Permanent Deacons are the ones who will lead the Church in the New Evangelization.
That was the message from Bridgeport Bishop Frank Caggiano as he addressed the annual Diocesan Diaconate Convocation in Douglaston. The April 15 meeting at the Immaculate Conception Center was a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the permanent diaconate to the Brooklyn Diocese and the 50th anniversary of the revival of the Order by the Second Vatican Council.
About 140 deacons from Brooklyn and Queens attended. They were joined by spouses and friends to comprise a congregation of about 250.
Bridges That Will Last for Eternity
“The future of the Church is all about building bridges that will last for eternity,” said Bishop Caggiano. “We need to rediscover the missionary spirit, go out to the peripheries, and evangelize one person at a time.
“The deacons are going to lead the charge in figuring out how to do that.”
Bishop Caggiano said that deacons have an advantage over priests and bishops because they work secular jobs and are closer to people, who increasingly are becoming disaffiliated with the Church.
“They will come to you before they come to me,” he said. “Deacons can make the Church more credible.”
When people have questions about the Church, they must be allowed to ask them, he explained.
“Too many people have problems with the Church. When their questions are not answered, they will walk away. Allow questions. You have to allow people to ask questions that have been burning in their hearts,” he said.
Like all bridges, the New Evangelization must be built on a strong foundation, he told the deacons. The Church’s foundation is “all about encountering the Lord Jesus.”
Deacons must allow their lives to be “transparent reflections of the life of Jesus Christ,” he said.
‘Preach with Power’
In order to do, he urged the men to “preach the kerygma – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Preach the truth. Preach with power.”
Reminding the men that the deacon’s role is basically one of service, he exhorted that when they encounter someone who is down and out, don’t just offer a handout.
“Get on your knees and pick him up,” said Bishop Caggiano. “That is at the heart of the ministry of the diaconate.”
Simple acts of service and mercy are at the heart of the Church’s ministry, he said. That is how the world will recognize the Lord.
“Every bridge needs to be different. While we need prayers and institutions, we have to build these bridges to every single human heart, one step at a time.
Bishop Caggiano told the men and their wives that as the former director of the diaconate program in Brooklyn and Queens, he learned so much from them.
“You really are a special group of people,” he said. “You taught me what real joy was as we moved from theory to reality. We had so many experiences that we shared heart-to-heart. That joy will be your greatest weapon.”
The bishop’s talk was followed by a panel discussion among four deacons: Ramon Lima, Jean Baptiste Boursiquot, both of whom were members of the first class of deacons ordained for the Brooklyn Diocese in 1977; John Sucich, who was celebrating his 25th anniversary of Holy Orders, and Leroy Branch, who was ordained in 2009.
The deacons emphasized their roles of service and stressed that they were not ordained to be “mini-priests.” Their ministries are marked by the performance of acts of charity that are needed in the parishes and assisting the declining number of priests. They stressed collaboration with the pastors of parishes and emphasized the need to be especially available to the young, many of whom employ the mantra of the day that they are spiritual, but not particularly religious.
In an afternoon vespers service, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio pointed out that the great growth of Christians in the early Church was due to the way the followers of Jesus conducted their lives.
“All the words in the world will not convince people that we are for real,” said Bishop DiMarzio.
“It’s in your hands, deacons and your wives. You have a unique role as you build bridges between the clergy and the laity. Your contribution to the New Evangelization can make the difference. You need to be that witness that creates growth in the world to come to faith in Jesus Christ.”
Honored at the convocation were three members of the Class of 1977, the first ordained for the Diocese of Brooklyn: retired Deacons Jean Baptiste Boursiquot, Ramon G. Lima, and Berthal Beauburn.
Unable to attend were Deacon John Sands, who is still active at St. Matthias, Ridgewood, and retired Deacon Edward A. Smolinski.