Italy’s National Organization for the Deaf on Pilgrimage in the Holy Land | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Italy’s National Organization for the Deaf on Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

July 15 – 22, 42 members of Italy’s National Organization for the Deaf (ENS) came to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. In some ways this was a historical trip, since for the past 26 years, the ENS had no longer organized a trip to the Holy Land. The ENS chose to ask the Holy Land Custody’s delegation which has its seat in Rome to organize the pilgrimage.

The Franciscan friar who led the group was accompanied by two excellent interpreters who translated every one of his words into Italian sign language (LIS). These were Sister Veronica Donatello (a Franciscan of Alcantara and the deputy of the person responsible for the department of spirituality of the ENS), and Paola Bonifazi. Among others who took part was the president of the ENS in Umbria, Mr. Piero Samueli.

The organizers wanted to go on a “classical” pilgrimage, which includes most of the main Christian sanctuaries in Galilee and Judea, enriching it by additional visits to a few significant places and institutions: the “Effatà” Institute for the deaf in Bethlehem, the Holocaust Museum “Yad Vashem”, and the Shrine of the Book, all of which are in Jerusalem.

There was no priest in the group, but thanks to the collaboration of the Friars in the various sanctuaries, it was possible to celebrate Mass every day, and the two interpreters translated this entirely into LIS. These celebrations were very moving, especially for those who did not know that it was also possible to celebrate in such a special language.

The renewal of the marriage vows in Cana and of the baptismal promises near the Jordan really touched the hearts of the pilgrims.

A truly significant moment occurred in Bethlehem, when the pilgrims met by chance two deaf Palestinians on the square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity; one of the Palestinians was Christian, the other Muslim. The two friends were invited to come for a drink that evening at the Franciscan “Palace – Casa Nova” hospice. The news that a group made up entirely of deaf pilgrims was present spread quickly in Bethlehem, and that evening at the Palace, the encounter was expanded. It is difficult to express its beauty and friendliness. Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Italians, deaf Italians and Palestinians succeeded in understanding one another well in spite of the fact that they were using different sign languages, and they discussed very different topics all evening long. United by an obvious difficulty, our friends succeeded in communicating far better than many people who have lived in the Holy Land for decades for apostolic reasons and for dialogue. Then the deaf people of Bethlehem wanted to introduce the pilgrims to the typical Palestinian hospitality by bringing some of the Italian pilgrims to their homes by car, thus expanding the introductions. When the ENS pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem, they met the Father Custos of the Holy Land; this was a propitious opportunity to receive clarification and answers to their many questions and to satisfy their curiosity.

The group of pilgrims also wanted to make the Way of the Cross, and in this case as well, it was a beautiful witness to those who met them on the Via Dolorosa.

The experience was very beautiful, both for the pilgrims and for those who had the grace to meet them.

The next project is now to bring a group of young people who are members of the ENS to the Holy Land next year. Let’s hope that this project will succeed.