Deaf Awareness Week 2024


Refreshments after Mass in the seminary dining room. Seminarians chatting to members of the Deaf Community.

It’s Deaf Awareness Week; a time to focus on the Deaf Community and their presence in our parishes. The Deaf Community have a lot to offer the wider Catholic family. You may well have already seen on TV from Strictly Come Dancing and the Great British Bake Off, that Deaf people can dance and cook; in both cases brilliantly. Deaf people can be Eucharistic ministers, they can be readers at Mass, part of the team who do the flowers, or prepare the tea and coffee after Mass. Deaf men can be priests and deacons; the community has a great deal to offer our parishes. Our parishes need to be accessible and welcoming to the Deaf Community.

One group of people who have started on that journey by learning to sign in church are some of the seminarians currently studying at Allen Hall. Representing Hexham and Newcastle, Liverpool, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southwark and Westminster Dioceses, these are our future “signing priests”.

On the 14th April for the first time that any of us are aware of, a Mass in Word and Sign was celebrated at Allen Hall by Fr Keith Stoakes. The seminarians who have been learning to sign took part, signing a reading, the bidding prayers and signing two hymns.

Deaf people were invited to the Mass and greatly enjoyed the experience. “Mass at Allen Hall, wow, that was special. The seminarians were so good. I was impressed.”

With refreshments afterwards and an opportunity to chat, the Deaf Community were able to share with the seminarians their experiences of being Deaf Catholics, an example of which being the distance some of the group have to travel to access a Mass that is signed, with one attendee coming all the way from Dorset. There are so few opportunities for Deaf people to attend a signed Mass and practice their Catholic faith.

Two of the seminarians reflected on their start of this journey of learning to sign Mass and work with the Deaf Community: “Learning BSL has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Being able to have conversations and engage the Deaf Community in the Mass and liturgy has been incredibly useful during parish placements and will be of great use in my future ministry. BSL has been beneficial in helping me to hold basic conversations from fingerspelling, expressing feelings and being able to lead prayers.”

Paul, Hugo, Stephen, Mak, Emmet and Farvin with their certificates.  Shell is in the centre.
Brenden with his certificate

“Learning BSL has helped me to appreciate the beauty of communication. As a man training for the Priesthood being able to communicate the Gospel with a variety of people is vital. Learning to communicate with those in the Deaf Community in their own language has helped me broaden my theological and philosophical understanding of my faith.”

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