By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
How impressed were you with the National Diaconate Congress last week?
It was amazing to see so many permanent deacons from across the United States – along with their wives and children – attending the conference. Deacon Ray Duplechain, who is the director of our Office of the Permanent Diaconate, did a wonderful job with other deacons in organizing this event, which had not been held in many years. There were a total of 1,300 permanent deacons who attended, and when you put that number together with their wives and children, the conference was attended by over 2,800 people. When Deacon Ray first began planning for the congress, the opening Mass was scheduled for St. Louis Cathedral because we weren’t expecting that many people to come. But as the numbers grew, we knew there was no way to fit nearly 3,000 people into the cathedral, so the all of the Masses were celebrated in a huge ballroom at the New Orleans Marriott. The deacons were all here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the renewal of the permanent diaconate, and there was a great spirit during our five days together. I was also pleased there was a large contingent of deacons not only from the Archdiocese of New Orleans but also from the other dioceses in Louisiana. We had deacons from 18 foreign countries who attended.
What was it like for the deacons to see themselves gather in such record numbers?
I think it gave them a great sense of solidarity. There are more than 18,000 permanent deacons in the U.S., so about 7 percent of all deacons in this country attended. I’m not suggesting Deacon Ray would want to hold another conference of this magnitude any time soon, but it was a very valuable and spiritually enriching experience. We know it was important because the papal nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, made a point of attending and affirming the deacons in their ministry.
Why do you think the U.S. has more than half of all deacons in the world?
I think in part it’s because Americans are very practical people. The U.S. church realizes the intense nature of the deacons’ ministry and mission. We embrace their selfless service in reaching out to people, especially those on the margins of society. Some countries have been a bit hesitant to move into the permanent diaconate. I think that’s in part because many countries rely on lay catechists to reach remote communities, and they do much of what deacons do in ministry. I believe many countries are trying to see how advantageous it would be to have permanent deacons.
New Orleans has been a gathering spot for a lot of Catholic conventions this year.
Yes, just in the last few days, we also hosted a joint conference of the National Black Clergy Caucus, the National Black Sisters’ Conference, the National Black Catholic Seminarians Association and the National Association of Black Catholic Deacons. It was a blessing to be able to welcome those four groups because they bring their experience of the Catholic faith with them, and it also enriches our local church.
And, with the weather getting hotter, can the beginning of a new school year be far behind?
We know that by the middle of August, the thermometer continues to rise and everything seems to jump into full swing. Once the school year starts, I will be glad to share some of my thoughts on the importance of Catholic education and the importance of our parish schools of religion on the lives of our children. The ministry of Catholic education, both in our schools and in our parishes, is a priority of our archdiocesan synod.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.