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Event provides opportunity for deaf to gather, share information
April 06, 2017
NORTH BRUNSWICK — Nearly 200 individuals from throughout New Jersey gathered March 25 to joyfully proclaim a “yes” to God… some of them without uttering a single word.
The parish center of Our Lady of Peace resounded with that faith-filled “yes” during the seventh annual Catholic DeaFest, sponsored by the New Jersey Pastoral Workers with the Deaf. Attendees at the all-day event, held on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, enjoyed Scripture study, worship, food, a town-hall style meeting and a Mass celebrated by the keynote speaker, Father Raymond Fleming, who is also deaf.
In a letter to the deaf community dated Feb. 3, and reprinted in the event’s program booklet, Bishop James F. Checchio extended his welcome and special blessing to the attendees.
“Your challenges are many as you live your lives, so often in a silent world. Your contributions are even greater, however, and that is what we celebrate daily,” Bishop Checchio wrote. “Participation in the life of the Church is a privilege for all of us, but a right as well for those who are baptized. Members of the Catholic Deaf community must take their rightful place in the various ministries of the Body of Christ.”
The inclusive nature of the DeaFest programming assured all attendees at the event, whether they were deaf, hearing impaired or fully functional listeners, were able to follow the proceedings. Presenters shared their insights by using a combination of speech, American Sign Language and the Communications Access Real-Time Translation (CART), system, which broadcast the words upon a screen as an operator transcribed simultaneously. Interpreters skilled in ASL were available to facilitate conversations between people of varying hearing and communications proficiency.
Father Fleming, who serves as pastor of St. Monica Parish and the Emmanuel Church of the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y., analyzed the day’s Gospel from Luke (1:26-38). He described the meeting between the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel in which she learned God was seeking her assent to bear his Son.
“Did you ever notice that interpreters tend to wear black in order not to distract from the message,” queried Father Fleming, dressed in a priest’s usual clerics. “I am wearing black because today I am a priest and also serve as an interpreter.”
Father Fleming encouraged the group to examine a number of paintings, including Fra Angelico’s fresco “Annunciation” and “Mary Signs Yes!” by Catholic deaf artist Louise “Lulu” Lee, from the perspective of the young woman who gave a prayerful assent to become the mother of Christ.
“Mary modeled for us how to say ‘yes’ to God every day,” Father Fleming said. “What does God want from us deaf Catholics here today? To be unified in love for each other, to cherish each other and become a follower of Jesus.”
When he asked, “What would you respond?” the attendees forcefully raised their clenched fists and nodded them up and down in an enthusiastic “Yes!”
Displays on products and services tailored to the deaf community lined the walls of the parish center, offering attendees information on family counseling, ASL interpretation, housing, employment and sobriety.
Kathy Kady-Hopkins, a member of St. Peter the Apostle University and Community Parish, New Brunswick, operates an ASL interpreter referral service and serves as a project coordinator in the diocese. Kady-Hopkins, who is hearing impaired, said she counts several deaf members in her extended family. She added ASL-proficient, then-pastor Msgr. Joseph M. Curry who officiated at her wedding to her deaf husband, Paul, nearly 30 years ago. Kady-Hopkins now assists the deaf and hearing impaired to participate in their parish communities.
The National Catholic Office for the Deaf estimates there are 5.7 million deaf Catholics in the United States. Kady-Hopkins declared, “There is a huge market we are not addressing.”
Noting the DeaFest was an opportunity to gather and share information, Msgr. Curry, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Spotswood, said, “If you have someone in need of an interpreter for confession or communion, Kathy will go or I will go to accommodate them. We don’t want a church to say, ‘we can’t help you.’”
Through an interpreter, deaf Catholic and Perth Amboy resident, Peter Heinz, explained how the outreach strengthened his faith. “I love the Catholic stories in the Bible. When I was a boy, I was angry with God because I couldn’t hear and speak. I thought I was stupid,” he said. Noting that he had enjoyed Father Fleming’s presentation that day, he continued, “I can accept Jesus Christ now and no longer have pity on myself.”
Churches in the diocese that offer sign language interpreted Masses on select Sundays include: Immaculate Conception, Spotswood; St. Anthony of Padua, Port Reading; St. Ambrose, Old Bridge; St. Matthias, Somerset, and St. Peter the Apostle, New Brunswick.
For information, including resources for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, contact Father John G. Hillier, Assistant Chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (732) 765-6432.
By Christina Leslie, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit