VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When Sister Kathleen Schipani found out she was usually the very first person to teach deaf children to pray, she decided there had to be an app to fix that.
Learning to pray usually happens in the family, when a parent or relative recites the words for grace before meals, asks for blessings or requests guidance or protection, the Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary told Catholic News Service in Rome.
But when a child is born deaf into a hearing family, those kids shouldn’t have to miss out on learning Catholic prayers or religious terms as they learn American Sign Language (ASL), she said Oct. 20.
Sister Schipani, who is director of the office for persons with disabilities and the deaf apostolate at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was in Rome as part of a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. The gathering Oct. 20-22 was dedicated to sharing best practices in engaging and catechizing persons living with disabilities.
Lots of apps exist for learning ASL, she said, but there is nothing dedicated to religious terms, daily devotions or prayers of blessing, love, thanks and praise. The app meant to fill that gap is called “Religious Signs for Families,” and will be available in English and Spanish from the iTunes App Store and Google Play in early November.
“The locus of learning your faith starts in the family, so this app is really to provide families with the ability” to foster prayer in the home and bond with each other and with God as they pray in ASL, she said. It also will help teachers who want to teach elementary school students how to pray using sign language.
“Deaf people have deep experiences of prayer,” she said, particularly because it involves praying with “their whole body” with signing and visualization.
“Deaf people have never heard the language that we speak so they are not hearing the little voice in their head like we are,” she said. Instead some people say they pray visually with beautiful imagery or with seeing hands signing in their head.
While sacred music does not have the same ability to draw deaf individuals to prayer, sacred or beautiful art does, she said.
“A lot of deaf people have not been catechized because there was no one to sign to them, and that really is what the sad thing is — when there is no opportunity for deaf people to know religious language and have an experience of someone teaching them,” she said.
Sister Schipani said the beautiful thing about sign language is the signs are often “iconic,” reflecting what the thing is and, therefore, they can convey the theology behind the concept.
For example, she said, the sign for “heaven” in the Jewish faith is moving both hands in a way that suggests a semi-circular dome — the heavens — overhead.
In the Christian faith, she said, the sign conveys the canopy of heaven, but with the other hand going through and up, “because we believe that Jesus, our savior, has come and we’re saved so we can have the possibility of entering heaven.”
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103