Permanent deacons gather for annual convocation

STONEHAM -- Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley briefed permanent deacons on new archdiocesan initiatives and emphasized the increased importance of their ministry in the coming year at their annual convocation held Feb. 21 at St. Patrick’s Church.

The impetus behind the convocation, like that which led to the restoration of the diaconate during the Second Vatican Counsel, was a response to the current realities and needs of the Church, the cardinal said.

In his address to the permanent deacons, Cardinal O’Malley outlined several initiatives focused on finding ways to meet the pastoral needs of the archdiocese, even as the number of active priests continues to decline.

The first initiative was the creation of a pastoral planning office to address the archdiocese’s need to redistribute its human resources throughout its 144 cities and towns.

The cardinal also announced the launch of two research committees.

One committee, he said, is exploring the various training programs for laity being used throughout the country. The second, he said, is looking into the different types of materials and instruction used in youth faith formation programs.

Cardinal O’Malley said the committees’ research will allow the archdiocese to design a model program for its own implementation, consisting of the best materials and most effective methods used throughout the country in the training of laity and faith formation of youth.

“We want the very best training programs possible for our cabinets and lay ministers,” said the cardinal. “Especially now as we see that more and more lay people are going to have to take increasingly active roles in the life of our parish communities,” he added.

Father Joseph Arsenault, a former permanent deacon and the day’s guest speaker, discussed the emerging role of the deacon in an evolving Church and archdiocese. This role, he said, will be significant to the future of ministry in the archdiocese if deacons rise to the challenge presented by the current vocational crisis.

Father Arsenault said the deacons should see the present crisis of priestly vocations as an opportunity to play an essential part in the mission of the Church.

“If there were ever another era of the diaconate -- it is now. The Holy Spirit is at work recreating the reality of the Gospel and the Church in a changing world,” he said. “Step up to the plate. Get the training. Be willing to collaborate with priests and each other to proclaim the Gospel.”

Father Arsenault concluded his address noting that the service of the deacon is not just in ministry of the Word, but that it is in Word, liturgy and charity.

He also shared his vision for the future of the permanent diaconate, which he said is, “a cluster of parish sites with priest pastor. A number of deacons and lay ministers in various ministries in the parish, preaching the gospel and making the grace of the sacraments available for the salvation of souls. Building up the community.”

“It is the timeless mission of the Church until the Lord comes again in glory. While the mission is timeless, it must take account of the world in which it is done,” he added.

Cardinal O’Malley urged the deacons to be present in their parish communities and reach out to those who have lost their homes and jobs.

“As this situation becomes worse and the economic crisis affects more and more people, the ministry of the deacon -- his presence in the community and support of its people -- is increasingly important and essential to the mission of the Church,” he said.

Concluding the convocation, the cardinal returned to the importance of deacons in identifying potential candidates for the priesthood.

“It is very important that you, as deacons, identify the active, faith filled and able members of your parish communities and counsel for vocation,” he said. “Sometimes it’s purely a matter of invitation.”