Seeing God’s Voice

By Jordan Grantham, 16 May 2017
Ephpheta Catholic Centre website.

Finding silence to hear God’s voice can be difficult in these busy, connected times but the deaf Catholic community in Seven Hills regularly ‘sees’ God’s voice in a quiet signed Mass, each third Sunday of the month at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.

The Ephpheta Catholic Centre for Deaf & Hard of Hearing People – based in Punchbowl –provides the Sunday Mass at rotating locations across Sydney and the Central Coast. It also offers pastoral care and support for deaf people throughout the greater Sydney area.

‘Ephpheta’, “be opened”, is from the sacred Aramaic language, spoken by Christ when he cured a deaf man in St Mark’s Gospel.

Fr Michael Lanzon is Chaplain to the deaf community at the Ephpheta Centre and regularly says Mass for the deaf, together with providing spiritual and pastoral support. Once a month Fr John Paul Escarlan says Mass for the deaf at Our Lady of Lourdes, Seven Hills.

The Mass is provided in Auslan, Australian sign language, and English. “I’m still working on improving my Auslan,” Fr Lanzon admits.

The Masses also use professional Auslan interpreters, meaning the Mass is quite elaborate, being said in 2 languages at the same time. At Mass the readings are led by deaf people in Auslan.

“It is quite different to the experience of a hearing mass. When deaf people attend this Mass, they remain seated the whole time to maintain a line of sight. We also normally have a PowerPoint so that the Mass is accessible to everyone”

The Vatican released guidelines for the pastoral care of deaf people in 2009. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference implemented recommendations from the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Workers, providing liturgical, catechetical, social and employment support, dedicated to the deaf.

Fr John Paul Escarlan started his involvement with the deaf chaplaincy in 2009, at the Diocese of Parramatta’s Seminary of Holy Spirit.

“One of the readers at my ordination to the priesthood was from the deaf community and there was a voice over translation of the Auslan signing.”

This pastoral connection to the seminary continues today with Shinto, a current seminarian.

The Catholic Church has for many years had a long and proud tradition of support for the deaf community. The centre’s previous Director, Stephen Lawlor, was the first deaf leader of a Catholic deaf facility in the world.

Nicole Clark is the Interpreter and Consultant for the staff and community at the Ephpheta Centre. Stephen’s appointment “was a very overt way that Cardinal Pell recognised the importance of self-determination for the deaf community,” Nicole said.

“We have a rich Catholic heritage from Ireland, through the Dominican Sisters from Cabra. Many signs in our Masses come from the Irish sign language.”

Folklore holds that the Cabra deaf school started when a bishop’s sister had a deaf child. The mother was considering sending the child to the only available school for the deaf – a Protestant institution. “‘We won’t be having any of that!’ was the bishop’s hearty response,” Ms Clark said. The rest is history. You can learn more about the work of the Ephpheta Centre at www.ephpheta.org.au.

Your donations to the Diocesan Works Fund Appeal will help to support the work of the Ephpheta Centre. Appeal envelopes are available from your parish or you can make an online donation at: www.faithatwork.org.au.

Originally published in the November 2016 issue of Catholic Outlook

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