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Pioneer Religious Congregation in Ghana Launches Country’s First Deaf Apostolate

Logo of the St. Martin Deaf Ministry.

The leadership of the Society of African Missions (SMA) in Ghana, the pioneer Catholic Religious Order in the West African nation, has launched the first Deaf apostolate in the country. 

In an interview with ACI Africa, the Chaplain of the new apostolate, Fr. René Dan Yao explained that SMA members involved in the initiative are seeking to serve the faithful living with hearing disability who have been “marginalized” for a long time.

“The Deaf people are really marginalized. They have been put aside for a very long time,” Fr. René told ACI Africa Tuesday, November 24, making reference to the new apostolate dubbed St. Martin Deaf Ministry.

The Ivorian-born Cleric highlighted the importance of the Church Sacraments to this group of persons saying, “There is a need for them to be baptized, a need for them to be catechized; they need to receive the Sacrament of confirmation; they need to be administered marriage counselling and they need to be listened to during confirmation.”

He added in reference to the beneficiaries of St. Martin Deaf Ministry, “They too need to receive all the pastoral ministry that we give to the hearing so that they will find a space to listen to the word of God, doing the activities that they would do in order for us all to be saved.” 

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Launched at the Holy Mass climaxing the yearlong celebration of the 140 anniversary of the presence of SMA in Ghana on November 22,  Fr. René told ACI Africa that “the Apostolate is also a continuation of their work of evangelization.”

He went on to highlight the importance of the new apostolate as a continuation of SMA’s ministry saying, “140 years ago, Ghana received the first Catholic Missionaries to do the work of evangelization here. The launching of St Martin Deaf Ministry in Ghana is really significant because it shows the work of evangelization is still ongoing.”

The new apostolate “shows evangelization to the needy and the most abandoned people is continuing. This ministry shows that the mission is ongoing,” the Cleric reiterated.

He explained the choice of the patron Saint for the Deaf apostolate saying, “We took St. Martin as somebody who could meet the needs of the marginalized. Taking St. Martin de Porres as our patron Saint is to inspire us to reach and meet the needs of the Deaf people.”

He continued, “St. Martin de Porres was not directly linked to the Deaf people but he was ministering to the poor and the needy in general. He was doing things in the simplest way. Where it was considered as not necessary, St. Martin de Porres would make it necessary.” 

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Speaking during the November 22 Eucharistic celebration, SMA Provincial Superior in Ghana, Fr. Paul Ennin, acknowledged that the Deaf faithful have been neglected in the Church’s pastoral ministry. 

“They have been left out of our parish pastoral care and celebration, catechism, marriage counselling, liturgical celebration,” Fr. Ennin said, adding, “We ask forgiveness from God and from them for this. Today we want to remedy the situation.”

During the November 22 event held at St. Francis Ashale Botwe Parish of Ghana’s Accra Archdiocese, the Chaplain of St. Martin Deaf Ministry and seven others were commissioned to serve as members of the Executive Committee of the new apostolate under the auspices of the Society of Apostolic Life in the West African country.

During the November 24 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. René explained that the role of the executive members who include some Deaf people is to create awareness about the reality of faithful living with hearing disability in the Ghanaian Church. 

“We are newly born. For now, our main activity is the creation of awareness, to make noise around us that there is the reality of the deaf people within the Roman Catholic set up and we need to minister and work with them,” the SMA Cleric explained.

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He expressed the hope that in the future, more people will come to learn the Ghanaian sign language and help in signing during liturgical celebrations and other Church programs.

“Maybe we will also have exchange programs with other Deaf communities in the country and learn from each other’s realities,” Fr. René told ACI Africa November 24.

He urged members of the Catholic community in Ghana to “open our hearts, open our hands because that is what we use in signing, to open our eyes because it is with our eyes that we will be listening to the Deaf people who are signing so that all will be included in our liturgical setup.” 

“The mission is for us all,” the Ivorian SMA Cleric said in conclusion.