WASHINGTON –– With hands moving quickly through the air, members of the International Catholic Deaf Association signed all the responses in unison for a July 16 Mass celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington as part of their seventh biennial conference.
Redemptorist Fr. Cyril Axelrod of London, right, who is both deaf and blind, participates in a July 16 Mass in the crypt church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, assisted by David Day, during a gathering of the International Catholic Deaf Association in Washington. (CNS photo/Michael Hoyt, Catholic Standard)"We have been called to life, we have been called to holiness, we have been called to mystery," said Washington Auxiliary Bishop Francisco Gonzalez, homilist for the Mass in the shrine's Crypt Church.
The bishop said he recalled many great professors during his own studies at nearby Catholic University of America, but the one person he learned the most about Gospel values, never learned to read or write –– his mother. "But she was a holy person," Bishop Gonzalez added.
He urged the group, including a dozen priest concelebrants, to continue professing their faith. "A witness is somebody who proclaims the truth," Bishop Gonzalez said. "With God's help, all of us can do that."
Later, the bishop apologized for not knowing sign language, but wanted to tell all the participants of the conference through the signing interpreters, "I love you, and God bless you."
Both clergy and laity made up the 150 people who attended the July 14-19 conference, held at Gallaudet University in Washington under the theme "All the Earth Praise the Lord." In addition to touring St. Francis of Assisi Church and Center for Deaf Ministries in the Washington suburb of Landover Hills, Md., the conference featured addresses from four foreign-born deaf priests.
Redemptorist Father Cyril Axelrod of London is both deaf and blind and later this year will receive the Order of the British Empire for his work with the deaf and blind in Hong Kong. In addition to celebrating Mass, Father Axelrod presented a keynote address on his book, "And the Journey Begins."
Additionally three deaf priests presented workshops at the conference. Jesuit Fr. Paul Fletcher, also of London, presented "A Deaf Perspective of Ignatian Spirituality." Fr. Min Soo Park, a Gallaudet graduate and the first Asian deaf priest, spoke on "My Personal Experience in the Asian and Koren Deaf Culture." Fr. Soo Park resides in Seoul, South Korea.
In his workshop, Uganda native Father Paul Zirimenya described "Full Religious Citizenship for Ugandan Deaf Catholics." Father Zirimenya has been serving at San Francisco's St. Benedict Parish for the Deaf.
Fr. Gerard Trancone, chaplain for deaf ministries in the Archdiocese of Washington, said the association began in 1949 when there were not any deaf clergy members. Today, he noted it is the deaf clergy leading the hearing clergy with at least 10 deaf clergy attending the conference.
Laureen Lynch-Ryan, coordinator of deaf ministries for the Archdiocese of Washington, worked for two years with a committee planning the conference that eventually included participants from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, South Korea and Africa.
For many of the conference participants it is a great chance to meet up with old friends and make new ones, the organizer noted. And having the conference at Gallaudet was an opportunity for many to return to their alma mater while for others it was their first visit to Washington.
Gallaudet University, the world's only university with programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing students, was established in 1864 by an act of Congress, and its charter was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.
"Participants share from one another what is going on in deaf ministries," signed Lynch-Ryan. "They are learning from each other the different ways deaf ministries share, and reach out in order to improve services to deaf ministries globally."
"It is the deaf who are leading the hearing people," agreed Father Trancone. He noted that now it is "the hearing clergy who learn from deaf people on how to serve deaf people."
Additionally, said Fr. Trancone, there are many degrees of deafness, so the needs vary from individual to individual. For example, the organizers arranged for two dozen interpreters to help with the conference including signing and tactile interpreters for those with visual impairments.
Lynch-Ryan signed that the hearing community should know the deaf Catholics share their faith, but perhaps in a different way. One difference is the absence of music, she signed. There are also lots of facial expressions and visual aids to help during liturgies, and perhaps some parishes need to make it more visible, Lynch-Ryan added. "There are different varieties, different ways of expressing our faith."
Pruzinsky Mumola writes for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.