Catholic deacons deliberate

Gary Stone with Jim Curtain, Friday 4 October 2013

SEVENTY-FIVE members of the Catholic diaconal community gathered in Canberra for their biennial conference from Thursday 19 September to Sunday 22 September.

Representatives from Melbourne Archdiocese included Deacons Jim Curtain, Kevin Pattison, Joe Leach and George Piech Meat. Faye Pattison and Mandy Leach accompanied their husbands.

With the purpose of engaging in some intentional reflection on the Pope's call for a new evangelisation,  the National Association of Deacons  invited a range of guest speakers to stimulate discussion on how we can better contribute to building the ‘Kingdom of God’ in Australian society.

The conference was formally opened by Dr Brendan Nelson, former Defence Minister and former head of the Australian Medical Association, who is now the Director of the Australian War Memorial.  Introducing himself as a practising Catholic, Dr Nelson reflected how we as church can make a significant contribution to the development of character and values in our national identity by engaging in wider societal dialogue. He made the point that the deacon active and vocal in the marketplace of society has a unique opportunity through their presence, words and actions, of modelling the values virtues of Jesus Christ. The ultimate outcome of this engagement is to seek to increase the number of people who can come to fully appreciate the gospel message.

The keynote speaker each day was Deacon Bill Ditewig who until recently was the national Coordinator of the Diaconate in United States, where there are now 20,000 deacons serving in a wide range of outreach ministries. Every deacon in the US is required to engage in an area of ministry beyond the church, by finding and meeting the needs of the society in which they live. Bill also gave an insightful recollection of the history of the diaconate. He outlined the specific intentions of the bishops present at Vatican II, who desired to make possible a new engagement with the world, specifically by having ordained ministers sent out as agents of transformation. He also outlined thecomprehensive and extensive use of deacons in many countries around the world, as well as giving insight into formation programs and support arrangements for deacons and their wives. One example of an element of a diaconal formation program is the terminal assessment for deacons in training in Germany. The assessment requires deacons to locate a pastoral need in their local society that is not being met, and to initiate steps to meet it, by mobilising their Catholic parishioners.

A presentation was also made by Fr Elio Capra SDB, on understanding how we might preach the good news today to those not engaged in church. He also provided a theological understanding of the role that deacons can play in encouraging the laity to be evangelisers themselves. He mentioned Pope Benedict's call for all Christians to not just be collaborators in the Church , but to accept co-responsibility for building up and making present the ‘Kingdom of God’ in society.

A number of deacons gave testimonies about the work they are doing prisons, educational institutions and to seafarers. The diversity of diaconal ministries being undertaken is very wide indeed.

The final ‘Missioning Mass’ was celebrated by Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who also participated in the Conference and was of great encouragement to the Diaconal community .

A wonderful outcome of this and previous gatherings has been a further development of the sense of communion between deacons and their wives from across Australia, who share in this unique ministry combination of the Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders. Whilst the diaconate is relatively young and still maturing in its Australian form, the coming together and sharing by deacons themselves of how the Holy Spirit has worked in their lives has provided much inspiration, and professional development for all involved.

Special thanks must go to Deacon Roger O'Donnell as well as the deacons and wives of the Archdiocese of Canberra Goulburn who organised and facilitated the conference. The next conference will be held in 2015. The location will be decided early next year.

Photo: Deacons and their wives pose for at photo at the biennial conference in Canberra, by Gary Stone.