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Signs of warmth from Cardiff’s Deaf Catholic community

A WOMAN opens her hands, and pinches her forefingers and thumbs mid-air. This is the peace sign in British Sign Language.

Marilyn James is a deaf member of St Philip Evans Roman Catholic Church, in Llanedeyrn which is the only Catholic Church in Cardiff with signed masses and a self-funded Deaf Service.

Every Tuesday and Sunday, around 10 deaf members come together to worship, communicate and connect with the wider community.

St. Philip Evans RC Church Deaf Service

After mass, I meet the members of the Deaf Service, who introduce themselves with name signs.

Mrs James wiggles her fingers in the air, showing off an array of gold rings on each hand. She is proud of her sign name: the one who wears lots of gold jewellery.

Bernadette Nolan, drums her fingertips together, as if sparking tinder, to make a flickering flame. Bernie, Burnie, Burning: the one who burns.

Lawrence Viney rubs his hand on his bald head, and grins: the one with lots of hair.

I don’t have a sign name yet, but they help me make a wonky Z.

Deaf parishioner Mrs James and volunteer Gareth Hayes have been signing the hymns, readings, and prayers since 2007.

This is the Archdiocese of Cardiff’s designated parish to serve deaf people, and the Rev Gareth Leyshon signs the Mass prayers using both BSL and Sign-Supported English.

“We make sure we include the deaf community as leaders in our parish,” said Father Leyshon.

However, like many deaf community centres, St Philip Evan’s Small Hall, used by the Deaf Service, now faces pressure from funding cuts.

Ms Nolan, the director of the Deaf Service at St Philip Evans, says they are constantly seeking charity grants to fund their Small Hall which costs around £5,000 to run each year.

She said: “When our elderly deaf members were brought up, often they were segregated from society. Now deaf children are integrated into society much more. However, this means people don’t see the same need for special clubs for the deaf.”

The group claim it is becoming harder for a lot of deaf people to come to mass today. A lot of their deaf friends do not have cars, and they worry traffic is worse in Cardiff now.

However, the members all agree that the mass and Tuesday club are a much loved and important part of their week.

Mr Viney grins and confides that he is not Catholic, but still attends most weeks.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Viney said: “I used to go to a church in Whitchurch, where I live, but I couldn’t understand the priest there. So now I come here.”

The Tuesday club offers fun activities for members, such as bingo, a raffle and shared meals.

Mrs James said through an interpreter: “I never wanted to move from Canton, but I have made such wonderful hearing friends. Now, I do the hymns here.”

Deaf members signing hymns

However, as it is hard for the deaf to find help in their first language, the Tuesday club offers extra social services and help.

Deaf members can bring letters and various problems they need help with.

“I know there will be someone I can talk to if I’m worried,” Mr Viney added, through an interpreter.

The group agree that it is easier to connect and communicate in the parish, alongside the wider community.

“It is so expressive,” said Ms Nolan.

“The signing adds something to the whole service, and lots of people now join in with the signing of hymns.”

  • More information about how to get involved with the St. Philip Evan’s Parish Deaf Service can be found here.
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