ucanews.com reporter, Singapore
Updated: December 08, 2015 02:45 PM GMT
Father Rowland Yeo (right) uses sign language during his ordination Mass on Nov. 28. He became the first deaf priest to be ordained in Southeast Asia and one of just two dozen worldwide. (Photo courtesy Church of St Mary of the Angels, Singapore)
For many of his parishioners, Father Rowland Yeo is more than a spiritual leader; he has become a role model for anyone fearing a disability might limit one's potential.
On Nov. 28, Father Yeo became the first deaf priest to be ordained in Southeast Asia and one of just two dozen worldwide.
Every Sunday for the past decade, Father Yeo serves the deaf community. He is an active and respected member of his brotherhood, but the life is not without moments of loneliness.
"Some challenges include communication with the friars in my community, particularly at meal times, when discussions can be very lively and it is hard for me to catch up," he said.
Born to a Buddhist family in Singapore in 1957, Father Yeo was drawn to the church when a Catholic aunt had him accompany her to a service at age 11. As a young man, he learned catechism from a Redemptorist priest. A fortuitous meeting with Father Tom Coghlin, the first deaf priest in North America, helped guide his service. Under Father Coghlin's patronage, he studied philosophy at Gallaudet University for the deaf in Washington D.C.
Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Father Yeo joined the Franciscan brotherhood in 1997.
"We witness by our lives as ‘lesser brothers' e.g., recognizing that everyone is our brother and sister … and serving together with humility and generosity," he wrote in an email to ucanews.com.
"We show the world that God can be encountered in every person and in every created thing; e.g. we believe that there is goodness and beauty in every thing and everyone."
From his new position, Father Yeo hopes he can serve as an inspiration to all.
"I hope that not only the deaf, but all who suffer any kind of handicap, can believe in themselves and in God to fulfill one's mission in life, no matter what obstacles there are," he wrote.