By Theresia Titus, Jamie O’Brien and Eric Martin
Hope for greater understanding of the need for people with disability to participate in their local parish community is the message shared by Lynette, Susan and Geoffrey, active members of 39 years from the Emmanuel Centre and the Ministry with Deaf and Hard of Hearing people.
The Record journalist Theresia Titus took the opportunity to hear their stories with Mrs Barbara Harris as the interpreter.
For hard of hearing or deaf people, attending a Mass at a parish which doesn’t provide the support for them to be involved, hear, participate, understand a spoken homily without proper AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language) interpretation, or at the very least, having the texts shown on a screen, is challenging.
“I want to be involved in the Church. God is accepting me, and I want to work with the world as I believe, we all belong to God,” Geoffrey said.
Susan and Lynette added that they often feel bored when they have to sit through the Mass without being able to participate fully.
“People used to think that I was lazy, that I was not paying attention during Mass when I was a child. In reality, I was feeling isolated from the rest of the congregation because I did not understand what the priest was saying,” Lynette said.
Nevertheless, Lynette, Susan and Geoffrey are certain their Catholic faith has grown since they first came to know and be involved with the Centre and the Ministry.
Mrs Harris, who currently provides AUSLAN interpretation for Masses at Joondanna Parish St Denis’ Catholic Church and Subiaco Parish St Joseph’s Catholic Church, is currently one of a number of people working for an Archdiocesan agency assisting people who are Deaf to feel part of their parish.
She and the late Father Paul Pitzen were the two co-workers who started the work that provides much-needed respect and love for people who otherwise may have no one else to recognise their gifts and talents that they can share with the Church.
Mrs Harris stated that when the Government provided interpreters in news announcements to help people who are Deaf and used sign language to understand the COVID-19 announcement, there was a great interest in people wanting to learn to sign.
“Unfortunately for hearing people to learn AUSLAN takes many years. However, being aware that some people miss out at church is a first step. To make everyone accepted and able to get involved, positive change can happen for those who are differently abled,” Mrs Harris said.
“For example, you could make a little committee in your parish, and find solutions within the parish community on how to help people who have different abilities to understand more about the Mass. I mean, I can work with the parish so that everyone in the parish can understand the Mass.”
Parishioners who are deaf and hearing-impaired like to join in social discussions, bible studies, singing, liturgy of the Word and be Eucharistic Ministers and greeters at the church. Between them, Susan, Lynette and Geoff have been supported and encouraged to participate actively in these volunteer roles within their parish. They said that being active participants makes them feel accepted and included in the parish community.
For 39 years, Barbara Harris and the late Fr Paul Pitzen were jointly involved with both the Emmanuel Centre and Ministry for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People. Here they strived for and encouraged all sections of the Catholic community to recognise people with differing abilities as part of the Body of Christ.
Both Archbishop Costelloe and Barbara Harris recently paid heartfelt tributes to the work that Fr Pitzen performed in service to WA’s deaf community as well as others who found a safe place at Emmanuel.
“It is almost two years to the day that Fr Paul died, and his loss is still felt deeply by many people,” Archbishop Costelloe said.