“Yes, the Gospel is transmitted through the mother tongue.” The words of Pope Francis recently when using the Our Lady of Guadalupe to emphasise the importance of transmitting the faith in one’s own language. Mary spoke to spoke to the people in their own language, in the same way Mary spoke to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes in her own patois.
For many people throughout the world, their mother “tongue” is sign language. Today, 23rd September, is the International Day of Sign Languages, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of sign languages and promoting the rights of Deaf people. Sign languages are an integral part of the linguistic and cultural diversity of Deaf Communities around the world.
The Gospel needs to be communicated to the Deaf Community in Sign Language so the current generation of Deaf people are able to receive the message of the Gospel in their own language and become the catechists for future generations.
Throughout the world there are more than 300 different sign languages actively used by more than 72 million Deaf or hard of hearing people worldwide.* Sadly sign languages do not always have the recognition that other languages do. It was only last year in April 2022 that British Sign Language (BSL) was finally recognised in law in England.
Sign Language is not international, countries have their own sign languages with certain sign languages being similar. Just because two countries speak the same language, this doesn’t mean that their sign languages are the same. BSL and Auslan (Australian Sign Language) share many similarities and it is relatively straightforward to communicate effectively between the two sign languages. ASL (American Sign Language) and BSL are totally different languages with ASL having a one-handed alphabet and BSL has a two-handed alphabet. Today is a celebration of all those different sign languages throughout the world.
In our parishes we need to make sure we are not only including but valuing Deaf people and what they can bring to parish life. We, as hearing people, have a great deal to learn from the Deaf Community about our faith and about life. Deaf people have to problem solve on a daily basis as information in sign language is so often not available.
Progress is slow, but it is happening, and BSL is becoming more visible, but much more can be done. Whenever you see information being provided without any access in sign language, ask people why that is, remind them of the Deaf Community.