In response to Pope Benedict's call to promote the dignity of the deaf and work for their “full social integration,” the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Workers, who is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, has organized a convention in Rome this weekend.
“Effata! The deaf person, herald and witness of the evangelical announcement” is the theme of the convention being held June 4-6.
The program of events includes addresses from the top officials in the Vatican dicastery for health as well as international Church and lay representatives who specialize in the care and formation of deaf individuals. Hearing-impaired deacon Dr. Josef Rothkopf, president of the Association of Deaf Catholics, is among the speakers and gave his talk titled, "The Gospel of life proclaimed to the Deaf by a Deaf Man" to approximately 100 participants on Friday morning.
The dicastery’s secretary, Bishop Jose Redrado, explained in a statement announcing the initiative that it “constitutes a first concrete act” based on the recommendations given by Pope Benedict XVI during an audience with the 400 participants in an International Conference on “Deaf people in the life of the Church” in the Vatican last November.
On Nov. 20, after noting that “hearing-impaired people do not always meet with ready acceptance, committed solidarity and affectionate communion,” the Holy Father made an appeal to political and civil authorities and international organizations for the necessary support in promoting “due respect for the dignity and rights of deaf people, favoring ... their full social integration.”
On Thursday, Bishop Redrado expressed the commitment of the Vatican council to follow up on the Pope’s words quickly, “because, as already amply demonstrated, non-hearing people have the right to enter fully in the ecclesial community.”
The council’s secretary further referred to their full inclusion as both a right and duty because of the grand “contribution of testimony, spirituality and capacity that they can share with others and put in service of the community starting with formation of the youngest who must learn to coexist with the same disability.”
During his November address, the Holy Father concluded his message, saying, "Dear hearing-impaired brothers and sisters, you are not only recipients of the announcement of the Gospel but, by virtue of your Baptism, also its announcers. Live every day, then, as witnesses of the Lord in the environments in which you live, making Christ and His Gospel known."
Speaking to participants on Friday morning to open the conference, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Council, said that the convention constitutes "a new important stage" to integrate the hearing impaired into the Church and society.