" The Infant Jesus, far from being sorrowful at this proposal, is pleased at it, accepts it with love, and exults in it! "
St. Alphonsus Liguori
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A New Way to Communicate...

 

A chance encounter at a conference has led the Redemptorist Youth Ministry down an unexpected path – one which has led to discovery and friendship.

embrace2017

 

Last November, Anita and I decided to book a stall at Embrace, the Catholic conference for 14-25 year olds. We were hoping to meet lots of people aged 18 and over to get them involved in our young adult group. It was a great day – but most of the people we talked to were in the 14-16 age group, so not really appropriate for our group. Towards the end of the day a young man approached and began looking through the materials at our stall. We began to engage him in conversation, but it soon became clear that he could not hear us. Cal was deaf. We got by, him lipreading, us trying our best with our very very limited knowledge of sign language – and he agreed to come along to one of our young adult group evenings.

Cal came along without an interpreter to the first session, and we quickly adapted a few of our resources, as that particular session was for the most part, a guided reflection in a candlelit church. To our shame, neither of us had interacted with deaf people before, and we had to think on our feet to find new ways to run the group to ensure everyone present was catered for. Caleb began coming to every group and is now one of the core members. He's brought along friends to our homeless missions and is taking part in our fundraiser.

More important than his participation in our group, is that Cal has become a real friend to us. With very little ability to speak to each other, we found new ways of communicating, and a friendship has been born. I realised how little I knew about deaf issues. I began reading about the history of deaf communities, and realised just how isolating it can be to be deaf. Now that we'd learned more, we wanted to make our parishes a little more aware too.

We began by attending a deaf Mass with Cal. It was one of the most moving Masses we have ever been to. The most profound part for me was the creed – everybody signed “I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in the Holy Spirit”, and that was it. So simple, but what more do we need to say? Before the gospel, instead of crossing their head, mouth, and heart, the congregation crossed both hands – their instruments of word and deed - as if to say, “Lord, be in everything I say and do!”

British sign language alphabetAfter this, we wanted to bring the deaf Mass to the hearing world. We asked a BSL teacher, Denise, and later Cal himself, to teach sessions in the parish. We started by asking the children of the Justice and Peace youth group to come along, but later opened it up to the whole parish. At each session we would spend an hour and a half learning a hymn, or part of the Mass, then during the Mass which was celebrated immediately afterwards, we would stand at the front as a group and sign whatever part of the Mass we'd learnt. So far, we've learned “Christ be our Light” and “Here I am Lord”, and the Lord's Prayer and the Lamb of God. After Mass, countless parishioners come up to those who've signed saying how moved they were by their participation. From our position, we see the joy on the faces of those attending Mass.

Sign language is something we're all getting really excited about. Last week, when Cal arrived at the young adult group I went over to him excitedly, like a child bringing home a drawing to show her parents, and signed “my cat's name is Jimmy, he is orange”, something I'd learned on my own using a BSL app. He laughed and told me that I'd signed “orange” with a brummie “accent” - apparently the man I'd watched sign was from Birmingham, and even sign language has noticeable differences in dialect across the country.

When we began in the role six months ago we had no idea the direction it would take us in – but our God is a God of surprises, and he's led us down this unexpected route which has led to friendship, understanding and knowledge – long may it continue!

Natasha Pritchard – Redemptorist Youth Ministry