Finding a ride to Mass can be a struggle for a Catholic person with disabilities. We are told all the time by those around us that we should make every effort to attend Mass—only to find that our options are limited due to a lack of transportation. For those of us who contend with the daily challenges of disabilities and cannot drive, being unable to figure out how to find a ride to Mass only adds to that frustration because it fuels the feelings of being a burden or inconvenience on someone else. Many of us who struggle to find rides have a deep desire to take part in the Mass. Yet we keep finding roadblocks in our path.
This issue of transportation is often overlooked. Most Catholics probably don’t even realize this need exists in our parishes. Too often, those of us with disabilities are left to fend for ourselves in trying to find a ride to church. And in many parishes, it seems that no real options exist. There are a number of reasons for this, including lack of funding, few volunteers, and insurance and liability issues for the church. But stopping there sends the wrong message, and it is necessary that we find solutions to a very challenging problem that many of us face.
For one thing, public transportation, such as accessible bus service, is not available in many areas of the country. In some places where it is available during the week, it is often not offered on Saturday or Sunday, or at times that allow for Mass attendance. Rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft can sometimes be an option, but may not be practical for someone who is on a fixed income or needs additional accommodation, such as for a wheelchair. What can be done?
Providing transportation to church is a truly untapped opportunity to evangelize and to help fill the spiritual needs of the community.
For those of us who do not already have close friends or family in the local parish, attempting to establish the right kind of connections can be difficult. Some non-Catholic churches have their own shuttle services. This option may be out of reach for Catholic parishes due to prohibitive insurance and liability costs, however. For many Catholics with disabilities, this leaves asking for a ride from a fellow parishioner as the only option.
For some of us, it is very hard to ask someone else for a ride. It can sometimes generate high levels of fear and anxiety. Naturally, we might have a fear of rejection or the feeling that we are causing an inconvenience—especially for those of us with mobility issues. But quite often, people with disabilities suffer with social anxiety. This can make the idea of asking someone for help—especially someone you don’t know very well—very challenging. Many of us have had to contend with a great deal of rejection—or, even worse, total silence—in our lives. Overcoming this, especially when we have experienced it from the Church, can be very hard.
Sometimes the problem is that we simply do not know who to ask. We have no idea who might be willing to help us out, and don’t know how to find out.
This is an area of concern that parishes must look at more closely. To be a truly welcoming community, it is important for pastors and church leaders to proactively take the time and effort to help those in their parishes who have a deep desire to attend Mass. And it shouldn’t be hard. Something as simple as keeping a list of volunteers in the parish office in case someone calls looking for a ride would be a great help. And parishioners who would like to volunteer to provide transportation should be given the opportunity to sign up to fill this need.
Once a parish has compiled a list of volunteers, we also need to make it easier to answer the questions of “Who do I ask?” and “Can I get a ride?” Some parishes post this information clearly—as well as information for potential new volunteers to sign up—in the bulletin and on the parish website. Others make an effort to communicate this information to the managers of the local communities and homes for disabled people, in case any residents ask. There is no reason why these simple steps shouldn’t be taken at every parish.
Just because a person is unable to drive or lacks connections shouldn’t prevent them from being able to go to Mass. As Catholic Christians, we must take everyone, even those with disabilities, into consideration. The solutions to this problem can be very simple.
If our parish communities want to be truly welcoming places, then every effort should be made to help those with limited resources to be able to attend Mass in person. This is both a way to serve others and help bring them closer to Christ. Let us make an effort to ensure that everyone is welcome in the Church.
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JM Kraemer is a Catholic artist and disability advocate based in Saginaw, Michigan. He is known for his annual Lego Church Project that he has been doing for over twenty years.