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Monday, 16 March 2015 10:30

A truly welcoming experience

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Marist Youth FestivalDaniel Giles reflects on his own experience of the Marist Community, which welcomed him warmly, in contrast to his painful experiences of engaging with others as a person with autism. This community inspired him to receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the First Eucharist and to live out God’s love to others.

My journey with the Marists began with my secondary schooling at Catholic College Bendigo (which at the time was a Marist-Mercy school). 

Then I joined Remar (a school-based youth ministry program run in some Marist secondary schools). I felt truly welcome and respected for who I am, Autism and all. On our initial embarkation camp, we did some team building activities and I was truly touched by all the encouragement we gave each other. This was so powerful for me as I was often bullied or looked down upon due to my Autism.

St Marcellin Champagnat, founder of the Marist Brothers, stood out for me as a Christ like figure, especially with his charism of loving everyone equally (especially in reference to loving all children ‘equally’ when educating them) and helping people in need . I felt a strong attraction to the story of this great saint, as well as the evident love and encouragement demonstrated in the Marist community. I wanted to become like Marcellin and my peers from Remar and dedicate my life to God, so I did my Confirmation and first Eucharist as an 18 year old. I chose Marcellin Champagnat as my saint name as it represented the calling I had to go and serve in Jesus’ name, in a caring manner to one another.

In January this year, I experienced this amazing sense of warmth, love and welcome once again at the Marist Youth Festival in Sydney, with the theme being Hearts without Borders. With my Autism, I can get anxious quite easily, especially in busy environments and struggled with this a couple of times. On these occasions the volunteers were truly empathetic to my needs and worked amazingly to help me feel comfortable at the Festival. They took a no fuss approach to always ensuring I was always treated with dignity and respect.

I also felt challenged to reflect upon how I treat everyone as a brother or sister in Christ and even where I may use Church teaching to create borders between other people. The love and kindness evident at the Festival inspired me to reflect upon how I can live fully Jesus’ call to love all people and remove the barriers I put up between others.

I felt that Jesus’ love for one another was truly evident at this gathering in the way we loved one another and am now inspired to go out and be the model of Christ’s love for everyone. I have been given so much support and encouragement through my life journey and I feel called by God to try and offer this to others.

If you have a story related to church and disability that you’d like to share, please contact the author, Daniel Giles, on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This article by Daniel Giles was first published in the March 2015 issue of The Sandpiper, the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst.