Pope Francis was to have given an audience to deacons from around the world who were gathering in Rome last month for a Jubilee celebrating 50 years since the Vatican Council restored the diaconate as a permanent rank in the Church. A fellow diaconate director from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Deacon Roger Heidt, attended and gave a report recently to the Region VIII deacon directors about his time there. From what he has said, it was memorable, to say the least.
Unfortunately, the Holy Father had to cancel his audience with the deacons and their wives because of the Synod on the family that was occurring at the same time. He did send his greetings though. I was able to locate his letter on the International Diaconate Centre’s (IDC) website, and I copy it below for your review. It is, I believe, the first time the Holy Father directly addressed the diaconate during his pontificate.
Here it is, as provided by the IDC:
Dear Brothers in the Diaconate,
dear Brothers in the Presbyterate and Episcopate,
dear wives of deacons,
dear participants in the Jubilee of the International Diaconate Centre,
I send you warm greetings and congratulate you on the 50th anniversary that you are celebrating these days on the occasion of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate by the Second Vatican Council together with 600 people from 35 countries.
When Cardinal Oswald Gracias told me on behalf of your President Klaus Kießling that you were interested in meeting me, I agreed right away – full of anticipation to receive you. However now I have to dedicate my full attention to the Synodal processes, so a direct meeting will not be possible during your Jubilee celebration. I regret this very much and look forward to another opportunity.
In view of the first International Study Conference on the Permanent Diaconate, Paul VI stated on 25 October 1965: “Surely the Council acted in accordance with a providential inspiration of the Holy Spirit when it decided to renew the original ministry of diaconate at the service of the People of God.” It is in this conviction that I ask you not to relent in your commitment to a diaconal Universal Church and a world of solidarity. You are ambassadors of Jesus Christ who rejects anything related to authority and puts human hierarchies upside down like anyone who serves. You are ambassadors of our incarnate God who shows solidarity up until death and beyond death. You are called to accompany other people on their way to incarnation, in solidarity, everywhere in the world.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this commitment. At the same time I ask you to accompany me and my ministry with prayer. I also promise to take your concerns to the Lord and cordially impart to you my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, on 20 October 2015
I especially will be meditating on that one sentence, “You are ambassadors of our incarnate God who shows solidarity up until death and beyond death.” This is a confirmation, for me, of a core piece of diaconal spirituality about which I have written, i.e., the diaconal call to a spiritual martyrdom whose source is in maintaing a contemplative gaze on the uttered Word of the Father and then being available to being sent by the Father to be present to suffering humanity.
As always, I welcome your comments.