SALT LAKE CITY — Cindi Vega was recently named chairperson of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Persons with Disabilities Commission. A commission member for three years, Vega was born blind as a result of a condition called Septo-optic Dysplasia.
Vega attended public school in the Cottonwood Heights area and then graduated from Weber State University with a bachelor’s degree in family studies with an emphasis on psychology.
Shortly after college, she went to work for the Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Vega taught there for several years before moving to Ogden to become a rehabilitation counselor. After a few years, she returned to the division, where she now teaches keyboarding and computer skills and helps with Braille transcription.
Vega owns her own home in West Valley City and has led an independent life for many years. She has remained a member of her home parish, Saint Thomas More, where she serves as a lector and an extraordinary minister of the Holy Eucharist.
“She is a very dedicated and wonderful minister,” Vega’s pastor, Father John Evans, said. “She has been a big part of this community. I think she inspires people with her being able to participate in just a full way like everyone else here. She doesn’t let anything hold her back.”
Vega believes that people with disabilities can be much more involved in the life of the Church than some might think. Originally, she had to convince Fr. Evans she could be a communion minister; he initially was reluctant because he was concerned about safety, she said.
“God was telling me to do more,” she said. “‘You’ve found a way to do many other things in life; you can find a way to do this,’ he told me.”
Like all the other challenges in her life, Vega met this one head on and proved herself. She now distributes the chalice at the 11:30 a.m. Mass at St. Thomas More Catholic Church the first Sunday of each month.
As disabilities commission chair, she hopes to reach out to the Catholic community to involve more disabled people in the life of local parishes and in the Mass.
Often, she said, it’s just a matter of awareness.
“You might say, ‘It’s great, those who are here’ but why aren’t other people here? Is it because they can’t get to church? Is it they don’t feel welcome? Being aware of people who aren’t there and how can we reach out and serve them better is important,” she said.
Education, both of priests and of lay leaders, can make a big difference, Vega said. Last year, the commission conducted workshops on the revised United States Conference of Catholic Bishops guidelines for including people with disabilities. The workshops were geared toward deacons, religious teachers, catechists and parishioners.
“What we’re trying to focus on is outreach,” Vega said. “For someone who has a family member that wants to be more involved, just to let them know we’re here.”
Vega would like to see more people with disabilities have the opportunity to be ministers.
“We need to find ways to be as inclusive as we can, to give the message that all are welcome,” she said.
The commission has resources many in the Catholic community may not be aware of, such as a lending library that includes special education religious materials, Vega said. With these resources from the disabilities commission, religious classes can be tailored to meet the needs of many disabled people.
“It’s like my brother; he can’t read a textbook but he still gets Communion because he knows that he is receiving the Body of Christ,” she said. (Vega’s brother Adam has many intellectual and developmental challenges and functions at the level of a 4-year-old, she said.)
“Adam had to have special classes … to help him prepare for Communion and Confirmation,” she said; the disabilities commission can help parishes offer such classes to others who require them.
The commission arranges for a Deaf priest to visit a couple of parishes each year so that Deaf people have the opportunity for the Sacrament of Confession in sign language. The commission may also be able to help parishes cover the cost of hearing devices for their hearing-impaired members.
“What we’re trying to focus on in the commission is outreach, just to let people know we are here,” Vega said. “I think we reach a lot of people through the annual Catholics Can Masses,” which recognize people with disabilities who contribute to their parish. This year the Catholics Can Masses will be Sept. 15 at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church and Oct. 2 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Monticello.
As chairperson of the commission, one issue Vega would like to address is the diocesan website, which she believes could be more accessible to the disabled and their caretakers. Commission members will meet with Bishop Oscar A. Solis in August and plan to speak with him about this and other issues.
Vega sees the role of the commission as “spreading awareness and looking at how we as a diocese and each parish can be more inclusive, making sure those with disabilities have opportunities to participate in ministries and participate fully in the Mass,” she said.
“It is important that we spread the message that as people with disabilities we can serve, we can participate — even though we might have some differences, we can participate,” she said. “We want to live our lives to the fullest too, and to be included as best we can.”
Catholics Can Award
Nominations are being accepted for the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Catholics Can Award by the diocesan Commission for People with Disabilities. This annual award is given to an individual, parish or organization that ensures meaningful participation by people with disabilities in Catholic parish life.
For the nomination packet, contact Carol Ruddell, 801-440-8729, or Dolores Lopez, 801-328-8641, ext. 333. Nominations are due by July 1.