by Olivia Martin
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Imagine not having access to a Bible, stories of saints’ lives or the catechism in your language.
“Within the deaf Catholic community, this is a universal problem,” said Katie Locus, the archdiocesan consultant for deaf ministry. This is because for many deaf people, their first or preferred language is American Sign Language (ASL), not English.
And there are hardly any Catholic materials in ASL.
“We are a small community and many deaf have left the Catholic Church because they don’t have access to anything that’s going on,” said Locus.
But that is beginning to change.
From June 17-20, 10 people from across the country met at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas, to begin creating an official American Sign Language (ASL) translation of the “YouCat.” Short for Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, “YouCat” is an easily accessible version of the catechism, written in a Q&A format. The team, which in its entirety numbers 14 people, includes deaf and hearing priests and laypeople and is working on translating all of its 527 questions into ASL.
And they have their work cut out for them.
Simple idea, big reality
The work began in 2017 as a simple idea: Make it easier for deaf people to encounter Christ.
The idea originated with Katherine Resendez, formerly a visiting missionary in the archdiocese and currently an ASL translator in Washington, D.C. When she and Locus began the groundwork for the translation, they realized this simple idea would require extraordinary execution.
“It started out as a possible idea and has become a huge, multiyear, grant-funded project,” said Resendez.
Since 2017, Locus and Resendez have secured the necessary permission for the translation from the original “YouCat” publishers in Germany, assembled a team of translators and received official permission for their involvement from each of their bishops.
“We tried the remote approach where [translators] would film in their various locales,” said Locus, “but it was difficult. . . . We decided flying everybody in [to Kansas City] would be a better option.”
After receiving grants from Our Sunday Visitor and the National Catholic Office of the Deaf, that’s exactly what Locus and Resendez did.
Included in the body of Christ
During their days together, the translation team spent the majority of their time figuring out the best way to present the “YouCat” in ASL — because ASL is not signed English.
“It’s an interesting process translating from English to ASL because it’s not like you can take it word for word and translate it,” said Locus. “You really have to look at the concept, the theological perspective and the linguistic components.”
And that takes time, attention and an intimate knowledge of the catechism, English and ASL — because sometimes, the vocabulary for the Catholic concept doesn’t exist at all in ASL.
Colin Lualdi, from Boston, is a deaf translation team member — and for him, developing new ASL signs is a welcome challenge.
“I do a lot of work with several other national groups developing ASL signs for physics concepts,” said Lualdi. “But here is an opportunity to do that with my faith!”
Once the team agreed on the best way to translate a question and its response, they wrote each sign in the order it will appear on video. This process is called “glossing.”
A signer is then videoed signing what he or she reads on the teleprompter. The videos will be edited later to include pictures, subtitles and voiceover — then uploaded to YouTube for anyone to view.
“Deaf people aren’t a visitor or a guest to the family; they are part of the family, of the body of Christ, of the church,” said Resendez. “This is one way that we can provide access, that we can share those experiences with the whole family.”
“For me, this project is a big deal,” said Hannah Goldblatt, a deaf translation team member from Las Cruces, New Mexico. “I’ve had a struggle with access to Catholic materials and resources growing up.”
But in working together on the translation, Goldblatt and Lualdi said that just being in the same space with other deaf Catholics at Savior has helped them grow in their faith and in fellowship with others.
“We’ve had some really good discussions that have made me realize there is . . . such a greater dimension to my faith than I ever thought,” said Lualdi.
“I don’t really know a lot of other deaf Catholics,” she said. “It’s a hopeful experience to see other deaf Catholics like me who are faithful and living that out and helping each other grow and learn our faith.
“I am so excited to see where this all goes!”