A National Assembly to Remember

by Laura DeMaria

It is difficult to narrow down any one particular moment that was the best part of the National Assembly experience. From the music and celebrations (including the talent show!), the workshops (my favorite – tie-dye), the opportunity to meet other communities, the shared meals, or simply enjoying the beautiful scenery of Tacoma, every day held something special.

My favorite memory, though, came on the last day, when I shared a special moment with Kelly DeRoy, a core family member who lives at Highland House in Arlington.

On Saturday night after all the sessions were ended, as everyone waited for the closing session to begin, I saw Fr. Kevin Cullen, the well-known Jesuit priest who has been involved with L’Arche for many years. I introduced myself and said, “I’m looking forward to your Mass,” which he was celebrating that evening before dinner.

“I am glad of it! Would you like to read?” he responded without missing a beat.

He must have sensed my hesitation.

“Here, let me get you the readings and you can pick.” Fr. Kevin scuttled off, returning with printouts of the readings, and I chose the responsorial psalm under his kind but strong gaze.

I go to Mass every single week; sometimes more than once, but I have never been a reader. Nevertheless, I took it as a sign from the universe that this was an opportunity – a gift, even, as so much in L’Arche can be seen as “gift” – being handed to me and that I’d better take it. Then I remembered Kelly, who had been reading and speaking all week as part of the national Inclusion Team. It had been a joy and pleasure to see her, along with other Inclusion Team members (and especially our own Lauren Palmer) reading announcements and sharing updates for the entire assembly, microphone in hand, throughout the weekend. She’s a pro.

I wondered if Kelly would help me with the readings. With her by my side I thought I could find the courage. Her response? In her characteristic direct way: “Yes.”

And so, the first time I ever read at Mass was in the “Scandinavian Room” of Pacific Lutheran University, which has around its corners different Scandinavian artifacts and traditional clothing. Our altar was a simple round table undoubtedly used at some point to hold some of those artifacts. The altar boy was a young man, Tommy Berg, with Down’s Syndrome. Tommy lives in northern California with his family and, at the talent show, played the piano beautifully. His father says he wants to be a professional musician.

Fr. Kevin wore a stole decorated with images of the Ark and its inhabitants. During Mass one woman in a wheel chair covered her face and laughed hysterically, which bothered no one. Others commented openly during the homily, and Fr. Kevin welcomed and supported these comments. There was a bit of confusion as to the best route around all the chairs to get to Communion. We held hands during the Our Father.  In other words, it’s was perfectly, wonderfully L’Arche.

And during the responsorial psalm, I felt capable because Kelly was beside me. We stood, we read, we sat down. For her, it was what she always does. For me, it was transformative and new. I thanked her afterwards and she said, simply, “You’re welcome.”

Laura DeMaria is a board member of L’Arche Greater Washington, DC. She is the Executive Director of the National Association for County Community and Economic Development (NACCED).