When Edgar Vizcarra and Marisol Bravo were married, July 6, 2013, at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine, neither spoke their wedding vows, yet their wedding was touching, emotional, tear jerking and beautiful.
Additionally, the beaming priest celebrating their wedding spoke no words, nor did most of the guests.
The Mariachi band performing the wedding songs went unnoticed by half of the guests, but it wasn’t as if they were not paying attention.
Instead, the Mass, the ceremony and the vows were conducted with almost poetic and graceful motions with the hands and fingers of Fr. Christopher Klusman, and the bride and groom, all of whom are deaf and use American Sign Language to communicate.
The majority of the wedding guests were either deaf or Spanish speaking, including both sets of Spanish-speaking parents, giving ASL/Spanish/English interpreter, Paola Lopez quite a workout.
“I have done this for 20 years, but this was my first ASL Spanish wedding,” she said. “I am mildly exhausted from the Mass, but I am so happy to be here as I have known Marisol since she was in the fourth grade. She is very special to me and I made a special effort to be able to interpret the whole day. I am so happy she found a nice guy to marry.”
First deaf wedding for priest
For Fr. Klusman, associate pastor of St. Roman Parish, Milwaukee, the bilingual Mass with only two official languages — American Sign Language (ASL) and Spanish —was a challenge, as the pool of qualified interpreters is small.
“This was my first deaf wedding as a priest, and no one forgets their firsts,” he said. “I am really blessed and honored to have Edgar and Marisol’s wedding as my first one and, thanks be to God, that our interpreter, Paola, has known Marisol for a long time. I was so moved by how so many people, such as the family, padrinos (sponsors) and friends contributed through their Mexican culture during the wedding Mass with powerful gifts embedded with symbols, such as a special rosary (lazo) placed around Edgar and Marisol during the eucharistic prayer symbolizing the circular nature of never-ending love.”
Preparing for the seamlessly executed wedding was a challenge for Fr. Klusman, Edgar and Marisol as they had to plan the logistics on making the signing in ASL clear for all present to see.
“One example is that when Edgar and Marisol faced each other during the vows and exchange of rings, they had to stand slanted a bit toward the people so that the people in various locations could see their ASL,” he said. “And then, there is yet to be a fixed translation in ASL in the Rite of Marriage. Edgar, Marisol and I practiced together on various parts of the Rite of Marriage, in which the ASL translation eventually came to a form that was used at the wedding.”
Love at first sight for couple
Mainstreamed into traditional education, Edgar, 23, attended Rufus King High School, Milwaukee, while 21-year-old Marisol, a Burlington native, attended the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan. The couple met at a deaf community picnic and it was love at first sight.
“I met Fr. Klusman at my quinceañera and he was the (celebrant) for the Mass,” said Marisol. “We met at Mass many times after that and, later, I introduced him to Edgar.”
While the newlyweds are members of St. Roman Parish, they decided to get married at St. Paul the Apostle, as it was the midway point for both families to attend.
“We wanted to make it easier for all of them,” said Edgar, “The wedding was very difficult to plan and it took a lot, but I was so happy to have the support from my family.”
‘God’s hand behind all this’
In helping Edgar and Marisol prepare for their wedding, Fr. Klusman remarked that the couple was grateful to have a deaf priest to communicate with and learn about marriage in their first language, ASL.
“I felt so honored to be there for them during this most special experience in their lives, and they learned very enthusiastically,” he said. “Life is full of surprises, and during Marisol’s quinceañera, I never suspected that I would be there at her wedding. It made me realize how God’s hand is behind all this.”
In his homily, Fr. Klusman recalled Marisol’s quinceañera and he remembered hoping she would find a wonderful man who would love and cherish her.
“Then, several years later, she came and introduced me to Edgar. The more I got to know Edgar, the more I thanked God that he is the one for her,” he said, adding. “God knew before you were born that you are meant for each other, so God led them to meet again and again.”
Fr. Klusman spoke to the couple on the many meanings for love, meanings that cannot be expressed by the single syllable word. He reminded them their love cannot follow an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. pattern, but it never ends, as demonstrated when the lazo was placed around them during the Eucharistic Prayer.
The tradition of the lazo or wedding rosary is prominent in the Hispanic culture and symbolizes theunification of the couple through prayer.
“This means that your love is forever and helps you realize that you can’t do it on your own,” he said. “Marriage is not a ‘one person does all the work’ covenant. It means that you, Edgar and Marisol, say: ‘You can depend on me and I can depend on you and God.’”
For Fr. Klusman, presiding at his first deaf wedding is a special memory, especially since he confirmed Edgar.
“I enjoyed their beautiful wedding reception and was so impressed and moved by their traditions, which placed great emphasis on communality, such as the couple, with family, friends, as well as the Mexican community,” he said.”
Faith unites them
Getting married in their native language was important to Edgar, a machine tool operator at CNS, and Marisol, who said their faith is number one in their personal lives, as well as the lives of them as a couple.
“Our faith is huge, very important, and that is why the lazo or rosary was placed around us, as it is a promise that we will have infinite love for each other,” said Edgar. “I also gave Marisol coins, which symbolized how we will share everything.”
Fr. Klusman explained the 13 coins represented Jesus and the 12 Apostles.
“This means Edgar’s never doubting trust and confidence in Marisol, as well as her of him,” he said.
For close friends, Abby Peterson, 21, Kayla Waters, 19, and Chandler Gloudeman, 20, all of Waukesha, the deaf Mexican wedding was a first for them, and a joyful experience.
“We all met through the deaf community,” said Peterson. “I knew Marisol first through the Wisconsin School for the Deaf and met Edgar a couple of years ago. Seeing them get married was wonderful.”
Waters, who met Marisol while they attended school together at the WSD, said it was also her first deaf wedding, and found it interesting the wedding was also translated into Spanish.
“It was so cool and different from anything I have ever been to before,” she said.
Meeting Marisol through Waters at a Deaf group, Gloudeman said she was happy to be there to support her friend at the wedding, which lasted more than two hours.
“It was a great wedding, but so long,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t know that Mexican weddings lasted so long. That was a new experience all the way around since I have never attended a deaf wedding or a Mexican wedding. It is great to see them both so happy.”