by ROWENA OREJANA
Australian Deaf Catholic leader David Parker has always had to struggle in a world full of people who are not deaf. The key, he said, is to educate parishes on the culture of deaf community.
“I think we are all one community. We are all people whether we are deaf or not. We are human and we have the same heart,” he told NZ Catholic at the New Zealand Catholic Deaf Ministries Conference held from May 30 to June 1 at the St Francis Retreat Centre in Auckland.
Mr Parker, who is from Sydney, spoke at the convention about deaf leadership and their experiences in Sydney. He became the director of Ephpheta, the Catholic Centre for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, on June 8. He said parishes need to understand deaf culture to make churches more welcoming to them.
“We have an extremely supportive archdiocese in Sydney. But in terms of parishes, there are some who are still not so aware of the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people. For example, they need to understand that an interpreter has to stand next to a priest.”
Mr Parker said Sydney-based Ephpheta is doing all it can to promote awareness of the needs of the deaf community in its archdiocese.
“Ephpheta Centre was set up in 1979. When it started, it was run by people who were not deaf. This changed towards the end of 2005. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney felt it was the right time for a deaf lay person to manage deaf staff and look after the deaf community,” he said.
Mr Parker said that in Australia they face a lot of challenges in attracting deaf people to the Church. For one, he said, the number of deaf people who can communicate through sign language is falling.
He said another challenge is how to encourage young people in general, and young deaf people in particular, to the Church. “I think the Church needs to embrace technology. I think we can attract the youth of today by using technology,” he said.
Another problem is geography. “Australia is geographically big. Deaf people are isolated in far-off areas. How can we connect to them and how can we give support, especially to the deaf aboriginals?” he asked.
He said leaders need commonality with the people they serve. “Our challenge is how to find and train people who are deaf aboriginals,” he added.
The three-day conference was organised by Judith Mason and Sr Sian Owen of the Religious Education team of Auckland diocese.
Br Joseph McDermott said he was impressed with the speakers from the two countries. “They had very good speakers. The Australian visitors were very impressive,” he said.
Br Joseph said he is struck by the courage shown by these people in living their faith despite the challenges.