The Dominican Bethesda Center at Isiro for People with Disabilities

Subtitle: 
Witnesses of Compassion: A Series on the Vocation of Cooperator Brothers in the Order
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The Dominican Bethesda Center for People with Disabilities at Isiro
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The vocation of the Cooperator brothers in the Order remains a vital part of our preaching mission. In a bid to promote this Vocation, we will be featuring the works of different Cooperator brothers from different parts of the world. We invite you to follow this series on the website of the Order (www.op.org) and on IDI. This month, we are featuring:

Brother José BOLABOTO of the General Vicariate of DR Congo and the Bethesda Center for People with Disabilities at Isiro

Living with the Deaf is not a phenomenon that would outrage the world today, though it takes some understanding and appropriate behavior to achieve it.

The Bible does not remain indifferent towards the good ways of living with the deaf (cf. Lev. 19:14). And the same Bible teaches us how to be advocates for people with disabilities in general and especially those who cannot speak for themselves (cf. Prov. 31:8-9).

It is in this context that the Order of Preachers does not remain silent to these urgent calls to offer compassion to our brothers and sisters with reduced mobility, especially the deaf from the town of Isiro in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Four members of the Dominican family are now working together to share the warmth of this apostolate, two Dominican brothers (one priest brother and one cooperator brother), a sister of the Dominican Missionary Evangelizers of the Family and a lay Dominican.

In this apostolate, the team takes care to educate and teach children with disabilities in a center which includes a special school complex, a physiotherapy service, a cutting and sewing workshop and a pharmacy. Still in development are the carpentry, mechanical, and computer workshops and a polyclinic.

1. Education of the Deaf and Training of Teachers

At first, the formation of our sign-language teachers takes a period of two weeks before they start their work; surprisingly, they demonstrated a facility to collaborate together but there is still much more to do for the special training of the group. This training is more focused on sign language and learning to live with the deaf.

Because we cannot claim to work with the deaf through an integrative framework without thinking of improving their environment, this training will also strive to demonstrate to the people of Isiro an awareness of the importance and the relevance of schooling for deaf-mute children. At the beginning our school for the Deaf in Isiro had 18 students. Today the number is a little higher.  

2. Evangelization of the Deaf-Mute in Isiro (Historical Aspect)

“In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.” (Isaiah 29:18). That day in Isiro was Sunday, September 15, 2013 at 6:30 a.m. when the first Mass was celebrated by Fr. Emmanuel of the Consolata Congregation at Saint Kizito Church. The scripture passage from the Old Testament was fulfilled in Isiro through the sign language interpretation of our brother trainer MONTENDA LIBANGE MONGA Alomo at the Mass.

As is the custom in Catholic schools in our country, a Mass of thanksgiving for the opening of the school year 2013-2014 was organized within the Bethesda center with the provision of sign language interpretation.

3. Catechesis for the Deaf-Mute

We would not overlook the aspect of offering catechesis to the deaf because the Lord Jesus Christ himself recommended it as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (28,19-20): "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all ... ".

Certainly as it is said, “faith comes from hearing the word of God” (cf., Rom 10:17). Due to this response found in scripture, the Dominicans of the Bethesda Centre in Isiro say that for someone to hear well the Word of God (catechesis), it has to be in an appropriate language, that is to say, a language that someone can understand, hear, and speak well; because of this, the language used for those who are deaf-mute is sign language. Since, the sacraments are the source of life for all Catholic Christians, they are desirable even for those who are deaf-mute granted that they are administered in a language they can understand.

“How do we administer the sacraments to this group of people?” This question is not new to this century. However, the available literature indicates that the Catholic Church did not remain indifferent to it. She tried, gradually, to address this issue through the mediation of significant persons in the Church and many other lay people (the faithful). Such people include: Saint Jerome (fifth century), St. Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century), The abbot of E’pée (1712 to 1899), Montenda Libange Alomo Monga (currently an educator and interpreter for the deaf and mute in Bethesda Centre in Isiro)

 4. At Isiro, Hope is Reborn for the Deaf-Mute

Today, people with disabilities are shown hope when we can better carry out the evangelization of the deaf, first by learning their language (sign language) and by following the examples and experiences of those noted above.

Together with the help of the Lord who is the overseer of all and our own commitment and determination, always praying, especially to the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the patron of the Order of Preachers in general, as well as the deaf-mute, we can succeed.

At Isiro, this apostolate that did not seem to interest the people, or even the parents of our deaf children, now begins to raise awareness to those around us. The protective arms of love, patience and prayer emerge and attract men and women to the bedside of this category of people who were long considered useless and stupid.

A special mention to the Italian Episcopal Conference who have continued to support the construction of the Centre where we will erect buildings for workshops and classrooms.

Brother José BOLABOTO, OP

 

(17 February 2016)