The Passion

Mar. 31 – April 6
VOL 124 NO. 12
The Passion
By Kelly Rodoski/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Members of the Diocese of Syracuse’s Catholic Deaf Community came together on March 19 at Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse to celebrate Mass with Bishop James Moynihan, continuing a Palm Sunday tradition.

Community members served as lectors and servers for the Mass. Prior to the readings the congregation took part in a Palm Sunday procession, led by colorful flags, that wound its way through Christ the King’s chapel. The readings and the Passion were read in sign language, with voice interpretation by Syracuse Catholic Deaf Community Director Mary Margaret Van Damme. Parishioners from all four regions in the diocese were in attendance.

In his homily, which was interpreted into sign language by Bea Murphy, Bishop Moynihan addressed the “old but ever-new story of the Cross.” He spoke of the crowded streets of Jerusalem on that Good Friday, the role of Simon of Cyrene in helping Jesus to carry the Cross and of Jesus being placed on the Cross.

When Jesus gave up his spirit, he cried “Tetelestai,” which is the victor’s shout. “It is the cry of the man who has completed his task; it is the cry of the man who has won through the struggle; it is the cry of the man who has come out of the dark into the glory of the light,” the bishop said.

For members of the Syracuse Catholic Deaf Community, Palm Sunday is a special time to celebrate with the bishop, as well as to come together as a family to pray together. The camaraderie of the deaf community was evident during the Sign of Peace, where peace was exchanged with everyone present.

“The Mass means a great deal to me,” said Jane Long, a parishioner of St. James in Johnson City and a commissioned lay minister for the deaf. “Bishop Moynihan shows us that we are important members of the diocese by his presence with us. His willingness to take the time to learn some signs, to speak a little slower so that the interpreter can keep up with him, and to allow the liturgical rubrics to be adapted for the deaf — the deaf sit instead of stand during parts of the Mass simply because we use our eyes to hear and if everyone is standing, we cannot see — shows that he is accepting us and cares about us as real people, despite the inconvenience of not being able to communicate with us directly.”

Matt Allen Cutler, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist in Rome, began attending the Palm Sunday Mass several years ago at the encouragement of Father Peter Williams, the community’s former director and current chaplain. “I have always enjoyed chatting with the bishop about God, the Catholic Church, his priesthood and how he became bishop,” Cutler said.

Patricia Thurlow a parishioner of Holy Family/St. Michael’s in Fulton, attends each year and served as a lector at this year’s celebration. “I think it’s enjoyable because it brings the hard of hearing and deaf people together to understand the world of God,” she said

“It is truly an honor and a privilege to interpret for Bishop Moynihan,” said Bea Murphy, who served as sign language interpreter for the Mass. “The bishop’s interest in and compassion for the members of our deaf community is beautiful to witness. We all look forward to his celebrating Mass for the deaf community on Palm Sunday each year.”

Long says that the choice of celebrating the Palm Sunday Mass together couldn’t be better for the deaf community. “It is very difficult for the deaf to follow the Passion readings, even with a skilled interpreter,” she says. “The details and the length create a real challenge for deaf people. To have our own Mass, on Palm Sunday, with our director helping us to participate fully, is an extraordinary privilege and blessing for us.”

During the Mass, the congregation prayed for the deaf community to continue to grow strong in faith, to grow in numbers and to know God’s concern. Prayers were also offered for hearing people to understand and learn more about the deaf culture.

The Syracuse Catholic Deaf Community includes about 400 families, but director Van Damme believes that there are many more families in the diocese who are not yet involved. She hopes that more will soon become involved in sharing and learning and evangelizing to the deaf community. For more information on the Syracuse Catholic Deaf Community, visit

At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Moynihan joked, “I think my vocabulary has grown by one phrase since last year. By next year, I will learn the whole alphabet.”

Following the Mass, Bishop Moynihan and Father Andrew Baranski joined the congregation in dinner and conversation.

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