Ghislain Cheret Bazikila, a Catholic seminarian and native of Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, decided to spend the summer in Toledo because he wanted to work for a diocese that does not have a deaf priest.
One of two deaf seminarians at St. Patrick's Seminary in San Francisco, Mr. Bazikila said he looked up the Toledo diocese online and then contacted Marsha Rivas, director of equal access ministries, hoping for an assignment here this summer.
Ms. Rivas agreed to bring the 30-year-old seminarian to northwest Ohio for nine weeks, with the diocese covering his expenses. Mr. Bazikila's tenure ends this weekend as he heads back to San Francisco to resume seminary classes on Monday.
"It's been a good experience. I feel satisfied. My goals have been met," Mr. Bazikila said in an interview, conducted with the help of a translator, at the Catholic Center in downtown Toledo earlier this week.
His first goal, he said, was to get to know and serve the local deaf community, whose home parish is St. Pius Church on Ilger Avenue in West Toledo.
The weekly Mass, with sign language translation from start to finish, is celebrated at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. Ms. Rivas said there are about 20 active deaf Catholics in the diocese, which has a total of 303,000 members in 19 counties.
"I have done many things and I have learned a lot," Mr. Bazikila said of his time in Ohio.
There are only six deaf priests in the United States and five deaf seminarians, Mr. Bazikila said, and the unique needs of deaf communities are best met by priests who also are deaf.
First of all, he said, it helps to communicate directly by sharing American Sign Language, without the need for an interpreter.
It also makes it easier to hold retreats and to conduct hospital and nursing home visits. It also is helpful in performing the sacrament of reconciliation, or confession. (Ms. Rivas said that in private confessions with a hearing priest who does not know sign language, deaf Catholics often write their statements down rather than use an interpreter.)
Mr. Bazikila said a special bond develops between a deaf priest and a deaf community.
"Sometimes hearing priests forget the needs of the deaf community, but a deaf priest would know," he said.
He hopes that by spending the summer in Toledo, he will help encourage more young deaf Catholics to enter the priesthood, and that more local priests will be inspired to learn American Sign Language.
Mr. Bazikila was born and raised in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo in central Africa, and did not lose his hearing until he was 16.
As a young teen, he wanted to become a priest and entered the seminary at age 13. But after losing his hearing from an undiagnosed illness, "I thought it would be impossible," he said.
Mr. Bazikila went to the University of Brazzaville, where he received a bachelor's degree in sociology and deaf cultures, and then again felt God was calling him into the seminary.
"This time I felt God was leading me to meet the needs of deaf people," he said.
He has been in the United States for six years and has served in Washington State, Texas, Philadelphia, and Boston, in addition to his seminary studies in San Francisco.
Mr. Bazikila said he has enjoyed his time in Toledo and northwest Ohio, adding that he likes "natural" settings rather than big cities. He described Toledo as "kind of quiet."
Ms. Rivas said she is sad to see Mr. Bazikila leave because even though she had been aware of the needs of the Toledo diocese's deaf community, Mr. Bazikila was able to energize the group in a unique way.
"I would like to keep the momentum going," Ms. Rivas said.
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