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Q & A with Lisa Averion

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Congratulations on your new job as the Associate Director of the Office for Persons with Disabilities!

What attracted you to the position?

I am a mother of five, and four of my children have special needs. My older children have a form of juvenile onset macular degeneration called Stargardt Disease, and I have a daughter with Down Syndrome. I am an advocate not only for my children, but for all children and adults with special needs.

Your own life affirmed your desire to better enable people with disabilities in their faith. Can you speak to that?

As a mother and educator, I am passionate about helping and serving others. Inclusion is essential to building community and awareness of diverse needs. Being in full communion with the Catholic Church is important to my husband and I for all our children—and our daughter Gianna is no exception. She has limited expressive language; however, with support, she has been able to receive the sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist and, most recently, Confirmation. Through the support of the Office for Persons with Disabilities, Gianna prepared to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit through resources provided by OPD.

What have you learned so far in your new role?

I learned that there is a bigger need from this office for advocacy for individuals beyond physical and cognitive disabilities. Our Deaf Community has struggled for many years to be included in our Church, and I am working hard to continue to build awareness and opportunities that my predecessor, Noelle Collis-DeVito, started. There are fewer than two dozen deaf priests in the world. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is blessed to have a visiting deaf priest listen to confessions and say Mass with our deaf community every few months. Our office is working hard to increase opportunities for the deaf community by providing faith formation, retreats, more Masses with ASL and Masses with visiting deaf priests.

What do you hope to expand in the Office for Persons with Disabilities?

It is my job to serve the most vulnerable and to bring Christ into their lives the best way they can be served. I want to serve the disabled through resources and Masses to meet their needs; the Deaf through providing ASL interpreters at Mass, and events so they can join their hearing brothers and sisters; and lastly, those who struggle with mental illness by supporting them and their families as they seek to grow in faith.

Since I started this job in July, my wheels have been turning. I share all my “big picture” ideas with my boss, Bob Wurzelbacher, and he is supportive and understands my passion is driven from my personal experience. I know Rome was not built in a day, however I feel reaching all corners of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is essential to rebuilding the Church.

Pope Francis said, “A person with disabilities, in order to build himself or herself up, needs not only to exist but also to belong to a community. I pray that each person may feel the paternal gaze of God, who affirms their full dignity and the unconditional value of their life.”

What can we, as the laity, do to be more welcoming to people with disabilities, both in everyday life and in religious settings like Mass?

The best way to reach people with disabilities is to acknowledge them as full members of the community. There is something beautiful about watching individuals with special needs worship the Lord. As we all struggle with our personal battles and brokenness, I see heaven come to earth when my daughter folds her hands in prayer and receives the Eucharist, or when a young man at my church smiles and flaps his arms and dances while the music is playing during Mass. That is pure joy we all long to feel. Be open, advocate, and accept, just as Jesus asked us all to do.

This article appeared in the October 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here

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