Indian Catholic News

Former Jakarta seminarian offers hope to the deaf

Sign language used during Mass for hearing-impaired Catholics at Jakarta church.

 
Fransiskus Xaverius Dwi Susanto uses sign language to communicate with a group of hearing impaired Catholics during Sunday Mass on Feb. 4 at Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral Church in Jakarta. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)
Jakarta: 

Fransiskus Xaverius Dwi Susanto has bridged a rare gap by learning sign language to reach Jakarta's deaf population.

The 36-year-old father of two has for the last three years used sign language to make Sunday Mass meaningful for 40 hearing-impaired Catholics at Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral Church in central Jakarta.

"I want to be God's presence among the deaf," he told ucanews.com.

Yohana Yunianti Effendi, 58, said Susanto's services make all the difference. "Before I had to concentrate on reading a priest's lips whenever I went to Mass, which was exhausting," she said. "But in Susanto's presence I feel much more comfortable."

Susanto's interest in sign language dates back to 2001 when he first volunteered to serve the disabled during his time at John Paul II Major Seminary in Jakarta Archdiocese.

"As time went on I focused more on helping deaf people served by the Daya Dharma Association. I would take sign language and Braille courses, and I regularly joined their activities," he said.

The association, established in 1962, serves poor and disabled people in the archdiocesan area. The Community of Deaf Catholics, known locally as Paturka, was founded in 2001.

Reshaping old clay

In 2004, Susanto became disillusioned with his work and decided to leave the seminary.

"I stopped everything for about six months," he said. "It felt like people just saw a man in a seminarian's cassock, rather than what I was trying to do to for them."

He said the deaf Catholics valued his service more, giving him a "second chance."

However, while still plagued by guilt at leaving the seminary he signed up for a retreat in Central Java and ended up being inspired by a fateful meeting with Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja.

The cardinal was living at a retirement home on the grounds of the Emmaus Retreat in Girisonta since he retired as the archbishop of Jakarta in 2010.

"I asked him if God was angry with me," Susanto said.

"The cardinal replied by quoting the following scripture [Jer 18:4]: 'But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him,'" Susanto said, adding the words encouraged him to move forward.

However, his initial encounter with Paturka didn't go quite as planned.

Having volunteered to use sign language during Sunday Mass at the group's church in 2009 without seeking permission from the parish priest, Susanto found himself being forcibly dragged outside.

"Some people found my presence there disturbing," he recalled.

Undeterred, he kept lobbying the priest to let him help there and in 2014 his wish to serve Paturka regularly at Sunday Mass was granted.

Dream a little dream

Susanto said he dreams of replicating more Paturka-like groups and services in other dioceses, as well as scouting and sculpting a new generation of interpreters.

One thing is certain: such positions are rare.

According to Father Yohanes Rusae, chairman of the Indonesian Bishops' Liturgy Commission, only Jakarta Archdiocese has a regular service for the deaf in this Muslim-majority archipelago nation of over 260 million.

Surveys show that over 12 percent of people nationwide are disabled.

Even though the deaf are not well represented among Catholic parishioners they "still have the right to be served," Father Yohanes said.

Adapt and overcome

Susanto said there are many challenges involved in trying to communicate with a group of parishioners using only your hands and he often has to improvise to get his point across.

"I haven't done anything phenomenal yet but I take strength from the words of Mother Teresa, who said 'God has not called me to be successful; he has called me to be faithful,'" Susanto added.

The father of two also works as a human resources consultant and is a parishioner at St. Leo the Great Church in Jatibening, Bekasi — a commuter city on Jakarta's eastern border.

Last year he took part in a workshop for catechists who wanted to serve as sign-language interpreters at Sunday Mass. The archdiocese's liturgy commission organized the training.

"The problem was the tight schedule," he said. "Not enough time to study."

He said finding new interpreters remains a "huge challenge."

"There's no guarantee those who are interested can get the job done," said Father Hieronymus Sridanto Ariwibowo, chairman of the commission.

"What we need is an ongoing training program."

Source: UCAN

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