Deaf pilgrim ‘hears Mass’ for first time

by Katie Hyde
Special to The Leaven

Cecelia Grove, a parishioner at St. Paul in Olathe, was attending the opening Mass for World Youth Day when she noticed a group of pilgrims that were “hearing” the Mass in sign language.

Grove immediately approached the group, as American Sign Language  was her first language. Though Grove is not deaf, her older sister was born deaf and used ASL to communicate.

Always wanting to be like her big sister, Grove learned ASL even before she learned English.

Her sister, who was sick for most of her life, died three years ago.

Following the tragedy of her sister’s death, Grove said her mother was nervous about her attending World Youth Day. But she ultimately acquiesced.

“My mother knew that my sister would have wanted me to go,” said Grove.

After meeting the group of deaf pilgrims from all over the world, Grove learned that one of the girls in the group was a 19-year-old from Pennsylvania.

But the person who was signing for the girl was not a native English speaker, so the translation into ASL was choppy and incoherent. Noticing Grove’s perfect ASL, the translator asked if Grove would translate the Mass for the young American girl.

Grove said yes.

“At first, I was confused, because [the girl] didn’t seem to understand what was going on in the Mass,” Grove said. “I would sign to her that she should respond, but she wouldn’t respond.”

Then Grove realized why: The girl hadn’t ever had a Mass signed for her.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Grove said. “Sign language is such a part of my identity and my culture. I couldn’t believe she was 19 and had never had a Mass signed for her in her entire life.”

“It was so humbling for me,” Grove continued. “I [helped] her experience the Mass for the first time in her life.”

The experience immediately reminded Grove of her sister, who was always a passionate advocate for the rights of deaf people.

“During Communion, I kept thinking that [my sister] was there with me and helped me help this girl,” said Grove. “It was the most amazing thing I had ever been a part of in my life.”

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