Deaf Catholic Sign Language Interpreter Training

Taller de Capacitación para Intérpretes Católicos de Lengua de Señas

By: Rev. Joseph A. Mulcrone
What follows is a summary of what our DCYIA (Deaf Catholic Youth Initiative) for the Americas did in Mexico recently.  Our Catholic Interpreting Training Institute (CITI)

After three Encuentros in Guatemala; San Luis Potosi & Oaxaca, Mexico, we realized that if DCYIA were going to succeed, we needed to educate sign-language interpreters to strengthen their skills in religious sign-language.

There are no ITPs (Interpreter Training programs) in Mexico or Central America. Most interpreters are either CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults) or hearing are people who just decided they wanted to learn how to sign.

 So, our Board decided to create a workshop for "interpreters" on developing religious sign-language skills, and offer it in Mexico City JULY 29-August 4. We had never done this before; NO ONE had done this before in Mexico!

On July 27th, our team arrived in Mexico City; 17 people; deaf and hearing; Mexican and American. The site for the training was an old seminary located in the Coyoacan section of Mexico City (more on this later). The rooms were basic: bunk beds, a shower which might or might not produce hot water, no AC/no elevator.  I felt like I was back in the seminary 50 years ago! 

FRI, 7/28: after a starting breakfast of fresh fruit, huevos rancheros, frijoles, bread and good coffee, the team went to work. We had mapped out a basic schedule.  We learned that we had 25 interpreters attending, of various skill levels. We also had to decide a crucial question: which languages would we use. We decided on three: spoken Spanish; signed ASL and LSM (Mexican sign-language). The 17  of us knew most of the team, but there were some new faces and stories to learn.   After a long day, and trying to adjust to Mexico City's 7,500 foot elevation, we all headed to bed early.

SAT, 7/29: more planning in small groups. Then, by afternoon, the students started to arrive. Two people rode a bus sixteen hours from Oaxaca to get to us.  Another few rode a bus 12 hours, all night, from Aguascalientes and Jalisco. In addition to everyone we expected, a priest of Mexico City, Fr. Amado, called and asked to join us.   Fr. Amado who suffers from a childhood disability was recently asked by the Cardinal of Mexico City to start an Office for Persons who are disabled. He knew nothing of deafness or sign-language, but wanted to come.  He was a GREAT addition to the week!

At 5pm, we formally began the week with a Mass for team and students.  I signed in ASL without using my voice.  Chelo Manero and Gerardo Castillo voiced in Spanish; the LSM interpreter signed.  When we had an LSM Lector, Daniela Vite, Yoco García and Maya Avalos, voiced the Spanish; one of the interpreters signed to me and other Americans in ASL. The Mass was in a beautiful, small chapel on the grounds.

SUN, 7/30: we began the day working. Every sunday, the deaf community in Mexico City gathers for Mass at the large church on the grounds of the Center at 1:30 pm. Fr. Amado celebrated the Mass; I preached the homily; another priest joined us.  We had our team and students; the deaf; regular parishioners. Mass and songs in three languages. It was inspiring, fun, and overwhelming. By the end of the Mass, some of the deaf (and hearing folks) were crying because they had never experienced Mass like this.   After all the exhilaration, it was back to class.

MON-THURS: the basic schedule for each day was similar. Breakfast at 8am. 9am, the sign-language students lead Morning Prayer.   I must tell you that on each day, these young people left us more experienced pastoral workers in awe.  Their ability to share their own Faith, to use the Bible in prayer was tremendous. Almost all of them were young women (a few young guys) in their early twenties.  They come from different backgrounds, jobs, yet an incredible desire to live God's Word in their own lives and a willingness to share it. 

10-Noon: class/workshop. Noon-1pm: coffee break. 1-3pm: class. 3-5pm: lunch (main meal). 5-7pm: class. 7-8pm, dinner (though often delayed because the students would not let us end classes... They wanted more.) 8:30pm, team meeting to review the day's work and plan for the next day.

Classes: Ian Robertson & yours truly on Church Language/Religious terms/ how to interpret in Church settings. Rafael Trevino/ Gerardo Castillo/ Alvaro Cordova/Chelo Manero assessing and teaching sign-language skills; Mary Ann Barth & Lauren Lynch, and two deaf psychologists from Mexico, Stephanie Galván and Viridiana Villegas, and our alumni Luis Segoviano, explaining how deaf people see and understand sign-language, culture, religion, etc. And throughout the day, a group of sign-language interpreters working like crazy to keep everyone informed.    

I cannot say enough about the desire of these interpreter students to learn. We gave them a lot of content, asked them to process many concepts new to them, practice interpreting with one another; yet, no complaints, no "this is too much". We tried to structure in as much fun as we could.

FRIDAY was our last full day. Final talks; an hour and a half of the students' feedback on the week (when is the next one!????????????). An afternoon of evaluations and feedback to the students.   Mass with Fr. Amado, me, and a Fr. Mario who used to work with the deaf in Mexico. He signed fluid LSM throughout the Mass. We as a team did our own evaluation. We felt that we had achieved a lot of our original goals. We also had had to change some of our ideas in response to the real needs of the students.    The last official act: certificates, exchange of gifts, pictures, smiles/hugs/and tears.

SATURDAY as folks left, more pictures, more hugs, more "please, please come back; do this again."

A few notes: every time I do one of these events, I come with my ideas, my plans. Many years ago, when we began DCYIA, I knelt in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. I said to her," whatever happens with DCYIA is yours, not mine." Throughout every gathering, we have been incredibly blessed. I walk away with much more than whatever I tried to give.  DCYIA has an incredible TEAM. We share in friendship, prayer, hard work and fun. This year an addition to the team was a psychologist form Marist University, who also knows LSM and is an interpreter, Ale Granados. She was Chelo´s right arm. Both of them did all the logistics and preparations for the team and students to have an amazing week.

 It also helps to have wonderful friends like ED & BEATRIZ SCHWEITZER who have been such a huge support for us through these years.

The COYOACAN area of Mexico City is one of the oldest parts of the city. Hernan Cortes lived there when he first came to that area.  The homes are really quite beautiful; the neighborhood, very upscale. A lot of things to do, places to eat and see in that area. The food in Mexico is still wonderful; the traffic is ridiculous.   Thanks to all of you for your encouragement, prayers, support.  DCYIA made a difference. We have a group of interpreters who learned a lot about how to do a better job interpreting back home in their parishes and other settings. The DCYIA Board which meets in November will decided when we might do this again.  Thanks.