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Celebrating 30 years of Personal Advocacy Service in Perth




A friend and advocate taking up the offertory gifts: a simple way to include our friends with disability in the Mass. Photo: Jamie O’Brien.

By Eric Martin

“Joy” was the word used by both priests and laypeople when describing the Personal Advocacy Service’s 30th Anniversary Mass for people with intellectual disability, their volunteers and families, celebrated last weekend at Infant Jesus Church, Morley Parish: an adapted liturgy that facilitated inclusion and engagement within the setting of the Mass.

Having Archbishop Timothy Costelloe as the main celebrant – along with concelebrants Morley Parish Priest Fr Greg Burke OCD, Fr Vincent Glynn and Fr Nino Vinciguerra – gave the celebration an extra special touch, as people with intellectual disability do not get many opportunities to interact with the Archbishop.

The Archbishop’s smile encouraging each person as they carried out their roles during the Mass was reinforcing for our friends of how valued they are in the church community.

“This is a wonderful initiative in the life of our Church,” Archbishop Costelloe said.


Archbishop Costelloe offered his thanks to everybody involved in Personal Advocacy Service over the past 30 years. Photo: Jamie O’Brien.

“My words of thanks and congratulations to everybody who has been part of the journey of Personal Advocacy over the past 30 years and who continue to do so.

“It’s wonderful to be here and to be able to celebrate this Mass for the whole community, the parish community on this special anniversary: the 30th anniversary of the Personal Advocacy Service, a wonderful organisation in our Catholic Church, here in Perth and in WA.

“So congratulations to all of you who are part of PAS on this delightful celebration and thank you for asking me to be with you this morning.”

According to Fr Burke, the purpose of the adapted liturgy, with its interactive nature, is to enable PAS and the clergy to work at a level to make the Mass more accessible to our brothers and sisters with intellectual disability by using gestures and movements to interpret the readings, psalms and Gospel for those who process language a bit differently to others.

“We use a focus object or a picture in our parish SPRED groups to evoke stories and feelings of life experiences: it engages with them far more meaningfully rather than just speaking - hence the unconventional nature of the mass, but one that is designed to communicate the message of the Gospel in a far more effective manner,” Fr Burke said.

“Our Masses here for the Personal Advocacy Services are always full of great joy and so today, when we have this 30th anniversary, we remember so many happy times together.

“People love to come out and enjoy this Mass, simply because of the joy involved; the lack of inhibition, and the participation.”


PAS friends sharing their talent of reading and proclaiming the Prayers of the Faithful at the morning Mass on Sunday 21 July. Photo: Jamie O’Brien.

Before Mass began three elements, selected to symbolise a different aspect of God’s life giving presence, were placed by three friends with intellectual disability and their advocates at the front of the church:

  • A Candle – lit at every PAS group session with its flame is a symbol of Christ’s presence: “when two or three are gathered in my name I am with you”;
  • Flowers – selected to represent God’s gift of creation, and;
  • A bird’s nest – which demonstrates the sacred nature of life and the need to protect and nurture it.

Similarly, three interpretive movements were carefully rehearsed and performed to the reading, responsorial Psalm and the Gospel to bring the words to life.

The message in the story of Mary and Martha about prioritising our relationship with Christ over and above the many trivial, unnecessary tasks that can distract us from focussing on what is actually important, was perfect for the social times we live in today with all the distractions available.

Archbishop Costelloe correspondingly refined the key theme to one that was simple, powerful and easy to understand and remember for every member of the congregation.

“This morning, Jesus says to us: listen to me. When we listen to Jesus, He says to us: be a Good Shepherd because I am the Good Shepherd.”


PAS friends and their advocates lead the movement to the Responsorial Psalm with the whole congregation joining in. Photo: Jamie O’Brien.

Currently, PAS holds a similar Mass service on the third Sunday of each month at Morley Parish, and it is hoped by both the agency and the Carmelites of the parish that more people with intellectual disability will feel welcomed and included by the parishioners in Morley and eventually all the parishes of Perth.

Given that 25 per cent of Australians either live with a disability or have a close family member who does, ensuring that this quarter of the population are able to engage with their local Church is of vital importance.

PAS has been mandated by the Archbishop to assist parishes to include people with an intellectual disability (PWID) into the liturgical and community life of each parish and has taken the first steps of this plan by recruiting and training the first cohort of Parish Inclusion Coordinators.

These are volunteers from within 15 Perth parishes who will assist their parish to become a much more welcoming community for PWID, by identifying and actively inviting and welcoming PWID and their families into each parish community.

PAS plans to roll this programme out to all parishes in Perth.