THE DEAF MINISTRY DURING PANDEMIC
by Lanieta Tamatawale
Lani is a Columban lay missionary from Fiji currently assigned in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines.
During this pandemic, the deaf people are more isolated from the rest of the world. They only become aware with what is happening locally and globally through visual media, from the TV or the internet. Even then, the information interpreted for them has its limits.
In our ministry with the deaf, we maintain contact with them through video calls on Messenger, communicating through sign language to inform them on what is going on. However, that still depends on whether they have internet connection. Some of the Catholic deaf attend Mass, but they cannot fully participate, without anyone interpreting. As per government protocols, only a certain number of people are allowed to attend an enclosed gathering, thus it is difficult to have an interpreted Mass.
It has been challenging to attend to our Deaf Ministry because we need to secure a permit every time we gather a limited number of people. We conduct home visitations with precautions and donate food for their families. But we could not always plan ahead for our ministries because of how uncertain the circumstances are. Our only choice is to simply take one day at a time.
In these tyring times and amidst all these limitations, I make sure to keep the deaf in my daily prayers. I am reminded of the mystery of faith: “We remember how you loved us, through your death, and still we celebrate for you are with us here, and we believe that we will see you when you come, in your glory Lord, we remember, we celebrate, we believe.” The pandemic has deepened my faith, reflecting on what God is telling us. What can I do for the deaf people? How can we help deepen their faith in God in this difficult time?
God is so good. In February 2021, Fr. Erl Dylan Tabaco, a Columban Priest working in Peru came home for vacation. I first met him in 2003 when I was assigned to his parish, Holy Rosary, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro. We worked together with the Youth and the Deaf Ministry in the parish. Father Erl shared that it was through his work with the Deaf ministry that inspired him to become a priest. Not many priests are interested in learning sign language to communicate and serve in the Deaf ministry. This experience made Father Erl wonder, “Who will hear the confession for the deaf? Who will preside for their wedding ceremonies? Who will help them in receiving the sacraments and educating them in the Catechism of the Catholic Church?” These questions motivated him, ultimately leading to his decision of becoming a priest and serving the deaf.
When Father Erl arrived, I was very happy. His heart has always been for the deaf, and he made himself available to facilitate the Lent and Advent recollections for them. He heard confessions and celebrated the Eucharist. He was very helpful in deepening the faith of the deaf people, giving them hope to always have Jesus in their hearts. It reminds me that the Holy Spirit inspires us to serve no matter the cost. We are never alone! The TRINITY is always with us.