Input of deaf Catholics sought via online survey in advance of Synod of Bishops

Worshippers use American Sign Language while praying during a Palm Sunday Mass. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

CHAMPAIGN — They may not be able to participate in a traditional listening session for the Synod of Bishops 2023, but that doesn’t mean Catholics who are deaf or hard of hearing have nothing to say. Their input is being sought by the National Catholic Office for the Deaf by means of a survey that will be available through April 30.

Minette Sternke of Champaign, who is deaf, serves as the representative for the Great Lakes Region of the NCOD board of directors and is the organization’s vice president. She said it was very important for the board to find a way for deaf and hard of hearing Catholics to participate in a worldwide synod focused on “Communion, Participation, Mission.”

“It is important to show the USCCB and the bishops that they do have deaf and hard of hearing parishioners ‘out there’ that are yearning to be included, and want to have a seat at the table of God.” — Minette Sternke, Champaign

“Pastoral workers that belong to NCOD, which includes the board, are highly aware of this issue. We also knew that the deaf and hard of hearing have a valued perspective — and that the Holy Father values their perspective,” she told The Catholic Post by email.

She said Msgr. Glenn Nelson, vicar general of the Diocese of Rockford and a member of the NCOD board, reached out to his colleagues at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to discuss how the deaf community could most effectively provide feedback as part of the synodal process. The board decided an online survey had the potential to reach as many people as possible.

YEARNING TO BE INCLUDED

The survey has 47 questions — some of them providing an opportunity for participants to write what they wish, said Sternke.

A member of St. Patrick Parish in Urbana, she assists with sacristan duties and coordinates deaf ministry there. She was consecrated to the Order of Virgins on June 20, 2015.

The survey went “live” during the National Catholic Office for the Deaf’s Pastoral Week 2022 in January.

To increase participation, a video has been posted to the NCOD Facebook page and website (ncod.org) that explains the synod and the purpose of the survey in American Sign Language. People also have the option of sending a videotaped response to Msgr. Nelson if they feel more comfortable expressing themselves in ASL, Sternke said.

Family members and those who work with the deaf and hard of hearing are also invited to take the survey. In addition, she said those who are not Catholic are encouraged to give feedback to help the NCOD board understand why the deaf and hard of hearing are not coming to the Catholic Church.

“Most of all, it is important to show the USCCB and the bishops that they do have deaf and hard of hearing parishioners ‘out there’ that are yearning to be included, and want to have a seat at the table of God,” Sternke said.

To learn more, visit ncod.org.

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