Rolling With Deaf Catholics and Unpacking WYD Rio

Father Shawn Carey signing ‘I love you’ to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio.
Father Shawn Carey signing ‘I love you’ to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio. (photo: Justin Bell)

The deaf can converse through windows, across dining rooms and airplane aisles without speaking a word. Rather, those who know American Sign Language (ASL) or another signing language can do the same. A handy skill set to have in noisy places such as WYD Rio.

This World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro I have been rolling with the Deaf Apostolate, which is an outreach of the Archdiocese of Boston. Our group included deaf adults and youth, hearing interpreters and friends/family of the deaf. Most of us were from the Boston area, but we also had two Canadians, three Californians and a member each from Maryland and Michigan.

My role was to be the group’s documentarian through still images and HD video. I studied documentary production in graduate school at Emerson College, and this was certainly a unique and privileged experience as a storyteller and as a Catholic.

Here are just some of my observations from learning more about the deaf and their culture, newbie that I am:

—     When speaking to a deaf person through an interpreter, look at the person and not the interpreter.

—     If you have the chance, attend a Mass for the deaf and, ideally, with a priest who is deaf. It will be a new way to experience the beauty of the Mass.

I enjoyed our “processing” meetings, where we related our thoughts and feelings of the week. A lot of us agreed that we learned patience in our time in Rio — a land of many lines, organized lines if we were lucky. For me, this has made me less stressed about time. It was very cool to hear about my fellow pilgrims’ experiences expressed in a new language — made accessible to me through interpreters, but enhanced by their facial expressions, which is a key part of their message in ASL.

As a person who enjoys talking a lot, I have learned more about the value of listening and choosing my words more carefully. When there is an interpreter signing away your bountiful oratory, one can appreciate the verbal economy of straight-talk.

I have grown in my appreciation of hearing. On Friday evening, after a beautiful Taize service, I listened to an impromptu music session with Danielle Rose and Sarah Kroger. Because of my new experience of being among deaf people, I could not help but be grateful for my ability to hear. This is not to say that the deaf do not attend or enjoy concerts, as they do — and there is a spectrum of hearing ability that I have learned about. Nonetheless, this caught my attention.

Access to the message is charity: It's a small example, but on our flights, we could watch a movie shown on the screens throughout the cabin of the aircraft. But only the hearing could get the message fully, as there was no closed-captioning option.

Learning ASL or another second language is a worthy consideration for the hearing. I probably should have studied my ASL ABCs before the trip. It sounds funny, but witnessing the engaging skills of our interpreters who signed the Mass, and a myriad of other communicative duties, has made me want to build on my second language of Spanish. Fluency in a second language will prove clutch at times.


Some Homecoming Advice

Switching gears, as a veteran WYD pilgrim (Toronto 2002), I feel a duty of sorts to pass on some free advice for those returning from Rio. This advice, by my writing here, serves as a reminder for me, as well. Here we go:

Earlier, I mentioned the need to let experiences soak in, and now pilgrims need to preserve this by allowing time for reflection, study, rendering their experiences and reunions. We also have a call to share our experiences and, more importantly, share Christ and his family, the Church, with our neighbors.

I relate the WYD Rio experience to an accordion, with a lot of new experiences packed into a short amount of time, especially for those who just made the one-week trip. We can expand the accordion by building in transition time upon our return to the U.S. Centuries ago, pilgrims returning from pilgrimage had the journey back to ruminate about their voyage. In 2013, we can be back to our regular routine in 24 hours.

So, for me — now writing from a Boston suburb — I am going to try and adopt a Brazilian approach to time for a while, meaning I will try not to be stressed out about time. If we have too many things to worry about in the day, then it probably means we need to remove some of those things. I heard this acronym in a homily before. BUSY means: Being Under Satan’s Yolk. Strong words, but it caught my attention regarding being busy.

Study the words of Pope Francis: I know a challenge for me was working during WYD week and also trying to experience it. So I am planning to read Pope Francis’ words at the vigil and his homily during Sunday’s Mass, and I would do well to study his other addresses, too.

Rendering means putting our thoughts about the week in a journal or other means while they are fresh. Groups will reap the rewards of making a reunion in about a month’s time to share how the week has changed them. Collective memory-sharing enhances everyone’s experience.

Finally, I believe that we, the privileged who made it to Rio, have an obligation to share our time with those who could not go, and certainly those who supported our trip both financially and spiritually. Why not plan a “lantern evening,” where you can share your pictures, stories and insights with members of your parish community?

If you didn’t go to Rio, encourage someone who did to share his or her journey. Hearing a story in person with visual evidence goes way beyond a candy-sized Facebook posting.

I look forward to an evening like this with the Boston deaf Catholic community, complete with pictures, speakers and interpreters — multiplying our time together and recalling our privileged trip.

And for all of us Catholics, we need to reflect on the Gospel and Pope Francis’ call to make disciples of all nations.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to connect with you in Krakow for WYD 2016!

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