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Deaf Catholics move into new ministries

NCR Staff

Catholics who minister at the parish, diocesan and national levels are asking something of their church: Listen to us. They want their views on ministry and methods -- their message -- heard and responded to.

Keep that theme in mind in what follows: articles that focus on some unusual ministries in Miami, Los Angeles and Mississippi.

For the first stories, about deaf ministry, think poetry. The poetry of the deaf culture. Deaf poetry is not spoken. It is performed. It is closer to dance than to the printed page. It is recorded on video, not written down.

Once hearing people accept such crucial distinctions between the hearing and the deaf/hearing-impaired worlds, then the account of the new master of arts program at Miami’s St. Thomas University in Pastoral Ministries with the Deaf takes on interesting dimensions.

Next, stop in, so to speak, at Holy Angels Church of the Deaf in Vernon, Calif., on a Sunday and witness worship burst vigorously into life. But quietly. Sometimes silently.

Read between the lines in the deaf stories and see the connection also to black Catholics ministering to one another in the Jackson, Miss., diocese. It is a story that touches on the distinction between “speaking and being heard. You can speak, and no one listens,” explains Josephine Calloway of Vicksburg. Calloway is one of those dedicated to keeping alive the spirit of the region’s best-loved daughter, the late Franciscan Sr. Thea Bowman.

Then, back in Miami, note how Mercedes Iannone became involved with the deaf. She gave a talk to deaf people on how Catholic women feel locked out of important opportunities to dialogue and take on leadership roles in the church. After her talk, the deaf people told her: “That’s exactly the way we feel.” To that comment many Mississippi black lay Catholics would add: “It’s the same for us.”

None of these Catholics -- women, deaf people or African-Americans -- allows a lack of involvement in leadership to keep them from ministry. But all of them realize how much wider and deeper their ministries would be if the church leadership truly responded to the various cries of its ministering people, realizing that they, too, are leaders and, in their own fields, they, too, are equals.

National Catholic Reporter, January 19, 2001