Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A First For the Catholic Church of Korea

The Diocese of Incheon will commemorate its 50th anniversary this year by announcing that a church is being constructed specifically for the hearing impaired: the first Catholic church of its kind in Korea. It will not have parish boundaries but include the whole of Incheon for its pastoral work.

The church will seat 100 hundred and the priest now responsible for working with the deaf in the diocese will be the first pastor. The ground breaking ceremony was held recently, and construction is scheduled for completion in April of this year.

The parish will use not only sign language for the Mass but all that contributes to a vibrant parish life: teaching catechism, studying scripture, providing retreats and  a meeting place for the hearing impaired to socialize.  The Catholic Times' editorial chose to  recognize  this work for the alienated as a very important step in the growth of the Church. We now have a sensitivity to the handicapped in our midst by having toilets readily accessed by wheelchairs and by having signs with braille.  We have still a long way to go but there is increased interest to include the handicapped as valued members of our society.

Up until now the hearing impaired had to read the lips of the priest. It had  been difficult for parishes to provide the necessary aids to deal with their particular needs, such as setting up a monitor screen in the sanctuary for those in the congregation to follow the liturgy, teaching sign language, hearing confession, scripture study, and putting aside enough extra time to counsel those who wanted to become Catholic. Even though each diocese has a priest responsible for working with the deaf, there is a  limit to what can be done. This difficulty will be solved when the hearing impaired have their own  parish.

The  pastor of this new parish said the prospect of ministering to the needs of the hearing impaired in a church-friendly environment is giving him the greatest happiness in his  last ten years of priestly life. Because of their inability to hear, the deaf feel more alienation than those who are blind because of the lack of communication. That the diocese did see the importance of what was needed, and responded in such a marvelous way is a wake-up call to the other dioceses to put more effort and money into removing the walls that separate us from the alienated.

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