State Catholic DeaFest to be held March 29

The “Language of the People” referred to in the Vatican II document, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, permitted the priests to celebrate the Mass in the people’s native tongue. This declaration allows us to have American Sign Language (ASL) in our ‘Deaf Mass’ today.
Before Vatican II, priests would have their backs to the people and celebrate Mass in Latin. Today, priests can face the people and sign the prayers of the Mass in American Sign Language(ASL).
The Deaf Community has a rich culture and our language is deeply rooted in our life together. In the United States there are only 11 active Deaf priests ministering to Deaf Catholics. So each year, our Catholic DeaFest in New Jersey provides an opportunity for Deaf Catholics to meet a Deaf priest, share their faith and celebrate Eucharist in ASL.
This year’s Deafest will be held March 29 at the Archdiocesan Youth Retreat Center in Kearny.
We come together often to celebrate faith and life in the Catholic Deaf Community. The Catholic DeaFest provides a safe haven, a space where Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons can feel free “to chat” in ASL and feel God’s presence. We do not feel left out of any conversations.
Most of the Deaf participants belong to a hearing parish where their priests do not know sign language and an interpreted Mass is not offered. The Deaf cultural perspective is absent from the hearing parishes and it is a struggle for the Deaf to feel included. Although a Deaf person can follow the prayers of the Mass by using a Missal, understanding the homily is almost impossible.
The DeaFest provides access to presentations on the Catholic Faith in ASL, the sacrament of reconciliation in ASL and Mass in ASL. Deaf members of the church feel welcomed and included. We can worship, express thoughts and frustrations, pray together and ask questions all in our own language. When the day ends, although the Deaf are inspired, many often do not want to go home because they are faced with little or no access to ASL in their local parishes.
In the state of New Jersey, we are blessed to have five priests able to celebrate Mass in ASL. However, it is not enough to satisfy the needs of all of the Deaf Catholics in the state. Many Deaf Catholics do not attend Mass often because they need to drive a great distance to for Mass in their own language. The DeaFest is a wonderful time to evangelize and empower Deaf Catholics to better understand their baptismal rights and responsibilities.
This year the Deaf will meet Father Christopher Klusman, a Deaf priest, ordained in 2011 for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wis. His presentation will be entitled “Our Journey to the Great Banquet.”
We will also have P.J. Mattiacci, an active Deaf Catholic, from Swarthmore, Pa., who works as a Deaf Outreach Manager at the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre. His presentation is entitled “Catholic Social Justice.” We will close our day with Mass signed in ASL by Father Christopher Klusman at 3:45 p.m.
Please come and join us for this wonderful day of Catholic Deaf culture. Although all presentations will be in ASL we will make sure that hearing folks feel welcomed and included by providing voice interpreters and CART (Captioning At Real Time) services.

Kate Slosar is co-director, Ministry with the Deaf, Diocese of Camden.

If you go:
The fourth Annual Catholic DeaFest will be held Saturday, March 29, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at the Archdiocesan Youth Retreat Center, 499 Belgrove Drive, Kearny, N.J. Free admission, breakfast and lunch provided. To register please email: Catholicdeafestnj@gmail.com or VP Kate at 856-283-3962.

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