December 15, 2013 Phoenix, Arizona - A retired priest based in Phoenix invented a computer-based confession tool for deaf people. The new technology will make the valued sacrament of reconciliation easily available to hundreds of thousands of people with hearing problems. Using a secured setup of two connected computers with American Sign Language (ASL) instructions and videos, priests who are not skilled in sign language will be able to communicate with deaf people using the chat function. This invention will augment the centuries-old practice of confession and may usher people with special needs to the Catholic Church’s gradual adoption of new technology in the modern world.
The solution is composed of two computers running special software that appears on both computer screens. It contains written instructions as well as sign language video instructions and audio. This computer setup was designed to instantly run a chat program where a priest and the penitent can exchange written messages on their screens. The deaf and the priest will only have to write their messages by typing and pressing the appropriate buttons to a sequence following normal church practice.
Before this invention deaf people have very limited option and accessibility to confession. The usual practice was to look for a priest who knows sign language or a third person translator. In the absence of both, deaf people would have to contend to writing their confessions on a piece of paper and hand them to a priest.
According to World Health Organization, in a study published in February 2013, there are more than 360 million people with disabling hearing loss. One in three persons over the age of 65 years lives with hearing loss, contributing to the world total alone by 165 million. Practicing priests who are deaf or skilled in sign language are greatly outnumbered by deaf people in need of someone who can attend to the needs of their faith.
Rev. Romuald P. Zantua, DS, the inventor of the computerized computer tool, is known in the Catholic community as someone who specializes in people with special needs. Before tackling the problem of the deaf, he has organized a group of priests and brothers whose main apostolate is to provide spiritual care to people with terminal illness. He is also a published author of a number of insightful books, among them an audiobook – All’s Well That Ends Well – a do-it-yourself retreat narrated by volunteers using original musical compositions as music therapy. His pastoral assignments span the Archdiocese of New York working in Our Lady of Lourdes, in Manhattan and St. Patrick’s Church in Newburgh. In 2001, he was a hospital chaplain at Southwest Memorial Hospital in Houston.
The work on this tool, called St. Damien Confession Box, started last year with a concept presentation to the National Catholic Office for the Deaf (NCOD) in Phoenix during their annual Pastoral Week. After few revisions and joint assessments of NCOD and the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD), the latest version was finalized. Rev. Michael A. Depcik who runs an outreach ministry to the deaf through his website “Fr. MD’s Kitchen Table” performed the ASL interpretation on the software’s video instructions.
Named in honor of St. Damien of Molokai, the St. Damien Confession Box’s software and technical documentation of this tool will be released for free in the United States. Other versions in Spanish and other languages are also planned. The tool is considered secured and hack-proof as the exclusive two-way communication doesn’t allow a third party to connect and other network connectivity are all disabled, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
For more information about the St. Damien Confession Box, you may visit the website at http://www.stdamien.org . To view a presentation of it, click on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4z-xh0KwS8