Friday, November 20, 2009
How would we learn about Catholic intitiatives like the one described below, if not for John Allen? Besides the news, his analysis in this article ("Rethinking the Catholic 'Box Score') is, as usual, keen.
From Nov. 19 -21, the Vatican is holding a first-ever conference on ministry to the deaf. The event was presented by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, and organized by groups such as the International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf Persons and an Italian religious order called "The Little Mission for the Deaf."
On Tuesday, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council, estimated that there are 1.3 million deaf Catholics around the world -- many of whom, he admitted, struggle to "participate fully" in the church, "with consequent obstacles to their possibilities for spiritual growth and religious practice." That marginalization, Zimowski said, represents "a loss of their contribution to the vitality and riches of the church."
Ministry to the deaf is a relatively new pastoral category, and it's emerged as creative impulses usually do, from ordinary Catholics seeing a need and trying to meet it. Officialdom is simply ratifying something already bubbling at the grassroots.
If you want a measure of how over-emphasis on a limited set of categories distorts perceptions, consider this: Barrels of ink have been spilled dissecting the Vatican's outreach to disgruntled Anglicans, which, realistically, might bring a few thousand new members into the church worldwide. Here you have an effort to integrate 1.3 million folks more thoroughly into the church, and it flies below radar -- because, of course, ministry to the deaf doesn't open a new front in the culture wars, which is a category we in the West take very seriously indeed.
This week's conference also helps account for something that otherwise can seem inexplicable: Why so many Catholics remain basically bullish about the church, despite all the scandal, division, and disappointment. Such Catholics aren't in denial, but their energy is invested in trying to do something positive.
When hope is what gets you out of bed in the morning, the landscape almost always looks more promising. In parishes, lay movements, schools, and other Catholic venues all over the world, that's still the case, even if it rarely attracts much notice.