KOREA: Ordination Of First Deaf Priest Seen As Offering Hope To Catholics With Disabilities

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Jul 13 12:50:36 UTC 2007

KOREA     Ordination Of First Deaf Priest Seen As Offering Hope To
Catholics With Disabilities

SEOUL (UCAN) -- For many parishioners attending Mass on July 8 at
Pon-dong Church in Seoul, the celebrant's silence was not the only
unusual feature.  For one thing, a screen was set up on which the
Order of Mass would be projected for churchgoers to read. Then as the
celebration was about to start, a layman faced the 1,700 parishioners
and used sign language to communicate with them. The Mass that
followed was the first celebrated by Father Benedict Park Min-seo, a
deaf priest who does not speak. Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of
Seoul ordained him with 38 other priests just two days earlier.
According to Seoul archdiocese, Father Park is the first deaf priest
in Asia.

He celebrated the Mass in sign language, while another priest who was
ordained with him, Father Gabriel Chang Won-seok, verbalized the Mass
for non-hearing-impaired parishioners. Both priests have been assigned
to Pon-dong Church. Father Michael Cheong Soon-o, the parish priest,
gave the homily. "Father Park's ordination shows the love of God for
hearing and speech-impaired people," he told Massgoers. "We need to
keep praying for him to be salt and light for disabled people," added
Father Cheong, spiritual director of the Seoul Catholic Association
for the Deaf.

At the congratulatory function after the Mass, Father Park thanked
Catholics for their concerns and prayers, especially those from the
deaf community who helped him to attain his dream of becoming a
priest. "I underwent a lot of painful experiences during my priestly
formation and I realized that I could not become a priest through my
own will," he signed through an interpreter. "The precious concerns
and prayers of the faithful made me a priest."  Father Park was born
on July 15, 1968. He lost his hearing at the age of 2 after taking
wrongly prescribed medication. When he grew older, he first wanted to
become a painter.

But after getting to know Father Cheong, who served deaf people, he
began to dream of becoming a priest and also serving people like
himself. In 1994, with Father Cheong's help, he went to the United
States to study philosophy and mathematics at Gallaudet University, an
institution in Washington, the U.S. capital, set up especially for
deaf people. Father Thomas Coughlin of Honolulu, the first deaf priest
in the United States, became his spiritual director. Five years later,
after graduating, Father Park enrolled in the theology program for the
deaf at St. Joseph's Seminary in New York. When the program later
closed, he transferred to another university with Father Coughlin's
help and obtained a master's degree in theology in 2004.

He returned to Seoul the following year and studied at Seoul
archdiocese's major seminary. He was ordained a deacon in July 2006.
"As the first Catholic priest with disabilities, I had much media
limelight even before the ordination," he shared at the function.
"However, I'm not a 'star' but an ordinary priest. I ask all the
faithful to pray for me to be a humble and modest priest."  Father
Coughlin, who attended the July 8 Mass as well as Father Park's
ordination, told UCA News that he is "happy" about the ordination, and
that the Korean Catholic Church now has such a priest.

"It's a miracle. Father Park had tough times in the United States, but
God revealed himself to Father Park -- to care for deaf people," he
signed through the interpreter.

About 200 members of the Seoul Catholic Association for the Deaf
attended the July 8 Mass.

One of them told UCA News in sign language: "I am so happy that there
is a priest who knows our pains and sufferings. Father Park will be a
good pastor for us."

Pon-dong parishioner Emma Kim Young-ran sees an even wider
significance. "Definitely, Father Park is a pioneer. He will encourage
more disabled people to be priests," she told UCA News.

According to a press release from Seoul archdiocese, six deaf priests
currently serve in the United States, two each serve in Brazil,
England, Spain and South Africa, and now one serves in Asia.


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