Listening to the yearnings of our hearts - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Fall 2023 newsletter


Julie Lawler, Cambodia

Group photo of Asian Deaf Catholic Conference 2023

Group photo of the participants of the Asia Deaf Catholic Conference, Sept. 2023 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Where is Waldo (aka Julie)?

I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the Third Asia Deaf Catholic Conference (ADCC), which was held from Sept. 7 to 12 in Jakarta, Indonesia. This year’s theme was “Mission and Collaboration,” and 150 people from 13 different countries attended.

The participants were deaf Catholics, sign language interpreters and advocates for the deaf community (also in attendance were priests, sisters and lay missioners). People came from China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.

DDP team at ADCC Jakarta

Our DDP team in the photo booth: Fr. Charlie, Sreytin, Sopor and Julie

This was the first time two deaf Cambodians from DDP, Sreytin and Sopor, participated. They joined Father Charlie Dittmeier and me. They participated to learn more about the Catholic faith but consider themselves Buddhists.

Laughter, joy and happiness radiated throughout the six-day conference.

The Catholic Church and the sacraments were new to Sreytin and Sopor, but they were able to connect with many other deaf people. It was a new experience for them, and they met so many people during this week who will remain lifelong friends. Sreytin and Sopor felt deeply connected with the other participants as deaf people — even though they believed a different religion, came from other Asian countries with different cultures and were using different sign languages.

To open the ADCC conference, we traveled to the cathedral in downtown Jakarta. We were blessed by the presence of Jakarta’s Cardinal Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo and many priests, including Father Eddie, a Jesuit from Indonesia; Father Park Min-Seo from South Korea; our own Father Charlie Dittmeier; Father Peter from Thailand; Father Kim from South Korea; and two other priests from Indonesia.

One message that stuck with me was from Cardinal Charles Bo, the archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar. He shared a message via video at the end of our opening mass at the request of Fr. Park Min-Seo (a South Korean Priest who leads ADCC and who is also deaf). He stated that…

Fr Charlie with Fr Park Min-Seo

Fr. Charlie voice-interprets for Fr. Park Min-Seo, a deaf Korean priest, during the opening Mass.

To you faithful who hear with their hearts — Deaf Catholics! Know that Jesus often was troubled by those who were well-equipped but could not hear. Often he had to plead to those who have ears, let them hear. There were times Jesus wondered: They have the ears but do not hear. You (Deaf Catholics) are blessed in many ways because you can hear with your heart! The heart has eyes, the heart has ears, and through the medium of love it can hear what others have failed to hear. They can see what others fail to see.

As for the Deaf Catholic majority at this conference, I could see and feel a common bond, friendship and fraternity that has evolved over the years. This conference has connected each of them in a powerful way.

We all know there is much work still left to be done: The National Catholic Office for the Deaf in the United States estimates that “96 percent of deaf Catholics in the United States are unchurched, and most dioceses do not have priests for the deaf, so the deaf don’t have general access to the sacraments.”

The gathering was a reminder that each of us, hearing and deaf, seeks a relationship with our loving God but only some have full access to the Catholic Church. Deaf Catholics also desire full access to the teachings of the Catholic Church, access to all the sacraments, teaching about the sacraments in a language understandable to them, and having a language used at Mass each Sunday that they can understand (via interpreters or a priest who can sign).

For Deaf Catholics, the struggle continues. They want to participate fully as Catholics like the hearing majority of Catholics already do. They are listening to the yearnings of their hearts.

Please consider supporting my mission work at the Deaf Development Programme with a donation through the link below.

I invite you to walk with me as a “COMPANION IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank you so much for your generosity! 


Julie Lawler
Julie Lawler is a deaf education teacher with the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.