2. Permanent Diaconate
Rev Dr. Gilbert de Lima
(Director, Commission for the Permanent Diaconate, Bombay)
Although a resolution was already passed by the CBCI for accepting the permanent Diaconate in India as a proper and permanent state of the hierarchy in 1966, it was only in 1982 that the CBCI finally petitioned the Holy See. A year later, the CBCI received permission from the Holy See to restore and promote the permanent Diaconate in India, with a proviso that before it could be introduced in any diocese, the bishop would consult the bishops of the region. Four years ago, on January 22, 2006, Bombay was the first and only diocese in India to introduce the permanent Diaconate when, the then Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Ivan Dias, ordained two permanent Deacons.
Last year, on April 4, 2009, Cardinal Oswald Gracias ordained eight candidates to the permanent Diaconate. Cardinal Oswald Gracias in his homily during the ordination service lucidly pointed out that since the permanent Diaconate has been part of the hierarchical structure of the Church from early Christian times, with the ordinations of these permanent Deacons, the Church in Bombay is, in a sense, complete!
In March 2010, the Archdiocese witnessed a very significant milestone in the history of the permanent Diaconate, when we had the good fortune of the visit of Dr. Klaus Kiessling, the President of the International Diaconate Federation come to Mumbai and interact with the permanent Deacons in Mumbai, as well as get a firsthand experience of their ministry. Dr Klaus Kiessling acknowledged that Mumbai has indeed given the lead to Asia in promoting the permanent Diaconate and extended a warm invitation to all the permanent Deacons to join the International Diaconate Federation.
We recall the message of Pope Benedict XVI, who while speaking on `The Importance of the Permanent Diaconate’, to the Deacons in Rome on February 13, 2008, declared, “I think that one characteristic of the ministry of the deacons is precisely the multiplicity of the diaconate's applications. Indeed, there is not just one profile. What they should do varies, depending on the preparation of the persons and the situations in which they find themselves. While they are always in communion with the bishop and the parish, there can be applications and activities that are very different. Various possibilities arise, depending on the needs which manifest themselves in their context, as well as depending on the professional preparation that the deacons have.”
In the light of this perspective, Cardinal Oswald Gracias and his auxiliary bishops determined that the permanent Deacons would be appointed to a parish so as to get involved in a parish ministry. Furthermore, keeping the
particular charism each of them is gifted with, each one would also involve himself in a ministry in their respective deanery. Finally, each of them would be also assigned to a similar apostolate at the Archdiocesan level through his appointment in a Commission. Consequently, the different Archdiocesan Commissions they are engaged in are, the Family, FILMC (Involvement of the Laity), Vocation Promotion, Small Christian Commission and the Biblical Commission.
One perceives that the permanent Deacons in Mumbai have made vast strides in the space of just a year. They are vigorously involved in their ministry within an ecclesial setting. One can envisage that the role of the deacon in the future will be that of an intermediary. He bridges sacred worship and secular worship, horizontal prayer and vertical prayer, the bread of the Eucharist and the bread of practical charity. And in his service to the world, the Deacon proclaims and witnesses to the reconciliation of all persons in Christ! And so the next stage of the permanent Diaconate implies a deeper involvement in civic and social issues so that through his ministry, the permanent Deacon, can help shed the light of the Gospel on society. The permanent Deacon needs to see this involvement as an integral component of his diaconate ministry!
Two projects that are on the anvil for immediate implementation are:
i) A PowerPoint Presentation on the Permanent Diaconate so as to bring about a greater awareness of the permanent Diaconate
and its relevance for Mumbai and India today.
ii) A Virtual Office Website (VOW) that would enable disseminating information related to the permanent Diaconate.
Although the four year long programme for the candidates to the permanent Diaconate was appreciated by the permanent Deacons, the Staff of St Pius X College, which ran the programme, strongly felt the candidates would benefit immensely if they were part of the programme of formation at the seminary. At present we have two candidates who are part of this programme of formation since the last one year. One is a businessman and the other is a stockbroker. These two candidates began their programme of formation at St Pius X College after the Propaedeutic period of six months. They have fully integrated themselves into the system of formation at St Pius X College. They have also a close contact with the Moderator of the permanent Diaconate Programme and in consultation with him also explore areas of Pastoral involvement as well as skills training that would empower them for their future ministry. They have acquitted themselves very favourably thus far and we believe the best is yet to come! However, as regards the possibility of reviving the permanent Diaconate programme in Bombay, we have certainly not closed the door to the same.
We conclude with the image of Jesus Christ, the servant `par excellance’, who enables us all to experience the immense joy and fulfillment one receives through a life of dedicated service!