SPRED stands for Special Religious Development, and it is a program that provides spiritual guidance and encouragement to the developmentally challenged, children, teens and adults. Through bi-weekly meetings, they are able to learn about their faith, socialize and feel spiritually connected.
If more people knew what SPRED was all about, I truly believe the ministry would be overflowing. For some reason, SPRED seems like some top-secret mission in our parish, and therefore perhaps in other parishes as well, but for me, someone who has just joined last September, I must say it has been the most satisfying ministry I’ve ever belong to. It has everything–close friendship, building of trust, feeling needed, validation, an abundance of love, and just so things won’t get boring–drama.
Our parish works with teens–those ages 12 to 17–and we call them our “friends”.
Two of our five SPRED “friends” were preparing for their First Communion. We had a reconciliation service for them, as well as a brief rehearsal. Both friends have autism and a history of trouble with this sacrament. It’s as if somebody doesn’t want them to receive the eucharist.
My friend, who I will call X, is mostly nonverbal, and recently transferred to our parish.He was doing well in another parish’s SPRED program, but on the day of his First Communion, he had a panic attack, and refused to take the eucharist, or to step into a church again. His mother was understandably distraught, and was so desperate, she took him to a Catholic faith healer visiting from another country who laid hands on X. Our pastor said it might have even been an exorcism. After that moment, the mother swears he calmed down and has been able to enter into a church again.
After the reconciliation service came the rehearsal of taking the unconsecrated host into the mouth and swallowing. X did so well during rehearsal, that he even asked to take another unconsecrated host into his mouth. Laughing with relief, we felt so victorious. But our over-confident mood was short lived.
The other friend, who I will call Y, has missed a few sessions this year because he has had attacks of rage and has been hospitalized to adjust medication doses. During rehearsal, Y also did exceptionally well, praying devoutly, putting his hands together upright in prayer, and taking the unconsecrated host like a champion. I had even asked X to watch Y, so that X would know what to do when it came to his turn.
Once the rehearsal had ended, we went to the hall to celebrate over cookies and punch. After a few sips of punch, however, Y became unexpectedly aggressive and began to pound people’s heads with his fist. He quickly pounded two other friends, an elderly catechist, and his own mother before everyone jumped up to stop him. It was difficult to restrain him for he is a strong seventeen-year-old. The police and an ambulance were called, and poor Y, still raging and lashing out, was driven away to the nearest hospital.
Shaken up by this episode, once the friends and their families had left, we catechists sat around a table to rehash what had just happened. Our best conclusion was that perhaps the punch’s red dye caused the aggression, but we were just wildly guessing. One of the catechists has a son with autism who explained that even two red M&Ms could cause him to feel like fighting.
Later, reviewing this experience, I privately concluded that spiritual warfare is real. A battle rages for everyone’s soul. Please pray for X and Y, that they are able to receive their First Communion without any attacks.