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Christmas: A Reminder to Include and be in Communion with the Other and Another-Other

“Inclusion and Communion” was the theme of the 2nd Asia Deaf Catholic Conference (ADCC) attended by nearly 150 Deaf last November, held in Tagaytay, Philippines. True to their theme, the Deaf welcomes even the non-Deaf to the gathering, where yours truly was one of them. The person who propelled this gathering was Frs. Cyril Axelrod, CSsR and Park Min-Seo, a Korean Deaf diocesan priest. Their 1st conference was in Thailand held in November 2015. The main thrust of this gathering of Asian Deaf Catholics is to build a strong camaraderie and to express Deaf spirituality in a very diverse region. Many Deaf now gradually advocate and acknowledge deafness as gain and human diversity. Some of the topics seem to gear to this new consciousness, such as, “Is Jesus Deaf?”, Inclusive Liturgy for the Deaf, and Deaf Hermeneutics.[1] Deaf hermeneutics presents their culture in a manner that respects their way of expression, thoughts and feelings. Their hermeneutics are kinetic, visual and way of seeing the scripture stories is surprisingly simple, concrete, and diverse. Interestingly, Deaf hermeneutics are reflexive and grounded in everyday concrete reality.

In our world where we are caught up with different and at times superficial concerns, we tend to overlook the essentials – relationships and people. In the process, we hardly recognize the face of authenticity, inside and outside. Thereby, many are excluded and are “ex-communicated” because they are different or quite odd as per society’s standards. Our Catholic Social Tradition is explicit to the call for participation, which sort of implying the attitude of inclusivity. Though the language barrier (Deaf or hearing) may be seen as a challenge, yet this is not an excuse to exclude others in our conversations. The Deaf, though a minority is rich in experience, especially a life of in-betweenity,[2] where they live in a world of the mainstream non-Deaf, and yet can be a trans-traveler who communicates with people whose culture is a different from theirs. Their gestural and pictorial language is a universal expression that the non-Deaf can comprehend; such in-betweenity makes them “citizens of the world”[3]– cosmopolitan. Hence, it matters that we provide space for them to be actively involved in our community, in Church life.

We surely agree that catholicity is marked by universality, tasked to be all-embracing and see the divine in each one. However, many of us seem to miss-out some people due to our thinking that they are insignificant. Perhaps, being absorbed with our agenda, with our own “tasks” makes it inconvenient for us to stop and adjust for those we consider different, such as the Deaf or persons with disabilities (disabilities be it seen and unseen). This consequently excludes them in the life of the Church. The community is a commonplace and space where we explore and experience our shared humanity.

In this season of advent, the Lord showed us around the manger the meaning of inclusion, of welcoming all in his humble family. In that one simple and silent night, they were in communion with Others and those another-other. Through our Lord’s example, there is no reason for us to limit our circle of community; it. Our task as a Church is to share the space with the people who seem different, such as the Deaf and with disabilities. Their life experiences, their stories, their presence is grace enough for us to realize and be more mindful of human diversity. Let us remember that their present reality is our future possibility.

Through those who experienced exclusion and alienation, may we learn the authentic inclusion and communion, exemplified during that silent night around the manger.

A blissful and blessed Christmas to everyone!

[1] Those people who discussed these were Fr. Park Min-Seo, Michael “Auch” Autencio and yours truly, respectively.

[2] Brenda Jo Brueggemann, Lend Me Your Ears: Rhetorical Constructions of Deafness (Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1999).

[3] H-Dirksen Bauman and Joseph Murray, Deaf Gain: Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).