Published October 12, 2006
Last Thursday Jaime Rivera, one of our Atlanta seminarians studying at the Pontifical North American College, was ordained a deacon at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He sent me pictures of the ceremony on the Internet and told me how proud he was that about 50 people from the Archdiocese of Atlanta made the trip to Rome for his ordination.
On the 31st of October, I shall ordain Armando Lopez, another one of our seminarians who is currently on a pastoral assignment, to the Diaconate at Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta. These two young men, God willing, will be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Atlanta next June. But during the next eight months, they will serve the Church as deacons in Rome and here in Atlanta—ministers of charity and Table servants of the Lord at His Altar. While they will only be deacons for a relatively brief period of time, I pray that they will have ample opportunities to come to know and love the unique service that a deacon offers the Church.
This past weekend, I spent the better part of two days with more than 100 of our deacons on a retreat at Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Norcross. These men and their wives comprise a fine servant corps for the Church in North Georgia. They are the resident “Heralds of the Gospel” in many of our parishes. They visit the sick and assist or preside at funerals, weddings and baptisms; they minister to prisoners, help prepare young couples for marriage, help with the catechetical ministry in our communities, bring Holy Communion to the homebound, lead prayer services at parish functions, and support our pastors in a wide-ranging field of activities. They are men of Faith and deep dedication to the life of the Church. Their wives and families are an important part of their witness and service to the Church.
In 1956 the only deacons that the then-new Diocese of Atlanta would have had were those who would soon be ordained priests—and they were all in the seminaries where these young men were studying. Most of the people of the new diocese would not have met a deacon, unless one of those young men was from neighboring family or perhaps a distant relative. Deacons were pretty much hidden from most people until they appeared on their Ordination Day to become priests. Since the early 1970s deacons have become a more familiar presence in the Church, especially in the United States, which has the largest number of deacons anywhere in the Universal Church. We here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta are particularly blessed to have approximately 200 deacons in service to our parishes and institutions.
The diaconate is an ancient office within the life of the Church dating back to the Acts of the Apostles, and those first seven men of “good repute” were selected to assist with the works of charity. One of the great blessings of the past 50 years has been the development of the diaconate here and elsewhere.
We will soon begin the process of preparing for a new group of permanent deacons. Pastors will receive the traditional invitation to recommend worthy candidates. The Church has grown to depend upon the ministry of those who are deacons, and we still look for men of good repute to fill those ranks—whether for a brief time before they become our priests or for a lifelong commitment in that Office.