20 November 2009

Vatican Conference for the Deaf

Perhaps the most isolating physical disability is deafness. A person who is born profoundly deaf shares no common language even with his own family, much less with the wider community. Here in the Philippines many deaf children never go to school. Only larger urban centers have schools or special education departments for deaf students.

Deaf persons are often perceived by others to be stupid, hence our English term 'dumb'. When I was growing up in Ireland we usually referred to deaf persons as 'deaf and dumb'. That term wasn't pejorative but it embodied another common false perception, that the deaf are unable to speak. They have the same speaking equipment as hearing people but because they don't hear they don't learn to speak in the way that hearing people do. But deaf children can be taught to speak. The term 'deaf-mute' is still widely used, embodying the same mis-perception.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines still has a long way to go in its ministry to and with deaf people. Those who are profoundly deaf often refer to their community as 'the Deaf', with a capital 'D'. They do not use the term 'hearing impaired'. I would be inclined to use that term for hearing peole whose hearing becomes somewhat impaired with old age, for example. The word 'deaf' is not an impolite term.

The Vatican Information Service carried a report on Tuesday of a CONFERENCE ON DEAF PEOPLE IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH. Here is the report:

VATICAN CITY, 17 NOV 2009 (VIS) - This morning in the Holy See Press Office, the presentation took place of the 24th international conference promoted by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care. The theme of this year's gathering is "Effata! Deaf people in the life of the Church", and the event is due to be held in the Vatican's New Synod Hall from 19 to 21 November.

Participating in today's press conference were Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, Bishop Jose L. Redrado O.H. and Msgr. Jean-Marie Mpendawatu, respectively president, secretary and under secretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care; Fr. Savino Castiglione of the Congregation "Little Mission for the Deaf", and Marco Radici, director of the ENT unit of the Hospital of St. John of God "Fatebenefratelli" in Rome.

There are 278 million people in the world who suffer from hearing impairment, of whom 59 million are profoundly deaf. Eighty percent of deaf people live in the less-developed areas of the planet. It is also estimated that there are around 1.3 million deaf people in the Catholic Church who, Archbishop Zimowski explained, "face particular difficulties in participating fully in religious practices".

The forthcoming conference - which will be attended by 498 people, 89 of whom are deaf - arises from the need to promote and improve commitment in this field of disability in order "to achieve true integration for deaf people", he said.

"According to the timetable", the archbishop continued, "the three days of the meeting will be subdivided into sections focusing on various aspects of deafness. The first day will examine the themes of: 'deaf people in the world, past and present'; 'the psychological world of deaf people'; the 'medical aspects of deafness', and 'experiences from the world of deafness'".

The second day, during which the participants will also be received by the Pope, will consider such themes as "the family and deaf people" and "pastoral care of the deaf".

The conference will come to an end on 21 November with a summarisation of the subjects discussed, roundtable discussions and the presentation of a final report.

Among those attending the conference will be Archbishop Patrick A. Kelly of Liverpool, England, and Terry O'Meara, respectively president and director of the International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf Persons; Silvio P. Mariotti, an expert of the World Health Organisation, and Fr. Cyril Axelrod, a blind and deaf priest (in photo). [Read also here].

Also participating in the event will be Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan and Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, presidents emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, which is due to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its foundation on 11 February 2010. OP/EFFATA/ZIMOWSKIVIS 091117 (450)

Fr Savino Castiglione came to the Philippines from Italy in 1988 but is presently based in his own country. When we were both in Cebu he encouraged me to learn Sign Language, of which I have some knowledge, enough to celebrate Mass. However, I find it difficult to engage in conversation in Sign Language.

Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, England, has been working with the Deaf for many years and uses Sign Language on public occasions, even when the majority are hearing people.

CBCPNews also has a report on the conference: Vatican officials say church must improve service to deaf community.

You can find a signed version of the Philippine National Anthem here. It's on the blog Filipino Deaf from the Eyes of a Hearing Person. The blogger made some very kind comments about your scribe after coming across a post I made on St Francis de Sales, patron of the Deaf.

1 comment:

jojomccid said...

Father Coyle!

Thank you very much that you dropped by my blog. I thought you would never visit. :-)

Congratulations to all the efforts you made for the deaf community especially in your province. I hope I can personally meet you someday. Mabuhay po kayo Father! :-)