Local Catholics join hundreds of deaf pilgrims in Rome

by Kara Hansen

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A recent trip to Rome was much more than a spiritual pilgrimage for a group of archdiocesan Catholics.

It was also a chance to unite with others from around the globe, who had two very important things in common — all were Catholic and all were deaf. “For the first time in the church’s history Catholic deaf pilgrims gathered in Rome to see and be blessed by our Holy Father,” said Pat Richey, archdiocesan consultant for deaf ministry. “The memory of it will fill our hearts for our lifetime.”

The International Catholic Foundation (ICF) and the International Catholic Deaf Association (ICDA) organized the deaf pilgrimage to Rome, the highlight of which was an audience with the pope and Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Eight members of the archdiocesan deaf community were among those from around the world who made the pilgrimage to Rome, which took place from June 16-27. Richey was joined by her husband, Mel Richey, and Father Charles Andalikiewicz, from Immaculate Conception Parish in Louisburg; Father Frank Krische and Cathy Mies, from Most Pure Heart of Mary in Topeka; Bobby Bettendorf, of Holy Trinity Parish in Paola; Christine Vitterino, of Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park; and Lori Oborny, of St. Paul in Olathe.

During their 11 days in Italy, the group toured the cities of Padua, Assisi, Florence, Venice, and Pisa, as well as Rome.

“We saw glass blowers in Venice, the rolling hills of Tuscany, and grapevines everywhere,” said Richey.

The group prayed together in a small church in Assisi, frequented by St. Francis. They also celebrated Mass in St. Mark’s Basilica, where it is said the altar is made from a rock Jesus stood on while speaking to his disciples. They also visited many other beautiful chapels and buildings in Italy.

“I had an incredible feeling of gratitude. I felt so appreciative of the artists and people who have kept our faith so alive,” said Mies.

But the highlight of the trip, said Richey, was a papal audience in St. Peter’s Square. After the hour it took to get through security, the group was seated in the front row. More than 1200 deaf people from 30 countries around the world were at the audience.

“Living in a deaf world can sometimes isolate a person,” said Richey, “but joining with 1200 Catholic deaf from around the world for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI helped our archdiocesan deaf realize they are never alone and always a part of God’s family.”

Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the deaf community and addressed all present in several languages, personally greeting Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, England, the president of ICF. “Pope Benedict asked that Archbishop [Kelly] share with the deaf the pope’s love, greeting, and blessing,” said Richey.

The entire deaf community participated in a Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s, which included interpreters from various countries stationed around the altar, interpreting the Mass into the signs of each country. Each country has its own version of sign language; the United States uses American Sign Language.

After the Mass, the deaf community gathered to share a meal together at the Divino Amore Conference Center, where the difference in sign languages didn’t prevent them from communicating with one another.

“It was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t want to stare but just couldn’t help it — I was trying to see if I could recognize any of their signing, especially the Chinese,” said Mies.

“Knowing that deaf or hearing we were all of one faith, it didn’t matter how we used our hands to communicate,” she added. “The ecstatic look on people’s faces was communication enough.”

Richey agreed.

“The many different languages didn’t seem to stop the deaf from communicating with each other,” she said. “They used mime and gestures to learn each other’s signs. They were thrilled to be with deaf from other countries and felt a strong connection with them”

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