The program, taught in American Sign Language, utilizes Catholic art as an educational tool.
The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 93% of Americans with a hearing disability have no contact with any church, and of those who do, only 2% have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Many of these people avoid church services, because they feel there is little offered for them in a celebration designed for those who can hear, but this is about to change as the Church has launched a new sacrament formation program in American Sign Language.
CNA reports that the program,Hands of Grace: The Catholic Sacraments in American Sign Language,was designed by Ascension Press and developed largely thanks to the efforts of Father Sean Loomis, the chaplain for the Deaf Apostolate for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Fr. Loomis told Catholic News Agency:
“A huge challenge among the deaf is that they are very uncatechized, and while that is certainly the case with the vast majority of Catholics, that catechesis is impoverished in a significant way”
Hands of Grace is organized to teach the catechism in terms that the hearing impaired can understand. Each sacrament is taught by three brief videos: the first introduces the sacrament and links it to the Gospels, the second video explains the theology of its sacrament, and the third teaches how to incorporate the sacrament in everyday life.
Students of this adult catechesis program will reinforce the video lessons through an accompanying workbook full of faith questions and quotes. The work book also includes Catholic art, which Father Loomis believes is an invaluable resource for the education of the deaf. He told CNA:
“I also have Visio Divina,” he said, a type of prayer “where they look at a piece of artwork and learn how to read that Christian art to see what it is that they actually believe. In that way, I’m trying to expose them to the wealth of the Christian artwork that has been part of our heritage.”
While Father Loomis is not deaf, he has been working diligently to make his Catholic community more accessible to the hearing impaired. Along with his development of Hands of Grace, he has organized ASL interpreters to be present in 13 local churches, as well as learning the language himself, so that he can celebrate Masses and offer Confession entirely in ASL. He said of his work:
“When I offer Mass, I don’t voice it and then have an interpreter stand nearby. I do the entire thing in American Sign Language so that they can experience the incarnation of Christ who comes to them as they are, in persona Christi, through my priesthood.”