By Father Christopher Ryan Heanue
In late August of 2005, my parents and I packed my belongings and made a short, yet memorable drive from Maspeth to Douglaston. I was beginning a new chapter in my life as a college seminarian. During orientation, then-Msgr. Octavio Cisneros, the rector at the time, explained very clearly the serious and challenging nature of seminary life to the new seminarians. He also assured us that the seminary staff would help us in this endeavor.
Intelligence, Humility, Devotion
One of the staff members that we met was Deacon Ramon Lima, then-secretary to Msgr. Cisneros. I was immediately struck by Deacon Lima’s intelligence, humility, piety and devotion, both to his family and to the Church. I could not have known then how powerfully he would impact my life as a seminarian and later as a priest.
Deacon Lima was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. when he was 22 years old with his newly wedded wife, Digna, as an exile from Fidel Castro’s Communist Regime. Deacon Lima and his wife have three children: a son, Paul, and two daughters, Lourdes and Betty. Ordained in one of the first classes of Permanent Deacons for the Brooklyn Diocese in 1977 by Bishop Francis J. Mugavero, he went on to become the president of the National Association of Hispanic Deacons.
Deacon Lima has taught countless deacon candidates during their preparation for ordination and has served as spiritual director for the diaconate program.
During my time as a seminarian, Deacon Lima taught me what it truly means to be a servant of Christ. Christ was at the center of all that he did. His words of wisdom and prayerful demeanor were inspiring to me and to my brother seminarians. From church history to French monarchs, Deacon Lima’s vast knowledge continued to surprise us.
Man of Faith
He taught me what it means to be a man of faith as he witnessed to this reality in his marriage to Digna, and for his children. Deacon Lima opened the doors of his home and of his heart to all of us as seminarians, and continues to do so for all of those who know him.
Immediately after a man is ordained a deacon, he is vested in the stole and the dalmatic, the vestments proper to his office. Each ordinand is vested by a deacon, priest or bishop that has impacted his vocation in a special way. When it came time to decide who should vest me as a transitional deacon, I had no doubt that I should choose Deacon Lima.
Twelve years have passed since that first encounter in college seminary, and I am truly blessed to call Deacon Lima a close friend and mentor. Deacon Lima recently celebrated his 80th birthday, his 40th anniversary of ordination to the diaconate and his 56th wedding anniversary.
When I received a call to join Deacon Lima, 12 of his fellow permanent deacons and 148 members of the laity on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to celebrate these occasions, how could I say no?
Deacon Lima has led dozens of similar pilgrimages through the years. I was honored that he asked me to serve as priest-chaplain for this special pilgrimage.
What a joy it was to visit and to celebrate Holy Mass in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Galilee and other holy sites. Tour guides taught us important facts about each location: historical data, relevant Scriptural passages and so forth.
Deacon Lima gave us something much deeper: We witnessed his love for each holy place. A love that stems, of course, from his love for the Lord Jesus.
For Deacon Lima, the Holy Land sites are places to encounter God in a unique way. He knew all of the facts; he had seen all of the paintings and mosaics; he could repeat the tour guides’ lines from memory.
For him, it was different. He looked upon the sites with devotion and humility.
This is not only a man who loves his faith, but also a man who is in love with his faith. He is a man, who at one time in his life, would descend the difficult staircase in Bethlehem to see the birthplace of our Lord. And now in his humility, he looked from afar as he sat in silence and simply prayed in his heart.
As we approached Jerusalem, our buses stopped at a scenic overpass with an incredible view of the city. Most pilgrims, myself included, quite naturally snapped photos of the beautiful scene.
Deacon Lima did not need to take out a camera to take an artificial memory of the occasion. Rather, he looked over the valley toward the city of Jerusalem with a prayerful, loving gaze toward a place that has, without any doubt, impacted his life in ways he might never fully unpack.
More than anything, that sums up the life and vocation of this humble servant of God.