The theme of service – the essence of the ministry of the deacon – was front and center May 20 at St. Louis Cathedral as Archbishop Gregory Aymond ordained seven men as transitional deacons, the final step before ordination to the priesthood.
“You are sent today to serve, but not to be served,” Archbishop Aymond told the newly ordained deacons.
Four of the new deacons will serve in the Archdiocese of New Orleans: Deacons David M. Frank Jr., Cletus O. Orji, Thien The Nguyen and Kien Trung (Vincent) Nguyen.
The other three deacons were ordained for service outside the Archdiocese of New Orleans: Deacons Felix Hinambona (Archdiocese of Tororo, Uganda); John Oyugi (Franciscan Missionaries of Hope); and Peter Nghi Nguyen (Missionaries of Faith).
During the next year, the new deacons will continue their discernment and theological studies in the hope of being ordained to the priesthood next June.
Each of the newly minted deacons said he was overwhelmed by the ordination liturgy.
Deacon David Frank
“It was inexpressible joy. In the Gospel reading, there was something about, ‘that your joy may be complete.’ At that moment, there was great joy flooding over all of us. I’m hopeful that this (upcoming) year will prepare us to know how to serve the people of God.”
Deacon Cletus Orji
“During the Litany of the Saints, when all of us prostrated ourselves, it was amazing to see. I was kind of asking myself, ‘So, is this real?’ To be honest, I am very grateful to God for this opportunity he has given me to be part of this great ministry, and I look forward to serving the people of God with all my heart.”
Deacon Thien Nguyen
“I felt the Holy Spirit come upon me when the archbishop put his hands on my head. It was very powerful when the Holy Spirit came upon me. At that time, I felt my life changing. God will work in my heart and in my mind to help me preach homilies for the people of God and also when I go to visit the people.
Deacon Vincent Nguyen
“As I walked in the procession, I couldn’t stop the tears from my eyes. The same thing happened during the entrance songs and the readings. It’s not an accident that the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles was about the first seven deacons, and today, we ordained seven new deacons. During the Litany of the Saints, I had the feeling that the whole church – the heavenly church and the pilgrim church – was praying for us and with us unworthy men.”
Deacon Felix Hinambona
“First, when the archbishop mentioned how some people may not have expected to be called to holy orders, I think I am one of them because as a child I really didn’t think about it. But it was during the Litany of the Saints when I really knew it was by God’s mercy that he invites us to come out and serve his church. To me, that was humbling. In that moment, I was just remembering what the archbishop had just told us – what we were being called to do. In his mercy, God is giving us that big office to carry out. I was like, ‘Just small me? How will I carry it out?’ But I am so happy and excited, especially for the people of New Orleans who have made me a part of their family.”
Deacon John Oyugi
“I am very grateful. The Mass was so fruitful. The people have been supporting me and praying for me all the time. I see the people also thirsty for the Lord. I realize God is calling me to serve them and to serve God. I’m very ready to do the will of God. I thank the archbishop for the encouragement and also for the support he has always given me.” (Deacon Oyugi will return to Kenya next week and is scheduled to be ordained a priest in December.)
Deacon Peter Nguyen
“It was really amazing because I couldn’t believe it myself. God lifted me up, and I can’t believe I am a deacon right now. I received that grace from God. I will have another opportunity to lie prostrate before the altar again, and I will serve God all my life.”
Archbishop Aymond said the ordination liturgy tracks the Acts of the Apostles, when, 2,000 years ago, the apostles chose seven strong disciples – men filled with the wisdom of God and known by the community for their good reputation – to become the first deacons.
“Then the apostles prayed over them and laid hands on them, and they became the first deacons of our church,” Archbishop Aymond said. “Two thousand years later, we are doing exactly what happened to the seven deacons.”
Archbishop Aymond urged the deacons to be men of charity “in a radical way,” especially to those who may have been forgotten by society, those who are in prison and those who are “hungry for a sense of belonging, hungry for respect and hungry to know Jesus.”
He reminded them that Pope Francis calls deacons and priests to leave the church office and rectory to find those who are disengaged from the church.
“We cannot wait for the poor to come to us,” the archbishop said.
In handing on the Book of the Gospels to each deacon, the archbishop imparted a three-fold message: “Believe what you read; teach what you believe; and practice what you teach.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.