolity, and faith-based activities for the recent “Bishop’s Very Special Day.”

The first-time event, which took place on Sept. 25 in the parish hall at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, was free and open to people of all ages with special needs and their families.

Parishioners with special needs and their family took part in the day of fun and fellowship, which led up to Mass for them celebrated by Bishop Stika. 

Katie Helms, a cathedral parishioner who has long had a passion for working with people who have special needs, organized the initiative.

“We just want to make them feel that God loves them, and that we love them, that this Church is behind them and their whole family,” Ms. Helms said.

Each attendee received a colorful tote bag embroidered with “Bishop’s Very Special Day” on it, as well as a rosary that was blessed by Bishop Richard F. Stika.

The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., assisted Ms. Helms in an hour-long rally of songs, dances, and skits, where participants were able to interact with instruments and props.

In addition to the rally, attendees enjoyed an arts and crafts station as well as outdoor bean-bag-toss games.

“I’m glad to see this happening because, you know, we have so many disabled or special needs people,” said Charles Kite, who is a parishioner at All Saints. “We really need to extend that from the Church because it’s difficult for special needs people.”

Religious Sisters of Mercy and Dominican Sisters helped lead the event in its first year.

Mr. Kite attended the event with his granddaughter, Janie, who is non-verbal and unable to communicate.

“Everybody’s got their crosses to bear, and I don’t really think of her as a cross to bear,” he said. “She’s family, and she just needs somebody to take care of her.”

Mr. Kite described how his previous pastor at All Saints, Father Michael Woods, would go out in the congregation after his homily and ask, “Who’s your face of Jesus?”

“I’d talk about [Janie],” Mr. Kite said. “All she wants to do is love you like Jesus does, and you love her back. That’s all she wants.”

Joan Stone, who has been a parishioner at Sacred Heart for 31 years, donated snacks for the event. Her son, Matthew, was an attendee who enjoyed the rally and games.

“It is such a blessing,” Mrs. Stone said. “I mean, it is more than you could have expected. I didn’t know what to expect. [Ms. Helms] is such a blessing. There’s no way to even say thank you.”

“Hopefully we can do it again and have more kids,” Ms. Helms said. “We had a good time with the ones that were here.”

Superheroes carry statues of the holy family during the outdoor procession for “the Bishop’s Very Special Day.”

Bishop Stika was present to meet with each of the families and participated in the musical parade around the parking lot, where the sounds of bucket drums, cymbals, and tambourines echoed through the air.

After the festivities concluded, everyone gathered inside the cathedral for the 5 p.m. vigil Mass, where Bishop Stika presided and members of the special needs community participated in the Mass as readers and altar servers.

“This afternoon, I spent time with people who have special challenges in life,” Bishop Stika said at the beginning of Mass. “We all have challenges in life… and yet, we’re all God’s people, loved by our Lord.”

During his homily, the bishop mentioned his great-niece, Katie, who has autism as well as a rare chromosomal condition.

“They said she would never walk, and she walks to this day,” Bishop said. “I admire my niece so much.”

“My nieces and nephews love Katie beyond belief. They don’t see Katie as something special, they see Katie as someone they love, their sister,” he said. “So, as so many people have come into their house, my family witnesses those people who enter the doors of [their] house, and they see that Katie is no different than the rest of them.”

Bishop Stika emphasized the importance of witnessing faith to others and challenged the congregation to reflect on their own witness.

“I think the challenge for all of us is to look at your life, to look at my life, I have to, to see how I truly witness to the faith,” he said. “Am I a cafeteria Christian? Do I pick and choose what I want to believe in and ignore that which could be the most challenging by Jesus?”

“What did Jesus tell us?” he asked. “Treat others as you would have them treat you.”

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