By Peter Finney Jr. Catholic News Service | Published August 7, 2018
NEW ORLEANS (CNS)—The core vocational work of permanent deacons is to evangelize and care for others, not to perform office duties, the apostolic nuncio to the United States said July 22 to more than 1,300 deacons attending the 2018 National Diaconate Congress in New Orleans.
In his post-Communion remarks at the opening Mass of the five-day gathering, Archbishop Christophe Pierre noted that St. John Paul II had declared that the “service of diaconal ministry finds its identity in evangelization.”
“Not (in) doing office work,” but in “evangelizing,” Archbishop Pierre said.
The opening Mass was celebrated in a ballroom holding 2,200 seats. Of the 18,500 permanent deacons in the U.S.—who represent more than half the worldwide total—1,300 permanent deacons were attending the July 22-26 conference, along with their wives and children, for a record total of 2,800 attendees.
“I’m quite amazed to see so many deacons and wives of deacons,” the nuncio said, as his message from the altar was displayed to the far reaches of the room on two oversized video screens.
Recalling the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the Latin-rite church by Blessed Paul VI through his 1968 “motu proprio” (on his own initiative) titled “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” Archbishop Pierre lauded the permanent deacons for their humble service of charity, proclaiming the word and leading the faith community in prayer.
He echoed Pope Francis’ remarks that defined permanent deacons as “pioneers of the new civilization of love.”
“This is Christ’s call, isn’t it?” Archbishop Pierre asked. “Don’t forget, the job is Jesus’. Otherwise, it is your job, your work, right? No. The work is Christ’s. It is one thing to serve at the altar. It is another to be an evangelizing force in the world.
“In my travels throughout the United States, I’ve seen how permanent deacons continue to serve through their hard work and generous service. Deacons have been able co-workers with their bishops, priests and laity in many dimension of ecclesial life, especially the apostolate works.”
Archbishop Pierre praised the deacons for their works, especially in hospital ministry. He also said the church as a whole must do more to prepare couples for marriage and to enrich the marriages of those already married.
“We should invest more in marriage preparation,” he said.
Archbishop Pierre offered the personal greetings of Pope Francis and said the permanent diaconate has “flourished” in the last half-century, “particularly here in the United States, where nearly 18,500 permanent deacons carry out their threefold diaconal ‘munera’ of word, charity and liturgy.”
Deacon Steve Swope, who serves at St. Mary Magdalene Church, Newnan, attended the congress. The former associate director of formation for the permanent diaconate of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Swope is the chair of the Diaconate Scrutinies and Evaluation Committee and a member of the Deacon Personnel Board for the archdiocese.
He was on hand to hear the nuncio’s remarks.
“He reminded deacons of their obligation to preach the Gospel and not their personal perspectives on current issues,” said Deacon Swope by email. “He also pointed to the Pope’s admonition that homilies should be well prepared, brief and developed in prayer.”
The archbishop asked the deacons and their wives to reflect on the words of dismissal at Mass, often spoken by the deacon—“Go forth, the Mass is ended”; “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”; “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”; “Go in peace.”
“Share the peace of Christ with all those you meet—your family first—your friends and even your enemies,” Archbishop Pierre said. “Be instruments of the gift of peace. Thank you and thanks be to God for you and your service to the church and for all those who have supported you.”
In his homily at the opening Mass, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond stressed the deacon’s role in being the “conscience” of the church in matters of service to the poor and disenfranchised.
“All Christians are called to charity by their baptism, but deacons lead us as a church in the works of charity,” he said. “We look to you in some ways as the conscience of the church. We ask you to find those who are in need and to invite us to serve them. And when we forget them or fail to be people of charity as a church, we ask you to be our conscience and to call us back to what God asks.”
Deacon Swope said that congress programs presented focused on the past, present and future of the diaconate.
He had the opportunity to hear remarks from Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, retired from the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.
Bishop Kicanas’ presentation looked to the future of the diaconate. Deacon Swope said the bishop indicated that some bishop conferences may petition the Holy See for permission to ordain suitably prepared deacons, single or married, to the priesthood. The request could be for a limited time frame and the church could evaluate results.
According to Deacon Swope, the bishop said all should look with interest on the commission established by Pope Francis to study the potential of women deacons in the church.
“The bishop felt that these things might come to pass under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, but as always predicting the future was an uncertain process,” said Deacon Swope.
“Cardinal Tobin stressed how important the diaconate has been to the Church. He noted that far more of the laity are served by clergy because of deacons,” said Deacon Swope.
Cardinal Tobin said that service in charity is the very heart of the diaconate.
“As living icons of Christ the Servant, deacons carry the love and compassion of Christ into the world,” explained Deacon Swope.
Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Nichole Golden contributed to this story.