Photo: Felix Carroll
In the Language of Love
Meet the Woman Whose Fingers Do the Talking Mercy Sunday
On Sunday, April 15, Robin Moravsky and her husband Joe would join the thousands of pilgrims celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass. They would praise God's greatest attribute in the middle of a Nor'easter that, elsewhere, would cause deaths, property damage, flooded roads, canceled flights, and closed schools.
On Thursday evening before the feast, however, Robin — who lives in Connecticut — took a break from her travel preparations to talk to me.
Joe can be heard in the background, busily making phone calls to try to find them a room for the weekend after a mix-up with their previous reservation. Robin's voice is serene. She knows that neither bleak weather forecasts nor glutted hotels will keep her from serving, for the fifth year in a row, as the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter on Eden Hill.
Robin's devotion to The Divine Mercy began to bud in 1996 when, during a family trial, she and several of her relatives attended a Eucharistic convention. It was at this convention that Robin first experienced the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy: hundreds of people there gathered in a room and prayed the Chaplet on their knees. After the convention, Robin's brother gave her a copy of St. Faustina's Diary. "If you can read this," he said, "it will be a gift."
"I took that as a challenge," Robin laughs. "I was like, 'I can read that.'" Read it, she did, and as Robin recalls, "that book changed everything for me. I just needed to hear it again and again, about God's mercy."
Soon afterward, a friend from Robin's Rosary group decided to volunteer at the Shrine for Divine Mercy Sunday and invited Robin to join her. When Robin and her friend called the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, who administer the Shrine, Robin mentioned her fluency in ASL. She has been signing at the Shrine on Divine Mercy Sunday ever since.
For Robin, participating in the celebration every year is "just overwhelming. ... It's really a gift, an honor to be involved in that capacity." Robin describes signing the Chaplet in particular as "very moving. ... It's a song and a prayer, and because it's repetitive, it gives you the opportunity to meditate and concentrate on what's being said."
During Mass and the Chaplet, Robin stands near the altar on a raised platform so that she is clearly visible to the hearing impaired. "It's pretty intense because being up front there, I can see everything: thousands of people praying, all in their own styles," she says. "A big part of what impacts me is there are so many people. Different ages, races, handicaps ... but we all want to know God, to know His Son. ... It's amazing to receive the Sacraments together, to say the Rosary together, to pray together. It can be overwhelming." On Divine Mercy Sunday, the diverse pilgrims are "all of one heart, one mind, one accord, one intention."
Of course, Robin particularly notices the special group she is there to serve. "I'm always just so moved by the deaf people themselves," she says. "There's not a big crowd [of them]. I'm amazed by the love they have for God and Jesus." Robin can see that love being expressed in the way the deaf people use their bodies. When hymns are being sung, some of them will pray privately and sign their prayers. Some may recite well-known prayers aloud. Many of them sign the Chaplet along with Robin.
One year, Robin wasn't sure there were any deaf people in the congregation, but she kept signing. Then, during Mass, she saw a young girl signing the Our Father. Robin was struck by the love that shone so clearly in the girl's face.
"I was just so glad I hadn't stopped [signing]," she says. Another year, when Pope John Paul II was still alive, the priest spoke about the Holy Father in his homily. A man caught Robin's eye and began to sign to her about how much he loved the pope. Robin was moved by his personal connection to the Church and by the knowledge that if she hadn't been there, he may not have had the chance to express what was in his heart at that moment. "It was amazing how he was able to share his feelings with me," she remembers.
As long as Robin returns to Eden Hill every Divine Mercy Sunday, the hearing impaired can communicate in ASL with at least one fellow pilgrim. But are there any priests available to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance with them? Robin isn't sure. If confessions haven't been offered to the deaf in previous years, however, perhaps they will be in the future. After all, God has protected and blessed His pilgrims each year through long journeys, complicated preparations, and grim weather. He has prompted volunteers like Robin to bring their gifts to the celebration year after year. That same God will undoubtedly provide His children — those who hear His words with their ears and those who hear only in their hearts — with all they need to gather the fruits of this great feast.
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.