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 CNS Story:

DISABLED-REACTION Apr-21-2008 (730 words) xxxn

Mother calls pope's blessing of youths with disabilities 'validation'

By Beth Griffin
Catholic News Service

YONKERS, N.Y. (CNS) -- For Yoselin Garcia and her 18-year-old daughter, Isabel, the blessing they received from Pope Benedict XVI April 19 in the chapel at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers was their second papal blessing.

Pope John Paul II blessed them in 1995 during a rosary service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.

Isabel was one of 56 youths who with their caregivers were invited by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York to attend the event with Pope Benedict.

Her mother told Catholic News Service the pope's blessing and the time he spent with the youths and their caregivers were "a validation of the children and their families for all the sacrifices we make on a day-to-day basis."

Isabel has cerebral palsy and does not speak. She and her family are members of St. Peter's Parish in Haverstraw and she was confirmed at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The youths, ranging in age from 3 to18, displayed a range of physical, emotional and developmental disabilities. Some were in wheelchairs or strollers. Others sat with their caregivers in the pews, facing the center aisle of the small chapel.

After Pope Benedict entered the chapel, he walked up the middle aisle, greeting each youngster and laying a hand on some of the children's heads, grasping their hands, coddling them or tracing a blessing on their foreheads. He also gave the crowd his apostolic blessing.

Yoselin Garcia said it was hard to determine how much her daughter understood about the event, but "she was very happy. The pope held her face in his hands."

"It was wonderful. It was far beyond my expectation. It's very precious to us and to our extended family," she said.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I'm glad to have been part of it, but you have to experience it for yourself to understand it," said Michael Lynch, 16. He exhibits what's described as a pervasive developmental disorder on the autism spectrum.

"It was wonderful," said his mother, Karen Lynch. "It was very moving to be there and to see how happy Michael was."

She added that the pope "seemed so joyful to be there. After (Pope) John Paul II being so charismatic, you might not have expected that about (Pope) Benedict XVI."

The Lynchs are members of St. Denis Parish in Hopewell Junction, where Karen is the director of the family development program.

Michael is the manager of the varsity baseball team at John Jay High School in Hopewell Junction. His mother said that he is so committed to his duties there that the papal blessing "is the only thing that would have him miss the game" scheduled for the same day as the event.

Michael is a Life Scout member of the Boy Scouts and is doing preliminary work on his Eagle Scout project, which is the construction of a pathway to the East Fishkill library.

His Scout troop, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus in Fishkill, attended the papal rally with seminarians and young people held on the grounds of the seminary after the event with the disabled youths.

"The best part was when the pope kissed my son," said Dinorah Niola.

Her son, Ryan, 7, is autistic and has a speech delay. "That was the moment I lost it," she said. "Ryan's eyes opened wide. He was so quiet and he knew something big was happening."

"I was in tears from the moment I saw his (the pope's) red shoes coming up the steps," she said.

Niola said the blessing was "a changing experience. What a peace when the pope walked though the group. He looked into my eyes and it was a total blessing. We actually connected somehow."

She said the pope "came across as so loving and compassionate. He made time to meet with the children and he touched each child."

Niola said Ryan was selected from a group of participants in an after-school program at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin on Staten Island. She said that being invited to the blessing was "like winning the lottery."

She said Ryan will make his first Communion May 3 at St. Clare's Parish on Staten Island. She is expecting her second child in two months and said, "Both of my children, somehow, got blessed."


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