Chris Moore dries off after being baptized by Fr. Raul Marquez, chaplain of the archdiocesan Catholic Deaf Community, at St. Peter Church in Southeast Portland last month. In the background is Tracy Blue, Moore’s sponsor. “She gave me such a great understanding of the Catholic Church,” signed Moore in an interview. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Chris Moore dries off after being baptized by Fr. Raul Marquez, chaplain of the archdiocesan Catholic Deaf Community, at St. Peter Church in Southeast Portland last month. In the background is Tracy Blue, Moore’s sponsor. “She gave me such a great understanding of the Catholic Church,” signed Moore in an interview. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Before the final words of “Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?” had been fully signed during the profession of faith, Chris Moore responded with a fervent “I do!” in sign language.

A few moments later, as he lifted his dripping-wet head from the baptismal font, the expression of delight on Moore’s face caused some in attendance to wipe away tears. That same expression emerged after Moore received Communion.

From start to finish, it was a liturgy brimming with joy.

“I was nervous right before, but now I feel peaceful, so happy, so strong in faith,” signed Moore in an interview following Mass.

The 51-year-old was baptized, confirmed and received his first Eucharist last month at St. Peter Church in Southeast Portland. He is the newest addition to the Catholic Deaf Community of the Archdiocese of Portland. Formed more than 60 years ago, the ministry has evolved over the years and has faced challenges during the coronavirus, but it continues to serve around 250 deaf Catholics in western Oregon.

Tim Kindblade, a respected leader among local deaf Catholics, said in an email that Moore’s entry into the church “gives us hope for the future.”

Moore was born in North Carolina but moved around frequently for his dad’s work in the military. The relocations were tough, but the bigger hardship was feeling isolated by language.

“I often felt out of the loop, out of the picture with others,” he signed.

Moore, who has two grown sons and was divorced years ago, had a circuitous path to his spiritual home.

His mother is Catholic but the family went to church sporadically. In Portland he’d been attending a Christian church, but he eventually found it wasn’t the right fit. One of his sons helped him reconnect with the Catholic Church and the deaf ministry two years ago.

Moore said he values everything about the Catholic faith but is especially in awe of its social justice work. Hoping to be part of that tradition, Moore said his goal is to retire early from his job at a warehouse so he can move to Vietnam to teach deaf children American Sign Language. He has a few friends in the Southeast Asian country.

“I love helping people,” signed Moore.

Father Marquez, pastor of St. Peter and chaplain of the archdiocesan ministry for about three years, said the church has not always done the best job serving the deaf community. He believes the archdiocese has made progress but there’s room for growth.

“More than anything the deaf need the support of their parish,” he said. “We need to let them know we welcome them.”

Father Marquez added that hearing people can gain a deeper understanding of prayer from deaf individuals.

“Deaf individuals worship with their hands, with their body,” he said. “Seeing their signed prayers, their signed singing — they are a reminder to hearing people that we are called to worship with our whole self.”

Over the past few years, the archdiocesan ministry was reorganized and moved to a less centralized approach, said Jilene Modlin, who worked for a decade at the Washington School for the Deaf and now helps coordinate ministry among deaf Catholics. She said there’s a focus on meeting the needs of deaf individuals at more parishes through interpreted Masses.

Some of the changes have been difficult for the deaf, acknowledges Modlin. But she sees a growing diversity in the kinds of parish outreach efforts that are offered.

St. Ignatius in Southeast Portland provides spiritual formation and is working with deaf refugees. St. John in Oregon City collaborates with a local street ministry to aid those who are deaf and homeless or victims of domestic abuse. Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Oswego is supporting deaf hospice, and there’s a ministry to Hispanics who are deaf at St. Alexander in Cornelius.

“I’m so thankful that there are so many opportunities to support acts of faith and corporal works of mercy,” said Modlin. “No one place can do it all.”

Deaf individuals from different parishes also gather for Bible studies, service projects and social events. And there’s a youth group.

Most of the interpreted Masses are suspended during the coronavirus, but Our Lady of the Lake continues to provide livestreamed and live interpreted Masses, and St. Peter has a signed Mass every Sunday.

The coronavirus “has been quite hard for the deaf,” said Modlin. “It takes an extra effort already to make arrangements for things due to the language difference, and now they can be even more isolated.”

She said the Catholic deaf community has rallied by embracing virtual ways of connecting. Online rosaries, livestreamed Masses and Facebook groups have helped preserve relationships and deepen belief, Modlin said.

The pandemic made it harder for Moore to finish his formation and delayed his entry into the church, as it did for many Catholic hopefuls. “But Chris just kept at it,” said Modlin. “He was so committed.”

Kindblade said having a faith community of fellow deaf individuals is critical to one’s spiritual journey. “We are like a larger family; we understand and support each other,” he said.

“It’s a family that helps me keep my faith strong and growing,” Moore signed, “no matter what.”

katies@catholicsentinel.org



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For more on the archdiocesan Catholic Deaf Community, go here