SASKATOON — A strong desire to encourage Catholics to reach out to those in need emerged from last year’s diocesan discernment about ordaining permanent deacons.
That desire was behind the establishment of two committees: one to explore the creation of a new one-year “ministry of outreach” formation program that could be connected to the Lay Formation program, and another to explore options for the formation of permanent deacons, based on a model of service.
“We are fostering a vision that would see deacons providing tangible service to those in need, both inside and outside the church,” says Bishop Donald Bolen. “It would be a deacon’s responsibility not only to be engaged in that outreach, but to encourage the entire community to reach out to others as an intrinsic part of the Gospel.”
Service is a Gospel call for the entire church, Bolen stresses. “Both of these new initiatives will give us the opportunity as church to be more deeply and more effectively present to our sisters and brothers — including many of us ourselves — who carry wounds, who are suffering, or who struggle in one way or another,” he says. “The goal is to be a more compassionate and caring community.”
Equipping and empowering Catholics to serve those in greatest need is the vision behind the proposed formation program that the planning committee has begun to sketch out. “It’s very exciting to look at the prospects of what that program could contribute to our diocese,” Bolen says.
“A second committee was established to work specifically on diaconal formation, asking how we could build on existing programs and courses for formation of permanent deacons. They too have made excellent progress and come up with suggestions and recommendations which seem feasible and fruitful.”
The bishop says the next step will be to bring the work of the two committees together, to determine what resources, staffing and funding would be needed to make their suggestions a reality. At that point, the third committee — which will deal with the finances — will get to work.
“Pope Francis has inspired us with his outreach and with his common sense concern for those who are hurting or marginalized, consistently saying that the church needs to be there for them,” notes Bolen. “The church can never be indifferent to human suffering. The Gospel is meant to be lived out.”
It is hoped that both the formation program for laity and the plan for formation of permanent deacons in the diocese might be in place by the fall of 2016, says Bolen.
An extensive discernment was held last year in the Diocese of Saskatoon about whether or not to ordain permanent deacons, an order of the clergy restored after the Second Vatican Council. Regina and Prince Albert dioceses are also now forming and ordaining permanent deacons, as are dioceses in Manitoba and Alberta. As members of the clergy, deacons can proclaim the Gospel and preach at liturgical services and they are able to conduct baptisms and witness marriages. They can lead the community in prayer, but do not preside at the eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation or the sacrament of the sick, which are roles reserved to a priest.
Right now, only men can be ordained as deacons. Married men can be ordained deacons, but if a single man is ordained deacon he cannot later marry, and a widowed deacon cannot remarry.