The unique ministry of deaf Catholics

The unique ministry of deaf Catholics July 25, 2012

They can hear the call like no one else — and also respond like no one else.

Details from the B.C. Catholic in Vancouver:

The Church needs deaf Catholics and their gifts for they can reach people for the Gospel that only they can reach.

That’s the message Archbishop Terrence Prendergast gave delegates at the 11th National Conference of the Canadian Section of the International Catholic Deaf Association (ICDA) in Ottawa July 9-14. He gave his massage at a special Mass where most of the participants responded in sign language and hymns were sung with hands.

A ccording to ICDA Canadian Section’s general chairperson Richard Csabi deaf Catholics have built a loving fellowship that is poised to reach out to deaf Canadians who have either fallen away from the Catholic Church or who have never heard the Gospel.

“There is a joy in being Catholic, and being part of a vibrant community,” said Csabi, through Carol Stokes, the coordinator for deaf ministries for the Toronto Archdiocese.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and its workshops, business meetings, social and sightseeing events encouraged that, said Csabi.

The ICDA may have about 75-80 members in Ottawa, but there could be as many as 3,000 to 4,000 deaf Canadians in the Ottawa archdiocese, he said. “We just don’t know.”

Stokes, who has been working with deaf Catholics since 1970, says there are large numbers in the Toronto area as well, beyond the 2,000 her office serves. But the ICDA needs to get the word out that they exist. “We need more advertising for ourselves,” Csabi said.

For many years, the hearing said the deaf “can’t, can’t, can’t,” said Csabi. “But we can do this. We can be deacons, priests, lectors and Eucharistic ministers.”

Canada now has a deaf seminarian, Matthew Hysell, who will be ordained to the transitional diaconate Aug. 27 in Edmonton. He hopes to be ordained to the priesthood next year.

But Csabi and Stokes recognize more can be done to build bonds between the deaf and the hearing. They added the hearing can learn how to communicate with the deaf and the deaf can do more to learn how to speak so the hearing can understand.

But whether Catholic or not, deaf people find a unity and sense of community that crosses cultural and language boundaries.

Deaf culture is very strong, he said. “It’s a unity, a connection. We’re sensitive to each other.”

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