Vatican YouTube channel for the deaf praised by local Catholics

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Members of the congregation participate in an American Sign Language Mass for Catholics who are deaf on Aug. 16, 2020, at the St. Francis Borgia Deaf Center, 8025 W. Addison St. Sunday Mass in ASL is celebrated weekly at the center. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

On Easter Sunday, the Vatican launched new YouTube channels that provide sign language interpretation of Pope Francis’ weekly audiences and Angelus addresses for millions of deaf Catholics around the world.

Jimmy Smith, a parishioner at the St. Francis Borgia Deaf Center, said he was “ecstatic” to watch Pope Francis’ audiences and Angelus addresses with an interpreter.

“This way I can really participate with everyone, hearing and deaf. For example, in the beginning of my life, I’d been going to hearing Masses, and I could follow along with the readings via Missal, but once the priest preached I fell asleep until my mother poked me in the ribs,” Smith said.

He could not read the lips of the priests because he could not see them well enough, because they were up on a podium or maybe the church was too dark.

“All that disappeared with I found the [St. Francis Borgia Deaf Center] in Chicago, where I can fully participate and haven’t slept through any sermons,” Smith said via email.

Having the interpreted videos makes him feel more connected to his fellow Catholics.

“It allows me to experience the talks and addresses at the same time with our hearing brothers and sisters, not waiting for someone to transcribe the addresses or talks. It also allows us be at par with our hearing Catholic brothers and sisters and also participate any discussions regarding the talks and addresses,” he said. “Before this, by the time we get the transcriptions, the discussions have come and gone. Now, no more.”

The “No One Excluded” project offers interpreters in Italian and American Sign Language.

Along with the YouTube channel dedicated to accessibility for people with communication challenges, an app will be made available in the next few months for people with sensory disabilities, Vatican News reported.

“Its objective will be to allow them to enjoy Vatican media contents in a more integral way, with special attention for the visually impaired, and for those with communication challenges,” the news site said.

The effort is being piloted for one year, and there are hopes of expanding it to include other sign languages.

There are 5.7 million deaf or hard of hearing Catholics in the United States, according to the National Catholic Office for the Deaf.

Father Joe Mulcrone, director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of the Deaf, said the idea for providing more interpreters for deaf Catholics at the Vatican started during a 2018 encounter with Pope Francis and a group of pilgrims from the Deaf Catholic Youth Initiative of the Americas, a group Mulcrone helped found.

The group of about 120 people, including deaf Catholics from Chicago, made the trip to Rome to mark the 10th anniversary of a conference in Rome and an audience they had with Pope Benedict XVI.

After the June 27 audience with Pope Francis, the pope came to greet people and made his way over to the group of deaf Catholics. DCYIA arranged to have sign language interpreters on both sides of Francis to facilitate communication.

“The amazing thing about the guy is he is not flustered by this stuff. There are these two women interpreters next to him and he’s like, ‘Fine. This is great,’” Mulcrone recalled. “At that point Francis had this very intimate experience with sign language interpreters accompanying him. Not just being up there interpreting when he’s talking but being with him when he is meeting the deaf people.”

It was at the moment, an idea was born, said Mulcrone, who witnessed the exchange. The pope turned to an aide and asked why there were no interpreters regularly at audiences and addresses. Then he turned to Sister Veronica Donatello, an Italian religious sister with ties to the Vatican and who works with deaf Catholics in Italy, and asked her if she thought it was possible to have interpreters at his weekly audiences. She did.

That started things moving, Mulcrone said. More support for providing better access to people with disabilities around the world came from Pope Francis’ 2020 message for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, where he said he wanted “to make available suitable and accessible means for handing on the faith.”

“I also hope that these can be made available to those who need them, cost-free to the extent possible, also through the new technologies that have proven so important for everyone in the midst of this pandemic,” Pope Francis said.

Around this time, Sister Donatello reached out to Mulcrone and others working in the deaf community asking if they thought it was possible to provide interpreted videos of the pope’s weekly audiences and Angelus addresses.

“We’re here all going, ‘Sure, technologically it’s relatively easy to do.’” Mulcrone said.

Then the question surfaced of finding the resources to pay for the interpreters. That is where the St. Francis Borgia Deaf Center helped. Mulcrone found someone willing to donate $5,000 to get things started.

“All through this, the Vatican was like, ‘Hey, this is great.’ We really didn’t run into any kind of road blocks,” he said.

There is some time lag between the live addresses and the YouTube interpreted videos because of the time difference between Italy and the United States.

“But that’s fine because it’s showing up on our time in the United States,” he said.

Mulcrone, who has worked in the deaf community since 1977, emphasized the importance of deaf people having this kind of access to Pope Francis.

“If a hearing person who is Catholic can have access to the leader of our church, shouldn’t a deaf person, who is a baptized Catholic, have the same access?” Mulcrone asked. “The other the part of it is, it is a symbol. It says to the deaf person, ‘This church cares about you. This church recognizes that you have a particular language, you have a particular frame of reference.’”

To access the YouTube channel in American Sign Language, visit


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