VATICAN CITY, JAN. 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II praised the work of permanent deacons who he says enable the Church to be close to the daily life of many people, including those who have strayed from the faith.
When he met Saturday with a group of visiting French bishops, the Pope noted the constant increase in the number of permanent deacons, most of whom are married.
The Holy Father expressed thanks to the wives and children of deacons for their support to their ministry. And he expressed his appreciation for the deacons who at times “are in contact with environments that are very removed from the Church.”
Permanent deacons “present a characteristic face of the Church, which likes to be close to the people and their daily reality, to root in their lives the proclamation of Christ’s message,” the Pope said.
The ministry of deacons flowered in the Western Church until the fifth century. For a variety of reasons, it declined slowly to the point that it became only an intermediate phase of candidates for priestly ordination.
The Second Vatican Council opened the way to restore this ministry as a “proper and permanent stage of the hierarchy,” making it possible to be conferred on men of mature age who are already married.
With the apostolic letter “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” of 1967, Pope Paul VI implemented the conciliar indications, establishing the general rules for the Latin-rite Church.
In his meeting with the French bishops, John Paul II requested that permanent deacons be thanked for “the mission they carry out for the Church as servants of the Gospel, frequently supporting the Christian people in a professional framework, which is the first context of their ministry.”
“With their word and demanding personal, conjugal and family life, they make the Christian message known and make men and women reflect on social questions, so that the evangelical values will shine,” the Pope said.
According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, in 2001 there were 28,626 diocesan permanent deacons and 578 religious permanent deacons. In 1967 there were none. The United States has almost half the world’s permanent deacons: 13,391.
Europe has 9,122 diocesan permanent deacons. Italy had the largest number (2,546), followed among others by Germany (2,351), France (1,644), Belgium (547), Great Britain (534), Austria (489), the Netherlands (288) and Spain (188).
In the Americas, the country with the greatest number of permanent deacons after the United States is Brazil (1,218), followed by Canada (894), Mexico (691), Chile (600), Argentina (543), Puerto Rico (404), the Dominican Republic (251) and Colombia (210).
In the whole of Africa, there are 339 permanent deacons, including 204 in South Africa.
There are 72 permanent deacons in Asia, and 189 in Oceania, including 48 in Australia.