The Deaf and Church Teaching
But I am like the Deaf, hearing nothing,
Like the Mute, I do not open my mouth.
I am even like someone who does not hear,
From whose mouth comes no defense.
In a recent exceptional book, Be Opened, The Catholic Church and Deaf Culture, the author, Lana Portolano achieves a brilliantly inclusive survey of Deaf persons’ faith challenges, struggles and successes. Fr. Matt Malone,SJ Editor in Chief, America magazine says, “As a hearing-impaired person it was a consolation to read a powerful sign of faith and hope.”
Recent popes have given strong support and emphasis to the world of the deaf and it’s sign languages and culture binding together the over 70 million deaf persons in fraternal unity. I will take a couple of quotes from pp 269 & 270 in Lana’s book to indicate the papal connection.
In 1955 Pope Pius XII sent a congratulatory message to the Third World Federation of the Deaf “expressing his devotion to deaf persons of the whole world and sending best wishes. In 1966 Pope Paul VI gave an address to participants of the World Federation of the Deaf in Rome. He extended his prayerful greeting, saying, “We are happy to welcome you who have come from almost all the countries of the world….We can only applaud your beautiful initiative, whose ultimate goal is the individual and collective promotion of a class of men and women who were often doomed to an existence that was marginal to the bosom of the great human family.”
A third and especially vehement papal address took place during a papal audience at the 1987 World Federation of the Deaf conference entitled “One World-One Responsibility.” Pope John Paul II said of deaf ministry. “In this field it can certainly never be claimed that enough has been done…it must in fact be considered one of the important aspects of that ‘preferential option for the poor’ which is so characteristic of the gospel mission.” “Society, then, which has so often been indifferent and alienating, could instead, in its structures and its laws, open itself to and welcome the presence and contribution of these persons to realize fully their specific human,, social, cultural, and spiritual qualities.”