When the bishops at the Second Vatican Council decided to restore the diaconate as a permanent order, many were thinking that this would be important for the poor countries of the world where priests were few.
Surprisingly, this has not been the case. Most of the deacons in the world are in the United Sates and other developed countries.
There have been a few efforts to restore the diaconate among the poor countries of the world. One of the most famous and controversial was the effort of Bishop Samuel Ruiz of San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico, who ordained a large number of indigenous deacons. Sadly this effort was curbed and ordinations to the diaconate suspended for twelve years. They were recently resumed. I wish someone would write an objective of this experiment since it might be of great help to the church in Latin America. But here is an article that gives some background.
The Vatican II documents speak of the diaconate in several places but the one passage that struck me most deeply was in Ad Gentes: The Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, ¶ 16:
Where episcopal conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life according to the norms of the Constitution "De Ecclesia." For there are men who actually carry out the functions of the deacon's office, either preaching the word of God as catechists, or presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or practicing charity in social or relief work. It is only right to strengthen them by the imposition of hands which has come down from the Apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar, that they may carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.
As I’ve mentioned before, when I read this I asked myself if I was not already carrying out some of the functions of the deacon’s office.
- I have been “preaching the word of God” as a trainer of
catechists in the parish of Dulce Nombre for many years and by sharing reflections at Sunday Celebrations in some villages in the parish.
- I have been assisting the pastor of Dulce Nombre, visiting “scattered
Christian communities,” trying to help the base communities and others serve
their communities better and by spending Holy Thursday and Good Friday in remote villages.
- I have been “practicing charity in social or relief work.” For a number of years I helped in Caritas, the social action department of the church in Santa Rosa; I helped in a diocesan program to form leaders in Catholic Social Thought; I am accompanying a group of small coffee farmers forming a cooperative to market coffee in the US.
And so I wondered if what I really need was “the sacramental grace of the diaconate” to strengthen me to deepen my commitment to serve the poor.
This description of the diaconate helped me to see that the bishop’s call to consider the permanent diaconate might be a way to better serve the poor – to strengthen them to be signs of God’s kingdom here in western Honduras.