Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)

This last summer I visited Franciscan Father Sato Hozo who is doing educational work with Filipino deaf persons and had the opportunity to ask him about the apostolic care of the deaf. Fr. Sato had already been working with deaf people while he was in Japan. He was sent as a missionary to the Philippines in 2002 and started there 2 centers for the deaf, one in Manila and a second one in the city of Calbayog (Samar Island), conducting educational activities, mainly training leaders for the deaf. Firstly, in Manila where he begun St. Francis of Assisi Philippine Deaf Center, a group of 10 deaf people (6 female and 4 male) reside there studying and praying together. Six of them would like to become catechists, one is receiving training to become an instructor in finger language and the other three are learning how to become interpreters also in finger language.

All of them are Catholics and their age varies from 22 years old to 33. The main language at the center is the Filipino finger language that, no matter the difficulties, everybody uses in the liturgy as well as in ordinary life. The staff also shares with the deaf students their life experiences by using finger language. Therefore, leaders receive a natural training living in community and Fr. Sato conducts regularly spiritual and ordinary life guidance.

About one hour and a half flight from Manila is the city of Calbayog in the island of Samar, where Fr. Sato takes also care of 12 students of Primary school, 6 High School students, 3 studying in the university and 2 staff. All of them are deaf and out of the 4 teachers, one is also deaf. The rented place is similar to the one of Manila and all persons live in community.

According to Fr. Sato, the first time he met with those children in 2002 no one could go to school. They were living in far away towns along the sea or in mountain areas, nobody knew how to use finger language and they spent most of their time helping out at home as much as they could afford. These children now can comfortably communicate with others in finger language and some among them even desire to do further studies to be members of the staff.

I asked about pastoral care of the deaf in the Philippines. Fr. Sato commented, "Compared to Japan, there is a great difference in the number of deaf Christians. The Philippines is a Catholic country and, for instance, the number of students at the National School for the deaf in Manila alone is 900 people, with the result that pastoral activities for the students there require time and effort. For example, the sacrament of penance would require about 5 hours in all. This requires a good practice of learning finger language. One needs to be attentive to the movements of the heart of people to make a judgment and that requires a lot of training."
I also asked for the main reasons why there were so many deaf persons in the Philippines. "Measles at the time of pregnancy seems to be the most common cause. As different from Japan medical services are quite deficient. There are many babies born deaf with measles. This is a true medical issue and because there are still many underdeveloped places in the country side without medical care, attention must also be given in the future to solve the medical situation". Fr. Sato's opinion is that cooperation with medical institutions is very important.

Pastoral care for the deaf is quite difficult, but according to Fr. Sato there are success stories with regard to training people: "Soon a Franciscan Korean deaf will be ordained priest. This event gives joy and encouragement to the deaf. I feel much joy at realizing the results of the work to train people. In the near future, I want to finish the construction of a new residence for the deaf at Calbayog. First of all, I want to offer possibilities of education to many deaf people living around Samar and to train people that can serve them. In the Philippines the deaf have been misunderstood and for a long time have been forgotten, their numbers are big and there are not enough people prepared to care for their pastoral needs. It is true that, since the Catholic population is so large, pastoral care of the ordinary healthy people becomes an apostolic priority leaving behind the pastoral care of the deaf. Employment and job opportunities for the deaf are quite rare in the Philippines, so that after education, the creation of jobs is a field for cooperation with healthy people.

Finally, Fr. Sato said: "Right now, my desire is that they could speak in their own language and cry for their needs, so that they could develop the culture of the deaf". Certainly, the times will come when their leaders of the next generations take over and bring that to realization.

The Franciscan Deaf Center of Manila (Philippines)is requesting the assistance of supporters.
Please, help. Japanese web:

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