DEAF PEOPLE: RECIPIENTS AND ANNOUNCERS OF THE GOSPEL
I've highlighted some parts and added some [comments].
VATICAN CITY, 20 NOV 2009 ( VIS ) - This morning the Holy Father received 400 participants in the international conference "Effata! Deaf people in the life of the Church". The event is being promoted by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, the president of which is Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski.
In his address to them the Pope explained the reason the theme of "effata" was chosen for the meeting. "It is", he said, "a paradigm of how the Lord works for people with hearing impairment", and he went on to refer to the passage from the Gospel of Mark in which "Jesus takes a deaf man aside and, having performed certain symbolic gestures, raises His eyes to heaven and says: 'effata', that is, 'be opened'. In that moment ... the man recovered his hearing, his tongue was loosened and he spoke plainly.
"Jesus' actions are full of loving attention and express profound compassion for the man before Him", Benedict XVI added. "He expressed real concern, took him aside from the confusion of the crowds, and made him feel His closeness and understanding through certain highly significant gestures".
But Jesus does not only cure physical deafness, "He also indicates the existence of another form of deafness from which humanity must be healed, or rather from which it must be saved. This is the deafness of the spirit which raises ever-higher barriers to the voice of God and of our fellow man, especially the cry for help of the poor and the suffering, and which encloses man in a profound and destructive selfishness". [Part of this deafness that Pope Benedict refers to is, I believe, the general lack of awareness - not something deliberate in most cases - of the needs of those who are deaf.]
"Unfortunately experience has shown that hearing-impaired people do not always meet with ready acceptance, committed solidarity and affectionate communion. [I have encountered this in the Church with priests, for example, and some of those who attend Mass, seeing the use of Sign Language as a 'distraction'. On the other hand, I once asked a fellow Columban who had celebrated Sunday Mass in Malate Chruch, Manila, if he had met the interpreter who had singed for the Deaf presnt. 'What interpreter?' was his reply. He hadn't even noticed her. so much for 'distractions'. and I have also had the expreince a number of times of hearing people come to me after a Mass which I celebrated in Sign Langue telling me how moved they were]. The many associations which have come into being to defend and promote their rights are evidence of the existence of an underlying culture marked by prejudice and discrimination", said the Pope.
"Much more numerous, however, are the initiatives prompted by institutions and associations, both ecclesial and civil, which are inspired by authentic and generous solidarity and have improved the living conditions of many deaf people", the Holy Father went on. He also recalled how "the first schools for the education and religious formation of these our brothers and sisters came into being in Europe in the 1700s. Since then charitable initiatives have been multiplying within the Church, ... with the aim of offering the deaf, not only formation, but integral assistance for their complete self-realisation.
"Yet we must not forget the serious situation in which deaf people still live in developing countries, both because of a lack of appropriate policies and legislation, and because of difficulty of access to basic healthcare. Deafness, indeed, is often the consequence of easily-curable diseases". [So many deaf children never go to school. So many children become deaf or blind, or even die, from such illnesses as measles. there is no excuse for this].
In this context, the Pope launched an appeal "to the political and civil authorities, as well as to international organisations, to offer the support necessary to promote, also in those countries, due respect for the dignity and rights of deaf people, favouring ... their full social integration".
"Dear hearing-impaired brothers and sisters", he concluded, "you are not only recipients of the announcement of the Gospel but, by virtue of your Baptism, also its announcers. Live every day, then, as witnesses of the Lord in the environments in which you live, making Christ and His Gospel known". [So often we hearing people see the Deaf as persons to be 'helped'. Yes, there are situations in which we all need to be helped. But Pope Benedict is challenging the Deaf here to bring the Gospel to others, including hearing people. Here in Bacolod we have some deaf catechists, for example. The Pope is not only challenging those who are deaf but reminding them of their obligation to let others know about our Lord Jesus Christ].