Family brings experience of autism to archdiocese's study committee

Fernanda and Vladimir Rocha are pictured with their children, Lucas and Raphael, at the archdiocese's Pastoral Center in March. The Rochas are part of the archdiocese's recently formed Autism Study Committee. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe

BRAINTREE -- Fernanda Rocha glanced at her two young children, Lucas and Raphael, as they watched videos on mobile devices. She sat between them at a table in the Archdiocese of Boston' Pastoral Center March 28, as her husband Vladimir tried to get their son, Raphael, to turn the volume of his video down.

As the sounds of the video grew fainter, Fernanda Rocha began to speak about her experience raising the two children, both of whom have been diagnosed with autism.

A part of the Autism Study Committee, the Rocha family had been in the Pastoral Center before. Back in February, the committee, headed by the archdiocese's Office for Persons with Disabilities, held its second meeting there.

In the meeting, and likely in future meetings, the committee considered ways to make parishes and churches more accessible to children with autism, something Rocha has been interested in for a while.

After both of her sons, now ages 8 and 9, were diagnosed with autism as infants, Rocha has been working to ensure that they receive all the help they can get.

She said that doctors were at first uncertain if the boys would be able to communicate properly. She noted that they were "behind in everything," not meeting the same developmental milestones as their peers.

So, Rocha brought her sons to therapy and began learning all she could about the disorder.

"They are more of a challenge (than non-autistic children), but I still feel that they change my life, and I like challenges" she said.

She ran into one such challenge when she first brought Lucas to religious education classes, and the instructors did not know how to teach him. To address that, she started attending every Saturday session, guiding the teachers on how to interact with children with autism.

Now, Rocha said, Lucas is in his own class, and the program "bought all the materials to work with him" and will begin its own training sessions.

She said the priests where she attends Mass, Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine in East Boston, also provide assistance, such as telling attendees at Masses that the boys are "very welcome" in the shrine and explaining their condition.

The priests also included Lucas in some of the shrine's recent activities, including washing his feet on Holy Thursday and inviting him to dress up as St. Joseph on the saint's feast day, March 19.

Even so, she said, others who attend Masses there sometimes do not understand or do not have the patience to deal with Lucas and Raphael.

Fernanda said she and her family sit in the same pew every time they go to church as it helps relax the boys, but one time another woman was sitting in the pew.

After the Rocha's sat down next to her and the Mass began, the woman grew "so uncomfortable" and began making loud sighing noises. At one point, Rocha said, Lucas accidently sat on the woman's coat, and she went so far as to push him off of it.

Fernanda, mindful that she was in church, held back from saying something to the woman, and the priest made a point to explain the boys' conditions at the end of the service.

While she said that type of reaction bothers her, Rocha said it's "not keeping (her) away from the Church."

Rocha said that in addition to attending the Autism Study Committee, she also runs a support group for mothers of autistic children, and has been doing so since 2010.

The group began when Lucas was around three years old, after Rocha fought to get him into a full-day schooling program when Lucas' school would only offer her a half-day program.

Frustrated, she sought external help, someone who might advocate for her and her children, but found very little.

"But then I learned, if I get the information and teach myself how to advocate for them, I can do a better job," said Fernanda.

Soon afterwards, she said, "God started to talk to me," and she had an idea to form a support group.

The group, called The Special Gift of Being a Mom, focuses on teaching mothers more about autism, how to raise autistic children, and how to advocate for them in places like schools.

Originally, the group met at her house, but as more and more people began attending, it moved to the Madonna Shrine. Rocha said people from all over the state, and even sometimes from places as far as Montreal, Canada, have attended meetings.

Throughout all of her work in the autism community, Fernanda has kept a positive attitude towards her children and their future.

She expects them to make Confirmation, and said she will readily support their future decisions in life.

"I pray a lot for them, every day, and I just ask for (Lucas) and Raphael to be happy," she said.

She hopes that her work, particularly the work of the Autism Study Committee, will make parishes and religious activities more open to her sons, "because they want to go."

"That's my dream, she said.

Families who are impacted by autism and wish to inquire about programming for their parishes can contact Robert Kavanaugh of the Office for Persons with Disabilities at 617-746-5791.

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...