National Catholic Office for the Deaf convenes in Fort Worth
For most, it was their first rodeo. And they loved it.
About 130 members of the National Catholic Office for the Deaf (NCOD) gathered in Fort Worth for their annual Pastoral Week from Jan. 10 – 14. Workshops, training, and presentations filled most of their days, but they took the opportunity to explore Cowtown a bit, including the Stockyards and rodeo.
St. John the Apostle parishioner Garth Clayton serves as president of the Fort Worth Catholic Community for the Deaf and helped coordinate the conference. He was pleased at the turnout of priests, religious, and lay ministers of deaf ministry.
“The conference was a great experience and showed great teamwork,” he signed. “We had representatives from all across the country.”
The pastoral week included daily Mass with the priests in attendance, but joining St. Patrick parishioners at Sunday Mass at the downtown cathedral was another highlight.
Marie Lelek of the Diocese of Buffalo, NY, explained that celebrating Mass in a mixed community of deaf and hearing Catholics demonstrated “we are all one Church, one body in Christ.”
About 45 members of the local deaf community attended the Mass along with the 130 NCOD representatives. With the deaf and hearing communities intermingled in the pews, God was worshipped voice and sign.
Lelek became involved in deaf ministry after taking American Sign Language classes, and now she interprets at Mass and participates in a sign choir. She said, “Being totally immersed in the deaf world for these six days makes me appreciate more the things they need and the things they have to deal with.”
Attending NCOD Pastoral Week for the first time, she hopes to take lessons learned on patience, understanding, and communication back to Buffalo.
Bishop Michael Olson celebrated the 11:00 a.m. Mass, and he was joined at the altar by six priests fluent in American Sign Language and the Most Rev. Steven Raica, bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan and episcopal representative of the NCOD.
Sister Conchetta Lopresti, OSF, has attended NCOD Pastoral Week since 1980 as her schedule and finances allow.
This year, Sr. Conchetta especially appreciated a workshop on welcoming deaf immigrants, because her responsibilities include assisting deaf refugees as well as serving in deaf ministry at her home parish in Cheektowaga, NY.
Ministering to deaf refugees and immigrants shares similar difficulties and frustrations, she said.
“In Buffalo, we have refugees from 11 different countries with different sign languages, and some have never had any sign language or any language, so trying to communicate with them is really a challenge. You should see me in the office, teaching the manual for the driver’s permit with gestures and driving around paperclips.”
Looking back on her 38 years at NCOD Pastoral Week, the Franciscan sister reflected, “It’s wonderful to be with professional deaf pastoral workers that are more and more deaf. When I began, there were a few deafs — mostly priests, nuns, and a few laypeople. Now, it’s almost all deaf. The deaf themselves are sharing their gifts.”
David Cassanova, a Keller resident who represents the South region on the NCOD Board of Directors, signed “It’s great to see deaf people motivated, empowered, and energized to become leaders within their community. We need more of that. We need to pray about it. Prayer develops leadership.”
In the Diocese of Fort Worth, the deaf community celebrates a monthly Mass and social at St. Rita Parish. Deaf ministry provides interpreters to make religious education, church services, and other parish activities available to all throughout the diocese.