The pastoral goal of the Spred (Special Religious Education) programme is ‘the unfolding of a believing people in a loving response to the Father’s invitation to life’. Spred groups consist of volunteers and persons with special needs who celebrate life in a loving community and reflect together on the mystery of their life experience in the light of the Gospel.
Spred groups exist in a parish setting where people form a small community of friendship and faith with persons who have special needs, and follow a specially designed programme with them. A climate of welcome and equality is fostered within the group, so that everyone feels that they belong and are accepted unconditionally. This security and companionship pave the way for welcoming the deeper mystery of God’s love, and allow a joyful response to Jesus. Within a Spred group, friendship becomes a way of relating to each other, to Jesus and to the Father. Spred focuses on the uniqueness and dignity of the individual and mends the rupture caused by marginalisation. St Aelred of Rievaulx (twelfth century) believed so much in the theological and spiritual reality of friendship that he paraphrased St John’s ‘God is love’ as ‘God is friendship’. In a Spred group, unspoken gestures of friendship convey the life-giving message: ‘I am loved … I am lovable … I, too, can love’.
Spred members with special needs and volunteers all find the groups of great value. Volunteers give a strong commitment–on alternate weeks they meet to deepen their own faith and solidarity and to plan the fortnightly meeting with members who have special needs.
Spred groups exist in Europe, Canada, the USA and Australia. The movement flourishes in several dioceses in Northern Ireland, and in Dublin and County Limerick. It is a powerful agent within the Roman Catholic Church to raise an awareness and realisation of the valuable role which people with a disability have within their local parish and in the wider community.