Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

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Deaf Catholics Taught About Benedict’s Encyclicals

By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published July 3, 2008

The encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI were the inspiration for the talks given by Father Jeremy St. Martin to deaf participants at the 2008 Eucharistic Congress.

The meaning of the word encyclical is a circular message, he said.

“It was the custom of the early church for the pope to send a letter and for it to be sent around” to the various Christian communities to be read and discussed. That is the origin of today’s encyclical, addressed by the pope usually to all bishops worldwide.

“You can imagine what a project that is for the pope—to write a letter that is faithful to Scripture and tradition and that is written to the whole world,” he said.

The encyclicals he discussed were the first two of Pope Benedict, “Spe Salvi” (Saved by Hope), published in November 2007, and “Deus Caritas Est” (On Christian Love—God Is Love), published in January 2006.

His first message was “to hope in heaven and to not think we get a utopia here on earth.”

His second was “ when we help the poor, we have to do it with passion and with Jesus’ blood running through our veins.”

A priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, Father St. Martin spoke in American Sign Language to the deaf. He coordinates the Office for Deaf Catholics in Boston.

He said he always promotes attention to papal encyclicals because his parents were re-connected to the Catholic Church through the intellectual rigor and serious reflection on contemporary moral issues that they discovered in the documents of the church.

“I talked about the experience I had growing up of my parents reading encyclicals. My parents really were converted through that because they were people looking for serious answers to serious questions. When they asked a question about war, they found the church had something to say on every important issue—something deep and serious,” he said.

“They were searching,” he continued, while they wrestled with questions about Western culture and about moral issues such as war and greed.

The documents written by popes and bishops’ conferences “really nourished my parents,” Father St. Martin said.

“The encyclicals and the Eucharist changed my parents’ life in a beautiful way.”

About 30 people actively participated in the program for the deaf, which has been held as a separate track at the Eucharistic Congress since 2006.

David Klinger, a member of Transfiguration Church in Marietta, wrote by e-mail following the Eucharistic Congress that the program gave him his first exposure to the word “encyclical” and its importance to the church. He said he also learned through Father St. Martin’s presentations about the Mass cycles over the years and how their Scripture readings are chosen.

“Having the Deaf Track program encourages all deaf Catholic communities to participate in it to enhance their spiritual experience. Father Jeremy has done a superb job with his presentation,” Klinger wrote.

In addition to the American Sign Language track, the Disabilities Ministry of the archdiocese provided large print schedules in Spanish and English and Braille schedules in Spanish and English, and assisted listening devices.

“This is the first year we did the Braille schedules. We did not have that many calls, but the people who did use them were profoundly amazed and very happy,” said Ed McCoy, director of the Disabilities Ministry.

The assisted listening devices connect to an individual’s hearing aid and were very effective and clear, he said.

These arrangements and a special seating section, as well as wheelchair availability coordinated by the office of Deacon Dennis Dorner, have hopefully made the Eucharistic Congress a welcoming event for all Catholics, including those with mobility or sensory issues, McCoy said.

“Every year they are way more comfortable about coming back. It wasn’t the leap of faith it was for them to come (the first time). … And they have begun to call me in advance.”