Revitalizing the Church: Bringing the Gospel to the Deaf
By Erl Dylan J. Tabaco
The author is a Columban seminarian from Cagayan de Oro City.
I grew up in Holy Rosary Parish, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro City, where church organizations flourished at the time I got involved in parish activities. As early as high school, I was already working in the parish and I was really amazed by the parishioners’ dedication in serving the Church. Among the organizations, Ministry to the Deaf caught my attention and I was motivated to work with it. I remember one time at Mass there was a Sign Language interpreter. I told myself that someday I would be standing there in front ministering to the Deaf, bringing the Good News to them. With my desire to be part of the Ministry to the Deaf, I studied Sign Language for two months and worked with the Deaf community for a year.
Working with the Deaf entails challenges and sometimes frustration, especially when it is difficult to communicate with them. However, that year of experience made me feel more at home with the Deaf. Seeing them begin to express themselves to me more freely made me happy and at the same time sad, especially when they shared the problems and struggles they had been through. As they shared their life stories, I was moved to pity and it really broke my heart. Despite the adversities that they’ve been through, they still consider themselves blessed to have a community where they can relate to or build relationships with people who have dedicated their lives to service.
One experience I won’t forget was the sharing that we had about a particular Sunday gospel. As I interpreted the reading, I also encouraged the Deaf to share something about it and reflect on how the Word of God touched them by looking at it through their own personal experiences. They were so vibrant and attentive during the sharing. One of them, a single mother, shared that life for her was very difficult. She raised her only child by doing laundry because that was the only work that she could do, considering her situation. In spite of the challenges, she didn’t lose hope. That was what struck me most. She may not have been equipped with all the knowledge a theologian can have, but one thing was sure: she was a firm believer in God who continued to look after her, who continued to give her strength and courage to move on. Her daughter was an inspiration to her. She wanted to give her a good education.
Reflecting on this, I realized that despite their speaking and hearing disability, there are so many things that we can learn from the Deaf. I gained their trust and especially their passion to know many things about God. It was so inspiring to see their dedication in attending Sunday Mass and participating in parochial activities. Most of the Deaf I ministered to belonged to poor families and so many were deprived of social services such as education. Despite their situation, they continue to strive to live a normal life. They go to church, blend with the people outside but are often neglected or marginalized.
In the seven years since I first got involved with the Deaf, I’ve realized that speech impediments or physical disabilities hinder persons neither from expressing their faith or living in a community. It just takes one or two persons with dedication and love for the Deaf to enable them to build their confidence and self-worth. At first they may be aloof but once you show your compassion and sincerity to them, they will treasure you and make you their confidant. On the other hand, if you lose their trust, it is very difficult to rebuild it.
This inspired me to give more of myself as an individual called to serve those who need special treatment, such as the Deaf. When I entered the seminary, I thought it was the end of my connection with the Deaf. To my surprise, I was even more exposed to opportunities to serve them. I’ve been to different parishes in Manila where there is Deaf Ministry. I am very happy seeing them as they commit themselves in the ministry. I also had an opportunity to interpret the liturgy for them and it was a grace-filled moment for me in bringing the gospel message to them.
Recently I have been handling catechetical sessions every fourth Sunday of the month with the Deaf under the care of the Daughters of St Anne as part of my extended apostolate. I assist them in their journey towards knowing God. These are brothers and sisters prone to exploitation, deception and all sorts of injustice. I am happy to see them expressing themselves gradually, whether inside or outside the church. I find fulfillment as I work with them. I believe deep in my heart that this is one of my missions in life. This is where I find my happiness. In my own little way I want to make a difference to their lives. I hope that more churches or parishes will offer programs for the Deaf and that through these our brothers and sisters who have hearing and speaking disabilities may continue to feel God’s compassion for them.
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