When Liz Chidiac discovered her youngest son had autism she says she struggled with the idea, but instead of hiding in the shadows – Liz stepped into the light, making it her mission to be his voice and make a change.
The proactive mother of three says her Maronite Catholic faith has been her shield when battling negativity and what she refers to as “a general lack of understanding of people with special needs within the community”.
To make a positive change, Liz approached her parish priest and together they founded the St. Charbel’s Faith and Light Committee.
“When God gives you a child, he gives you the grace to work out their needs. But with my twelve year old son, I have not only had to establish his needs, but also be his voice and fight for his rights. I want to help other parents with children with special needs to do the same,” she says.
For Liz, a central issue is that she feels that many within her community are ashamed of having children with special needs and the committee she helped found aims to give families the opportunity to go out or come to church without any embarrassment.
“Our committee is focused around the social and spiritual wellbeing of those with special needs and their families, within our community parish,” she says. “Our main aim is to recognize the presence of those with special needs and see them as important members of the parish.”
Earlier this month, the St. Charbel’s Faith and Light Committee organised a Mass at St. Charbel’s church in Punchbowl, followed by a barbecue in the school playground that included music, dancing and fun activities with cartoon characters and celebrity impersonators for all those with special needs to enjoy.
“Father Jospeh Sleiman, the Father superior of the Lebanese Maronite Order in Australia celebrated the Mass, and led the day with prayers and blessings. This was followed by a really fun afternoon of activities, the sense of community and happiness that was present was just amazing,” she explains.
Liz and the other volunteers in the committee invite members of the Maronite community to contact their local parish about similar upcoming events and encourage other communities to take part in similar programs.
“Our reward as a committee is seeing the smiles on their faces [those with special needs] and the atmosphere of joy that is spread around. We hope our positive message is spread to the larger community and people embrace the beauty that every individual has to offer.”