06/24/2013, 00.00
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For two deaf priests in Seoul, handicaps are a 'gift of God'

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
Fr Cyril Axelrod launches his autobiography at a meeting in the South Korean capital. Diagnosed deaf in his childhood, he became completely blind in 2000. He developed the Catholic Mission for the Deaf opening schools in Asia. He was with Fr Park Min-seo, the only deaf priest in Asia. "Our problem is nothing compared to the cross Christ had to bear" but it enables us "to show the world God's glory".

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Being deaf "is nothing compared to the cross that Jesus had to bear. But each of us has a personal cross, and handicaps can become another way to show the world God's glory," said Fr Cyril Axelrod (pictured).

Diagnosed deaf during his childhood, the 71-year-old priest lost his sight in 2000. Yesterday, he presented his autobiography during a meeting in Seoul. He was accompanied by 38-year-old Fr Park Min-seo, also deaf, who helped him climb the stairs of Hangang Cathedral, in Inchon-dong.

Simply titled "Father Cyril Axelrod", the book presented yesterday describes the priest's life as well as the birth of the Catholic Mission for the Deaf, which he built up.

Fr Park, who translated the biography into Korean, has always considered his confrere an example and a reason to view his disability as a gift from God.

During the lecture, titled 'There are things to do in this world. Even for me!', the two priests talked about their first meeting in 1997.

"When I met Park for the first time, I felt hope, happiness and excitement at the same time," Fr Axelrod said. "I knew he would do a great job for the deaf in Korea, which has come true. This is a miracle," he added.

"Fr Axelrod was a humble and peaceable priest. Thanks to him, I began to have a dream to be a priest myself. My heart broke when I later learned that he also lost his sight," Fr Park said.

Fr Axelrod was born in 1942 into a family of Orthodox Jews in South Africa. His vocation encountered two major obstacles. On the one hand, he was diagnosed with congenital deafness when he was three, and eventually Usher Syndrome, which was the reason for subsequently going blind in 2000. On the other, he had to face the opposition of his family and community.

After converting, "I became a Redemptorist priest. I told my childhood friends that I would be a Catholic 'rabbi'." Although at the beginning, "i did not find much support, with time people understood."

From the outset, Fr Axelrod's mission focused on ministering to the deaf. Despite South Africa's apartheid, he started a school for the deaf open to people of all races, as well as centres providing education and training for employment.  Later, he pursued his impressive work in the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao and South Korea.

In 1997, he met Fr Park at a meeting in Gallaudet University, an educational institution for the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, DC

In the world, there are only 15 deaf Catholic priests. Fr Park is the only one from Asia. His mentor is the only one in the world to continue his mission of evangelisation despite being both blind and deaf.

"For Fr Cyril, his two handicaps are gifts from God," Fr Park wrote in an article written to introduce Fr Axelrod's visit to Korea.

"He has been able to bear witness and pass on God's love to those who do not feel loved. He is a great apostle of peace and hope, especially for those who thought they had nothing."

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