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7 April 2008updated 27 Sep 2015 2:30am

Understanding deaf blindness through faith

This week we will look into deaf and blind faith and how faith is crucial in a deafblind person's li

By Cyril Axelrod

Being born deaf with good sight, I was very young in the 1950s. My kind-hearted Jewish father used to take me with him visiting different homes for the elderly and disabled people on Sundays. It always brought me wonder to witness their joy and faith even when they did not receive a visit from their families or friends.

It happened one day when my father decided to take me to visit a home for deafblind people. I had no idea what it meant to be deafblind or how to communicate with them. I slowly approached a gentle deafblind man sitting on the comfortable sofa but struggled with my shyness because I did not know how to communicate with him. He sensed my nearness and held out his right hand to me. My small hand touched his as the sign of beginning communication. He taught me the fingerspelling on my hands. It melt my fear and shyness of unknowing and it moved me closer to him. My father’s face and heart beamed with a smile. It became the seed of my future mission even though I was totally unaware that I would eventually become fully blind later in life.

After over forty years I was diagnosed with progressive blindness. It shattered my hope and faith as a young Redemptorist priest (after I converted to Catholicism) but the seed of my father’s love for disabled people had been planted in my heart. I began to sprout with a renewed faith in overcoming the fear of being unknown. That opened the way for me to affirm my faith and trust in God despite the endless obstacles and difficulties in my life of today and tomorrow.

The fear of being unknown can easily lead to losing faith or clinging to shyness. Jesus used the same phrase thirty-two times in the Gospel — “Don’t be afraid.” It is the matter of faith which strengthens one’s confidence and trust to know what is unknown. For example, it is quite natural to feel overwhelmed when not being able to understand what deafblindness means or not knowing how to communicate with the deafblind person. To approach him or her and ask him or her to teach you the way of communication, will melt the fear of the unknown or the shyness of meeting and talking to him or her.

As a deafblind Redemptorist priest, my mission to the parishes is to open hope and faith that the deafblind persons receive God’s message through the kindness of sighted people and that they learn to enjoy the gift of communication with them.

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As a deafblind person cannot see and hear, it all depends on faith, which turns what is unseen and unheard into what is seen and heard through the kindness of communication from sighted persons. This will establish an encounter of joy, hope and trust of God in the lives of the deafblind persons.