09 June 2010

'Ephphata! The Deaf Person, Herald and Witness of the Proclamation of the Gospel'

'Until they pointed it out to me, I didn’t even notice that Christ is speaking in sign language from the cross, saying “I love you.”' (Cardinal Seán's Blog).

Marge Tucker, a member of the Catholic Deaf community in Boston, presenting Cardinal O'Malley with the crucifix pictured at the top

I have been involved to a limited degree in working with the Deaf since 1992, after the death of Columban Father Joseph Coyle - we were not related - who was a pioneer in working with and for the Deaf in the Church in the Philippines. I regularly celebrate Mass in Sign Language. One of the tragedies in the Philippines is that young Deaf people are a very specific target of fundamentalist Christian groups with their roots in the USA. Young Deaf people here are easy targets for the simple reason that the Catholic Church has so far done very little to minister to them. This is not by design. Church leadership is generally on the side of the poor and those on the margins. So many are on the margins in the Philippines because of widespread poverty but the Deaf, most of whom are from poor families, are on the margins of the margins..

Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFMCap, Archbishop of Boston, celebrates Mass with the Deaf thereZenit.org carries this report on the recent Congress on the Deaf held in the Vatican. I've highlighted some parts and added [comments].

A congress on ministry with and for the Deaf was held in the Vatican recently and there are a couple of reports below.

Conclusions of Vatican Congress on the Deaf

"Herald and Witness of the Proclamation of the Gospel"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the executive conclusions adopted by the Congress on the Pastoral Care of the Deaf entitled "Ephphata! The Deaf Person, Herald and Witness of the Proclamation of the Gospel," which ended Sunday in the Vatican.

* * *

At the end of this Congress on Pastoral Care, entitled "Ephphata! The Deaf Person, Herald and Witness of the Evangelical Proclamation," organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, the instruments were defined for the realization of some priorities in the ambit of the integration of deaf persons in ecclesial life and more generally in society. [Deafness cuts off a person in a way that another disability doesn't. A person born deaf has no common language with his parents or with the community, including the Church community, unless he and they learn Sign Language. In my experience, the only 'native signers' I have come across are the hearing children of Deaf parents. The isolation of a deaf person is added to if his family lives in a relatively remote area and is very much added to by poverty.]

In this second stage of the dicastery's commitment to those affected by deafness, recommendations were received and began to be implemented which arose at the end of the International Conference "Ephphata! The Deaf Person in the Life of the Church," held last November in the Vatican. This result was obtained thanks to the active participation and support of exponents of the pontifical council and of other Vatican offices, of the Italian episcopal conference and of the dioceses of Rome, Bari, Brescia, Foggia, Chieti, Crotone, Padua, Patti, Vicenza, Bologna, Palermo, Sulmona, Aquila, Imperia, Agrigento, Teramo, Assisi, Florence, Foligno, Frosinone, Salerno, Milan, Trani, Modena, Tursi-Lagonegro, Venice, Messina, Perusa, Terni, Rimini and Pordenone. Added to them are the religious personnel, specialists and volunteers. A great contribution was also made by the representatives of the Church in America, Spain, Ireland, and Germany, who came to Rome for the Congress. [No Asian countries mentioned.]

These are, in synthesis, the priorities and instruments delineated during these working days:

1. To offer local and particular churches the instruments to begin to work "for and with" deaf persons, [Deaf people are not persons 'to be helped' but to be enabled, with their full cooperation, to become fully active members of the Church and of society, both giving and receiving] beginning both from specific elements for pastoral programming as well as multimedia subsidies. Among the latter, visual DVDs, which contain the translation in sign language, which will be used as an aid in the course of formation and participation in the life of the ecclesial community. [Hearing people need to be made aare of the needs of the Deaf and to be enabled to communicate with them.]

2. To take care and spread with particular commitment the "formation of formators," in the first place of future priests, of religious personnel and of all pastoral agents. [Some countries have Deaf priests and some have hearing pirests involved in full-time ministry with the Deaf. There are no deaf priests in the Philippines and very few priests in full-time work with the Deaf. By 'deaf priests' here I mean priests who were born profoundly deaf or became so while young, not priests who have grown deaf, ie, hard of hearing, as they grow older. though that can be isolating too its a different reality from that of the person born deaf.]

3. As it emerged in this congress, it is considered of essential importance that, for example, in seminaries it be possible to come close to the reality of deaf people by learning: the basis of sign language, their historical and personal experience, that is, the difficulties they meet in society and in school, as well as in the Church. Such an outline of formation, with the due adaptations, can be used everywhere. [I don't think that the average seminarian, or the average priest, has any idea of the situation of Deaf persons. This is not a condemnation of them but an observation. There are some priests and lay persons who consider a signing interpreter at Mass as a 'distraction'. When there are regular Masses with a priest who sings or with an interpreter hearing people gradually come not to notice while the Deaf are made part of the worshipping community.]

4. To make permanent, in the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, the study group announced during the international conference. This organism will make possible the necessary qualities and uniformity of work carried out in this realm.

5. To create an Internet reference space, useful for the diffusion of initiatives, as well as for communication and exchange among those who work in the pastoral care of deaf persons. [The internet is a place where a deaf person can function on equal terms with hearing persons.]

6. To promote an ad hoc certification for those in the ecclesial realm translating into sign language. It is considered essential that a distinction be made between the "translator" and the "facilitator." The latter must have sufficient religious competencies to enable him to follow correctly, for example, the course of a Eucharistic liturgy, the course of the religious function.

Finally, all the participants in the congress committed themselves to see that these operative conclusions are quickly made concrete, in response to what has been requested by merit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and recalled during the opening of the works of this congress by the president of the dicastery, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski.

Vatican City, June 6, 2010

[Translation by ZENIT]

Some of the Deaf giving the Sign of Peace, which we also use in Worldwide Marriage Encounter

Zenit.org also carried a report on 7 June, Archbishop: The Deaf Have a Place in the Church.

One paragraph in this reports reads: The prelate (Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski) pointed out that it is important that Christians "recall the mandate received at baptism and work for the diffusion of the Gospel through personal commitment and witness, becoming true 'heralds and witnesses,' even if they cannot hear or are close to persons affected by deafness." [In other words, the Deaf have the same obligation as hearing persons to witness to the Gospel. but as tings are now, especially in the Philippines, hearing people have to enable the Deaf to claim their rightful place in the Church].

The crucifix given by the Catholic Deaf community in Boston to Cardinal Seán O'Malley

All photos from Cardinal Seán's Blog.

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