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    A sacrament 2 busy years in the making

    Jackie Yost wanted her son, Tyler to take his first communion. Cerebral palsy and epilepsy slowed but didn't stop him.

    [Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
    Assisted by his mother, Jackie Yost, Tyler Yost, 10, of Clearwater, receives his first communion during Sunday's 10 a.m. mass at Light of Christ Catholic Church in Clearwater.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 8, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- When Tyler was born, doctors told Jackie Yost she would never take him from All Children's Hospital alive.

    The virus Yost had caught while pregnant had crossed her placenta and caused the infant to suffer a brain hemorrhage while still in the womb.

    But months later, Jackie Yost bundled up the child she lovingly calls "the little stinker" and took him home.

    Now Tyler seems to have a special relationship with God.

    Every Sunday, he says to his family, "Go church."

    After Mass, he insists on going up to the alter to "talk to Jesus," Yost said. Every morning, he says the rosary with his grandmother, Lillian.

    In the evenings, he and his mother practiced for his first communion.

    They did it as though they were training for a marathon.

    [Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
    Tyler Yost approaches Father Jacob Monteleone at the conclusion of Sunday's 10 a.m. mass. Tyler has cerebral palsy and usually uses a walker or wheelchair to get around but preferred to walk on his own with a little help during the special mass. For many evenings, he and his mother practiced for his first communion.
    Jackie Yost would stand in her house and hold an unconsecrated host, really a thin, unblessed flavorless white wafer that melts in the mouth. She held it gently in her hands just as a priest would during Mass, and waited.

    On the other side of the room would be her son, 10-year-old Tyler.

    Slowly, with great effort, Tyler would move his uncooperative body -- a body that can't run, can't hear loud or low sounds and has violent seizures -- toward his mother. Because he doesn't want to use his wheelchair or his walker anymore, he sometimes used sticks to steady himself.

    When he made it to within a few inches of his mom, he would open his mouth and let her place the wafer on his tongue, where it would dissolve into bland mush and then disappear.

    By Sunday, Tyler had the routine down pat, and the little boy with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and a host of developmental problems did it for real, putting on a new suit and making his first communion at Light of Christ Catholic Church in Clearwater along with Frankie Passarella, 7, who is autistic.

    "At first, they (church officials) didn't want them to make their first communion," said Yost, 48, a detention deputy for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "I'm not sure how much they understand (about the sacrament), but they have a great love of the Lord."

    For two years, Mary Tyson, director of special education Sunday school classes at Light of Christ Church, has helped Tyler and Frankie prepare for the sacrament.

    "Because they are special-needs kids, it is difficult for them to understand the difference between the body of Christ and ordinary bread," Tyson said. "It is a great mystery. None of us is really ready or understands the mystery of the holy Eucharist."

    Born in tiny Bolton, England, Tyson had taught developmentally disabled children for years. When Yost suggested three years ago that she start a Sunday school program for children like Tyler at Light of Christ, she embraced the opportunity.

    "It is very important for them to grow spiritually, knowing they have a family relationship with their church," said Tyson.

    Through the program, Tyler and Frankie were able to learn about God and participate in some of the same activities other Catholic children take for granted.

    "We've been very devout Catholics, and we didn't think he should be denied making his first communion," Yost said.

    Laura Passarella said Frankie, a boy who can pick out "any state on the map" and loves to read his picture Bible, enjoyed making his first communion and got a treat for his efforts.

    "We went back to my house and had a blow-out party," she laughed.

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