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December 11, 2003

Flying fingers do the talking

From: Press-Enterprise, CA - Dec 11, 2003

SIGNING: Paul Ventura captures the Mass for the hard of hearing churchgoers.

By MARCELLA BINGHAM / Special to The Press-Enterprise

Paul Ventura's fingers fly rapidly capturing the words of the prayer.

He listens carefully, interpreting the meaning and signing the Mass for the hearing-impaired parishioners at St. Martha Catholic parish in Murrieta.

Ventura describes his own hearing loss as hard of hearing, moderate to severe.

When signing for Mass, Ventura said he has to listen very carefully.

He relies partly on lip-reading and on a hearing aid. Ventura pointed out that the ability for the hearing-impaired to understand lip-reading is commonly misunderstood.

"You only get about 35 percent of what is said with lip-reading," he said.

Ventura, 45, initiated the Catholic Deaf Ministry at St. Martha in 1998 after he and his wife Theresa, 42, who is profoundly deaf, and their two hearing children, Cassie, 13, and Amanda, 14, moved to Murrieta from Moreno Valley.

Although there are other interpreted Catholic services in Southern California, Ventura said that most are too far for the hearing-impaired Catholics living in southwestern Riverside County to attend regularly.

The couple has been active in Catholic Deaf Ministry since they met at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in 1984.

Gallaudet University is the only university in the world for the deaf, hard of hearing as well as hearing students. Paul and Theresa Ventura hold bachelor's degrees in psychology from Gallaudet.

Ventura's struggle in the hearing world began shortly after he was born in 1958 in Portugal on one of the nine Azores islands.

A little dot in the ocean, he said. His first language was Portuguese, but at an early age, the family moved to Montreal.

His family did not realize the extent of his hearing loss until he went to school. He survived school by mimicking what the other children did.

"If someone flipped a page, I flipped a page," Ventura said.

The family sent him to speech therapy once the hearing loss was discovered.

"Between Portuguese, English and signing," Ventura said, "It was a confusion for me growing up."

Theresa and Paul Ventura use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.

Since ASL does not translate spoken English, word for word, Ventura said that it requires him to determine the meaning of what he hears and interpret it into ASL.

ASL has a culture and vocabulary of its own similar to a foreign language, Ventura said.

Paul and Theresa Ventura are both eager to promote the Catholic Deaf Ministry for deaf and hard of hearing Catholics throughout the Inland Empire but especially in southwest Riverside County.

Ventura said that it is difficult to determine how many people this service could affect. It is a hidden population, he said.

"We believe that the deaf will come if the service is provided," he said.

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