19 Apr 2012
"People frequently misunderstand the role of a deacon while others are not aware deacons, who are usually married with families, are even part of the Catholic Church," says Bernard Toutounji, Executive Officer of the Archdiocese of Sydney's Permanent Diaconate.
However Bernard and the Archdiocese are determined to change this and on Saturday, 12 May will host an information afternoon at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, Homebush on the vocation, formation and role of a Deacon.
"We are inviting all those interested in finding out more about the Archdiocese's Permanent Diaconate and those who are considering a possible vocation as a deacon," says Bernard, emphasising that the invitation is not only for men but their wives as well.
"As most Deacons are married with families of their own, the decision to pursue a vocation with the Diaconate affects the entire family and a wife's support is all important, he says.
"A wife is the backbone and if she isn't okay with her husband answering the call, then we would not proceed."
Such is the importance the Archdiocese plays on a wife's support, not only are they encouraged to come along with their husbands to formation but the Archdiocese Diaconate Advisory Committee who will decide on this year's candidates includes two women. One is Sister Isabell Naumann ISSM STD and the other is Mrs Julianne Naggar of Liverpool, NSW. Mrs Naggar is married to Deacon Paul Naggar from the Archdiocese and has long experience as the wife of a Deacon and what this means.
"Unlike priests, a permanent deacon maintains his professional as well as his family life while serving the Church," Bernard says and believes this is one of the reasons for the frequent confusion over a deacon's role in a parish or allocated ministry.
Another reason for ignorance about a deacons' role, could be put down to numbers. Currently there are just 35,000 deacons worldwide compared with almost half a million priests.
Although deacons have been ordained and served the Church since the second and third century, in the west the numbers of permanent deacons gradually declined, and deacons became associated primarily with seminarians who were ordained and worked as deacons during the last year or two before their ordination as priests.
But after the Second Vatican Council called for a reinstatement and revitalisation of the tradition, numbers have begun to increase.
Two years ago, the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell re-established the Archdiocese's Permanent Diaconate and appointed Bishop Julian Porteous, Episcopal Vicar of Evangelisation and Renewal as Director and Bernard Toutounji as Executive Officer.
Currently four men - all married - are in formation and set to be ordained as deacons in 2013-14. A further three are currently undertaking preliminary studies at the Catholic Institute of Sydney at Strathfield.
Pope Benedict XVI explains that the word deacon literally means "servant" and that the original role of a deacon was to serve the poor. But in modern times, he says deacons serve a new poverty which is describes as a "spiritual and cultural poverty."
Some of a deacon's duties are similar to those of a parish priest. He is an official minister in the liturgy and is entitled to carry out baptisms, celebrate marriages and officiate at funerals. However a deacon is not permitted to celebrate Mass, nor is he permitted to hear Confessions.
"A deacon is one who brings the face of Christ in a unique way into his work, family and recreational life and can be an important link for people into the life of the Church," Bernard says.
To find out more about the information afternoon to be held at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd on 12 May log on to www.sydneydiaconate.org.au. You can also email the Office of the Permanent Diaconate at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02 9390 5941.