Lockdowns inspired highly creative digital outreach
St Teresa of Calcutta, Sts Monica and Augustine, St Maximillian Kolbe.
Their inspirational stories have been translated into Australian Sign Language (Auslan) in a new video series produced in Sydney.
The Ephpheta Centre, the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Catholic Centre for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, launched the YouTube series last month.
Members of the community tell the five-minute life story of a saint in Auslan and follow with a short prayer to the featured saint, with the story of St Joseph the Worker kicking off the series last month.
Community manager Liz McDowell said the initiative had received a great response and is thought to be the first resource of its kind anywhere. The idea came from a weekly Zoom Friday prayer group during last year’s lockdown.
“Our deaf community were so interested in learning more about the saints and there are very few (if any) resources available in Auslan,” Ms McDowell said.
Faith formation assistant Brett Beath, chaplain Fr Michael Lanzon, managers of the community David Parker and Ms McDowell create the short histories and prayers.
These are signed by members of the Ephpheta team, uploaded to YouTube and shared on the centre’s Facebook page and website.
The saints’ life stories is just one of a range of online initiatives the centre has been using to keep connected with the community, including livestreamed signed Masses from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church at Homebush each Sunday.
The Ephpheta Centre is the only Catholic organisation for deaf people in NSW.
“So much of our work is face to face with the community and with COVID all of this changed very quickly,” Ms McDowell said. “Our pastoral team – David Parker, Patricia Knight, Donovan Mulligan, Christiane Quartararo and Brett Beath – did an amazing job at teaching the deaf community how to use assistive video technology such as Zoom and Skype so we could have online craft groups, rosary group, prayer group, deaf stories and one-on-one pastoral chats.
“This took many hours of patience as many people in our community are older and less confident in adapting to new systems.
“Some people in our community do not have access to any technology and for these, when it was safe to do so, we organised socially distanced visits – often sitting on people’s front fences or talking to them from outside through their loungeroom windows.”
In addition to sending ‘thinking of you’ cards and extra newsletters including articles, activities and games, it has all meant a huge amount of work for the dedicated team to make sure no one was left behind.
Mr Parker said plans are underway for the 23 September International Day of Sign Languages to be celebrated online.
“It is an important event in the life of our deaf community,” he said. “It is a day when deaf communities celebrate the gifts which sign languages give to the world.
“The theme for International Day of Sign Languages 2021 is ‘We Sign for Human Rights’.
“Normally, Ephpheta hosts a special community event on this day when we have presenters from a variety of backgrounds talking about the role that sign language has played in their life.”