Being legally blind doesn't hinder Catholic priest in serving his flock


By Anthony Salamone

EASTON, Pa. (CNS) — A visitor
attending Mass at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church might not notice anything
unusual about the celebrant.

Father Bernard J. Ezaki walks
the center aisle of the massive church in Easton. He climbs the steps leading
to the altar like any other priest or liturgical minister. He recites prayers
with the normal vigor and rhythm of a cleric. People might notice Father Ezaki
doesn’t use the Sacramentary to read the prayers, or that Father Ezaki holds a
micro-cassette in his left hand, and that technology contains all the Mass
prayers and readings.

He also distributes holy
Communion to the faithful just like any other priest, though he has one rule:
Be still. “I need a big landing field,” he said. “I tell them, especially at
funerals, ‘I don’t want to put my fingers in your mouth.'”

If you haven’t caught on by now,
here is what you need to know about Father Ezaki: He is legally blind; he has
been that way since birth. “I’m grateful,” the 60-year-old priest said during
an interview in his office, where decorations include a statuette of Stuart,
the short, one-eyed minion from the “Despicable Me” movies. “If I could see
well, I’d be in trouble. I might not even be a priest today.”

Next year, Father Ezaki will
celebrate the 30th anniversary of his ordination as a priest in the Diocese of
Allentown, which encompasses five counties in eastern Pennsylvania. Spokesman
Matt Kerr, who has served the diocese since 2000, said Father Ezaki is the only
blind priest in the diocese as far as he knows.

“It’s possible there were
others, men who became blind as they aged,” Kerr said. “But I can’t say one way
or the other.”

A 1991 article in the Allentown
Morning Call newspaper cites another spokesman saying Father Ezaki was the
first blind priest to be ordained in the diocese. According to an article by
Independent Catholic News, an online news outlet in the United Kingdom, church
law before 1983 forbade the ordination of blind candidates and those with other
physical impairments.

Father Ezaki’s blindness
resulted from being given too much oxygen following his premature birth. That
led to “retinopathy of prematurity,” a blinding eye disorder that can affect
premature infants and lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness.

The lack of vision has never
slowed him down. The idea of a religious vocation first entered Father Ezaki’s
mind as a child. He told his parents, the late Dr. Toshio and Mary Ezaki, he
wanted to become a priest because he thought they worked only on Sundays. In
high school and college, he says, he began seriously considering the

Father Ezaki attended Allentown public
schools and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, including a master’s in
theological studies from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He studied for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary near
Philadelphia. As a student, Father Ezaki used recorded textbooks, He took
careful notes and always found people willing to read to him.

Father Ezaki said he learned how
to record the prayers and readings from another priest who became blind after
being ordained. He said he records the liturgy with a magnifying glass and tape

“You know when you read a lot,
your eyes are always a little ahead of your mouth?” he asked. “My ear is always
ahead of my mouth.”

A wire from the tape cassette
runs under his chasuble, with an earpiece in his left ear enabling him to
listen to the words. “If I want to stop it to tell a joke, I just stop it,” he

Father Ezaki began his first
year as an assistant pastor. He then taught theology to sophomores at Bethlehem
Catholic High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, until 2013, when
then-Allentown Bishop John O. Barres, now bishop of the Diocese of Rockville
Centre in New York, asked him how long had been teaching.

“I said 24 years,” Father Ezaki
recalled. “He said, ’24 years!’ That’s the most emotion I’ve ever seen out of
that guy. I knew right then I was out of there.”

He came to St. Jane’s in October
after serving as an assistant pastor at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena
in Allentown. Despite his blindness and other setbacks, Father Ezaki never
shows bitterness, according to those who know him.

He is known, however, for
sprinkling humor into his homilies, writings or every day conversations, with
much of it self-deprecating. He sometimes editorializes, too.

At the end of Mass July 2, Father
Ezaki mentioned the pride swelling from St. Jane’s parishioners with the news
that a native of their parish, Bishop-designate Alfred A. Schlert, was named June
27 by Pope Francis to become the diocese’s fifth bishop, succeeding Bishop

“We priests are very
enthusiastic,” Father Ezaki said. “The good thing is that he knows us, and we
know him and The bad thing is we know him and he knows us.” That elicited first
laughter, then applause, from the congregation. Father Ezaki proclaimed, “Let’s
belt this one out,” as the organist played “America the Beautiful,” the
recessional hymn for the Sunday before the Independence Day holiday.

Father Ezaki also works on a
blog called Apology Analogy, His writings use visual
imageries — analogies — in defense of the Catholic faith. He is not afraid to
express his Catholicism either in his writings or his preaching.

“They say one of the most common
human fears is talking in front of people,” he said. “Not me. The bigger
the crowds, the better. But I have my phobias about other things.”

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