Irish Deaf Women attend historic conference in Rome


Ms. Frankie Berry (National Chaplaincy for Deaf People) and Mrs. Maura Buckley (Catholic Institute for Deaf People) both made history in November 2009 by chairing a session and delivering a key presentation in the New Synod Hall, in the Vatican, Rome during the 24th International Conference hosted by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers. Frankie Berry was possibly the first Deaf Woman ever to chair a session at an international conference in the Synod Hall.

The theme of the conference was “EPHPHATHA! THE DEAF PERSON IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH.It was a unique opportunity for members of the Deaf Community from all over the world who are involved in the life and work of the Catholic Church to address the leaders of the Church and to enlighten them on sociological, psychological, medical, familial and especially pastoral realities of deaf people as members of the Church.

The Conference was hosted by Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski who is the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and was attended in the course of the three days by cardinals, bishops and clerical representatives from the Vatican and from around the world as well as government and diplomatic representative from various countries.

It was a wonderfully rich gathering of talented and accomplished Deaf and Hearing members of the Church whose involvement, initiatives and experiences in their Deaf Communities and their local churches had much to offer by way of insight and advice to those in Leadership in the Church.

The success of the conference will be judged on the response in the future of the hierarchy in promoting and encouraging access and full participation of members of the Deaf Community in the Life of the Church. The signs of growth in awareness by this office of the Institutional Church were encouraging from the final statement: And I quote:

“By organizing this Conference devoted to the Deaf Person in the life of the Church, the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Workers has intended to send a strong message so as to underline the fact that the problems experienced by Deaf people, living members of the Church, deserve attention as was stressed by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, during the Papal audience granted to the participants of this XXIV International Conference, with these words:

“You are not only the recipients of the announcement of the Gospel message, but are, by full right, also the agents, by virtue of your Baptism”

At the end of this conference the following recommendations were made by this Pontifical Council and circulated to every diocese bishop worldwide.


  • In order to achieve the full integration of deaf people into the life of the Church, this assembly proposes:
  • That there should be a central office of the Church at national levels which attends to and coordinates pastoral care for deaf people.
  • That every diocese should have at least one priest with the necessary skills and training in this specific field so that he can be the point of reference for deaf people for the sacraments (penitence in particular), the liturgy and catechesis.
  • That there should be for seminarians a course to direct them towards this special form of pastoral care and that they should be encouraged to deepen their knowledge about the world of deaf people and also that those seminarians who are interested in sign language should, possibly, increase their knowledge of it.
  • That greater attention should be paid by bishops to the question of deaf people and they should ensure that in the pastoral and catechetical programme of their dioceses there is also space for catechesis and pastoral care for and with deaf people and that some deaf people should also belong to this group.
  • That in the large cities a church/parish should be identified where the liturgy allows the active participation of people who have hearing problems.
  • That in the planning of parish and diocesan pastoral care especial attention should be paid to deaf people and their families. The presence of a deaf person would be advisable as well as parents who could contribute to such planning.
  • There should be a Catholic website that addresses the current questions of our faith. In this website it should also be possible to follow Holy Mass and homilies and, when the occasion arises, to have a better understanding of ethical questions of political relevance.
  • That deaf people should also be given an opportunity to take part in courses on the religious sciences organised at a diocesan level.
  • To meet the needs of deaf people who do not know sign language and those who have become deaf or adults afflicted by deafness, it is recommended to pastors of souls that places of liturgy be equipped with video screens.
  • At a national level structures should be identified for the promotion of vocations and the formation of deaf candidates for the religious and priestly life.
  • That dioceses should have a register of certified interpreters who can work in churches.
  • As the Holy Father emphasised, every obstacle to the full social integration of deaf people should be removed through the implementation first and foremost of appropriate laws, conventions and protocols that seek to create those juridical conditions that are designed to favour the integration of deaf people in educational, training and work environments so that they can make their talents bear fruit (Mt 25:14-30) and contribute at all levels, each according to their own talents and capacities, to the good of society as a whole.

Veronica White (Kerry) & Denise Flack (Belfast) from the NCDP supplied interpreting and translating services. Fr. Joe Jones (former National Director of the National Chaplaincy for Deaf People and member of the board of the Catholic Institute for Deaf People) also acted as an interpreter and had the honour along with Maura Buckley of greeting The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI