by Fr Mark James OP
On Sunday morning, 21 April 2019, 40 Catholic pilgrims from all over South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, were joined by over 185 Deaf people from Cape Town, to celebrate the Easter Sunday Mass. While busloads of Zionist Christians were making their way to Moria in Limpopo, these 40 Deaf Catholics, five from Eswatini, were wending their way to Cape Town on public transport from Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Eswatini and Lesotho. The Deaf Community of Cape Town (DCCT) in Heathfield played host to these Easter celebrations from 18-21 April 2019.
This joyous occasion was a celebration of the Risen Lord in sign language. The Mass was punctuated with outbursts of signed song and dance. This reaffirmed the Gospel reading of the day that Jesus is no longer in the tomb but is risen. This was evident among the Deaf Catholics of Southern Africa at Mass. Colleen Curry, a pastoral worker for the Catholic Deaf Chaplaincy in the Archdiocese of Chicago, said how amazed she was to see how vibrant the Deaf celebrations are in South Africa as the Deaf in the USA don’t sing in sign during Mass. She had been invited to speak to the Deaf communities about the work being done in the United States for the Deaf.
Their Easter journey started with the Holy Thursday Mass where Fr Peter-John Pearson, a previous chaplain to the Deaf and the main celebrant, welcomed them to the Western Cape. He reminded everyone that Jesus in removing his outer garments before washing the feet of his disciples was showing us a path of humility. We need to remove our outer garments of pride, of seeking prestige, of thinking ourselves superior to others in order that we can truly serve others as Jesus did. He proceeded to wash the feet of the Deaf Catholics present and was assisted by Fr Mark Foster, Deaf chaplain in Cape Town and Fr Mark James OP, Deaf chaplain in Eswatini. In his sermon, Fr Mark Foster made the link between the Passover meal of the Jewish people which was enjoyed after Mass with the Christian Eucharist.
Members of the DCCT drama group enacted scenes of the stations of the cross on Good Friday morning. This dramatisation of Jesus’ suffering made the stations more visual and the Deaf pilgrims found themselves actively participating in the last journey throwing cut-up egg trays at Jesus as he carried his cross to Calvary. This was an acknowledgement by each of us of how we have ourselves contributed to Jesus’ suffering and his crucifixion. The solemn and signed Good Friday service followed at 3.00pm.
The Easter Vigil Mass started with the lighting of the Easter candle and the solemn procession where Lucas Magongwa, a Deaf parishioner from St Martin de Porres, Orlando West in Soweto, signed the Exultet. In his sermon, Fr Mark James highlighted how the disciples were amazed at finding the tomb empty. So too, we should be amazed and astounded at the work that Jesus has done for us as a Catholic Deaf community. The first Southern African gathering of the Catholic Deaf community began in Cape Town back in 2014 and when we look over the last five years we are amazed at how the risen Christ has made himself known to us in the growth and developments that have happened among us over this short period. What started out as a small seed is indeed growing to an enormous tree. The Deaf Catholic Family is growing and being strengthened all over our region.