Boston deaf Catholic community hosts national conference
WALTHAM -- The local chapter of the International Catholic Deaf Association hosted the U.S. section's biennial conference in Boston July 2-7, drawing 160 deaf or hard of hearing Catholics from across the country together for a week of fellowship and spiritual formation.
The International Catholic Deaf Association, United States Section (ICDA-U.S.) promotes cultural, spiritual, and social unity among deaf and hard of hearing Catholics in the U.S. The Boston chapter was originally supposed to host the conference in 2021, but was postponed due to the pandemic, making this year's gathering the first in-person conference in four years.
Both laypeople and clergy came to participate in the conference, which took place at the Westin Boston Seaport District Hotel. The schedule included meetings of ICDA leaders, workshops on faith topics, daily Mass, field trips, and theology on tap. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Voyage hosted Masses for several days, and there were also Cursillo and Ultreya sessions.
On July 5, the conference attendees traveled by bus to Holy Cross College in Worcester, where the Deaf Catholic Archives are located. They also attended Mass at North American Martyrs Church, where there is a stained-glass window of Jesus meeting a deaf man.
On July 6, Bishop Robert Reed joined them at St. Jude Church in Waltham for the celebration of Mass, followed by a barbecue lunch sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. St. Jude Parish is considered the center of Boston's deaf Catholic community and holds multiple Masses in American Sign Language (ASL) each week.
In his homily, Bishop Reed talked about the faith of Abraham in that day's Gospel reading, as well as the faith of the paralytic's friends as they brought him to be healed by Jesus.
"Today we witness here in this gathering the boundless potential for transformation that exists through the power of the Lord Jesus in our lives. I would say that God can really multiply your efforts, calling attention to the deeds of deaf Catholics and the deaf Catholic community, providing for evangelization, leadership training, and ongoing formation within our local communities. In our diversity of gifts and needs, we are truly brothers and sisters in Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve," Bishop Reed said in his homily.
This Mass was an important occasion for Father Shawn Carey, the director of the Boston Deaf Apostolate, who has served as administrator of St. Jude Parish for the last two years and was recently assigned as its pastor. After the Liturgy of the Word, Bishop Reed invited Father Carey to renew his ordination promises and make his profession of faith. Father Carey did so in Sign Language, with the apostolate's staff interpreter Jenny Corbin translating.
That evening, conference attendees had the opportunity to go on a VIP tour of Fenway Park and watch the Red Sox play against the Texas Rangers.
Laura White, a deaf woman from St. Augustine, Florida, spoke with The Pilot through an interpreter on July 6. She has attended the ICDA conference three times since 2015. She said she was most focused on the social aspect of the conference, interacting with deaf people from across the country.
"I'm really loving this week. I feel like every day you see Jesus in Mass, and you get to see other deaf people. Often, when you go home, it's hard to find that, and I'm busy, so I don't always have time. So, it's good to have the opportunity to come here," White said.
Corbin was one of several interpreters working throughout the conference. She said that during the week, she was struck by "how blessed we are" to have such strong support for deaf ministry in the Archdiocese of Boston. A large part of this is the presence of Father Carey, a deaf priest who can celebrate the sacraments in Sign Language and communicate directly with the deaf faithful.
For the deaf, Corbin said, "In so many other places, and in so many other dioceses, that access to the sacraments is indirect, through an interpreter signing the Mass. To have a priest who's deaf, who can speak Sign Language, who can administer sacraments one-on-one, like the sacrament of confession, is such a blessing and an asset."
The Boston Deaf Apostolate supports deaf and hard of hearing Catholics in the archdiocese by equipping them for ministry and ensuring they have access to the sacraments and faith formation. They meet regularly for social activities and Mass in ASL.
"I feel like we're really blessed in Boston to have the resources that we have and the support that we have from the archdiocese," Corbin said.
She expressed hope that they will continue to work more closely with the ICDA board after the conference.
More information about the Boston Deaf Apostolate is available on their website, bostondeafcatholic.org.