Five new Deacons
Five Westminster diocesan seminarians have been ordained Deacons, the penultimate stage in their journey to priesthood. Fortunato Pantisano, Martin Plunkett, Mark Walker, Oscar Ardila, and Jeffrey Downie were all ordained Deacons by Archbishop Vincent Nichols at Westminster Cathedral on Friday, 23 June.
During his homily Archbishop Nichols drew upon the life of St John Fisher to direct the five men towards fulfilling their role as Deacons. Archbishop Nichols said: "Today we remember that one of the key hall marks of a priest is the spirit of service in which he fulfils his ministry. This is of course, the spirit of "diacona".
Archbishop Nichols continued to say that there are three characteristics of this service : Service to the Word of God, Service at the Altar, and Service of Charity. He reminded the newly ordained deacons that every disciple is called to the pathway of love - the love shown to us by the Lord to which we respond with our total generosity."
The Rector of the Diocese's Allen Hall Seminary, Mgr Mark O'Toole said: "I am delighted to see these five men ordained Deacons for the diocese. I know they bring many gifts and will be much loved by the parishioners and parishes they will serve."
Read below the experiences of newly ordained Deacons Jeffrey Downie, Oscar Ardila, and Fortunato Pantisano, as they reflect on their calling by God and what it means to them.
"I grew up in Liverpool, initially as 'Brethren', but baptised in the Cof E as a teenager. My Christian faith has always been central to my life, and my main involvement at first was musical, learning to play the organ and singing in choirs. After university in Chichester I came to London to work in an Anglican parish in the east-end as a pastoral assistant, in order to discern better the sense of vocation and calling to ministry which I was experiencing.
During that time my questioning led me to explore Catholicism and I was received into the Church at St Anne's Underwood Road in 1994. I was at Allen Hall from 1995-1997, but at the time things didn't seem right and so I left, working in music and also retail management for many years.
During all of that time I felt this nagging sense, like a voice speaking gently to the heart, that God wanted more from me, but I never felt able or confident enough to respond. For several years I was a parishioner at St Mary's Cadogan Street and it was really there that things came to fruition. As I became more and more involved in the life of the parish, so my sense of a calling to the priesthood grew. With the support of Canon Wilson and the love and encouragement of the people I was finally able to discern and respond fully to God's desire that I spend the rest of my life in service of Christ and His Church as a priest.
Returning to Allen Hall a few years ago I found a happy and supportive place and now as a deacon I look forward to the next stage in the journey as I begin that ministry. I hope to serve, support and learn even more in my new home, as we all seek to grow together as part of the loving, caring, evangelistic Church that is the body of Christ.
"It was the year 2001. I was 24 years old. After seven years training and working as an actor in Colombia - where I was born and raised in a normal Catholic home - I came to London planning to further my career. An actor lends his body in order to impersonate characters who speak words written by playwrights. I had hoped that by doing this I could move people to feel or reflect on meaningful things: the beauty of being human or the marvel of being alive. In London, I discovered that this hope was drawing me to a deeper realm. It was not to be a play: it was the Mass. There Christ was calling me to lend my body to the Church in order to act in His own person; to proclaim His Word and to see how the Holy Spirit worked renewing humanity, moving it to experience a beauty, so profound, that not even sin can disfigure it, a life so marvellous that not even death can take away any of its fullness. Encouraged by the advice and prayers of family, friends and priests I eventually found the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way in the parish of Guardian Angles, Mile End. They helped my vocation to mature and to be incardinated in the Diocese of Westminster.
As a recently ordained deacon, I am very grateful to the Lord for having called me to share in this wonderful mission! My hope is that I shall be granted grace never to distrust the One who has been so merciful to me."
"I was born in Crotone (south of Italy) where I grew up and I went to the local primary and secondary schools. My father is originally from Crotone while my mother was born in Reggio di Calabria further south and then eventually moved to Crotone where she met my father. My family has always been of catholic denomination although not attending regularly at Mass. The parish, which I remember to go as a young boy and where I received the sacraments of first Holy Communion and Confirmation, was "Parrocchia Sacro Cuore" (Parish of the Sacred Heart). In this parish I was part of the 'Boy Scout' for several years, but not involved much. I was attending the different meetings and pilgrimages just to meet friends and especially a girl whom I was attracted. Then at the age of 14 together with my mum I joined in that same parish a community of the Neocatechumenal Way through which I began to consider the vocation to the priesthood.
As a teenager my focus was to be 'someone', everything in my life revolved around 'me'. I looked for fulfilment and happiness in sports, especially swimming; relationships, and other mundane attractions, which led me nowhere and even worse to leave the Church for some time. During this period I found myself unsatisfied and with no purpose, the feeling of meaninglessness was appalling and yet, in the midst of it all, God continued to love me.
My most important experience of God's love was through my Neocatechumenal community.
The weekly liturgies of the Word and the celebration of Mass every Saturday evening lived within a small community were extremely powerful for me. In this environment and in the light of Holy Scriptures, God opened my eyes to those dark moments and instead of a reprimand, he revealed his own plan of love and mercy for me: "... that Christ died for all so that those who live, may live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and is risen for them" (cf. 2 Cor. 515).
Then it was during the World Youth Day 2000 when I felt utterly God's calling to offer my life to him through the words of Pope John Paul II, now Blessed, saying: "do not be afraid to open wide the door to Christ" and also "God will not take away anything from you but He will give you more".
Also I started to experience more that 'God loves me as I am' by reading the life of two favourites saints of mine: St Filippo Neri and St (Padre) Pio da Pietralcina, in which their unceasingly works of charity reached truly people's heart. They were simple and poor and yet through their weaknesses could make manifest God's power. This changed my way of thinking and makes me understand that I need not to be a superhuman or anything like that, but that it is God's powerful love able to transform and guide me.
This stage in my life makes me a witness of how God is Faithful, and in which the words of Pope John Paul II mentioned earlier come true. I am very glad and at the same time thrilled. Now I am aware to be publicly an instrument in the hands of God in serving His people. For me this means to offer completely every single aspects of
myself to God, in order to be able to give his people that same love I have received from him. This is at the heart of my ministry. God, through his great mercy, has prepared for me "useless servant" numerous graces, so that I may share them with the whole Church by announcing the 'Good News', guiding them in the journey of faith and
manifesting to them acts of God's charity. All this is done not for my personal self-fulfillment but for the glory of God. I just remind myself of what, in today's solemnity 'the Nativity of St John the Baptist', the Church invites us to reflect upon. St John says: 'I must decrease so that he can increase'. Thus likewise John, I will be, to some extent, just a voice that will proclaim the eternal Word (Christ).
Also I have the certainty that God will provide as He does every day. This stage of my life, as Archbishop Vincent mentioned in his sincere and experienced homily, will never end even once I'll be ordained priest. This invites me to look always at Christ who came not to be served but to serve, and that the road to salvation is not success and fame but the road of the cross. What do I hope for the future? Well, I am aware that I need the Church more than how much the Church needs me. Thus I call upon the help of the angels and saints and I ask Jesus and the ever Virgin Mary to pray for me so that I can convert and be holy as God the Father is holy. Finally, I am experiencing in this days fullness of joy which I've never experienced before. This is surely a gift stronger than any richness I attempted to achieve with my efforts."
The Homily given by Archbishop Vincent Nichols is provided below :
Homily for the Ordination of Deacons
23 June 2012
Yesterday was the Feast of St John Fisher, a favourite saint of mine. So I look to him to help in our reflection on the diaconate today.
A 'soundbite' attributed to John Fisher, although he took it from Savonarola, was the wish that there would be far more golden priests and, preferably, fewer golden chalices. Today we remember that one of the key hall marks of a priest is the spirit of service in which he fulfils his ministry. This is, of course, the spirit of 'diaconia'.
Today we ordain five men as deacons. They are all being ordained for future service as priests. But this is no transitional diaconate. No, they will remain deacons all of their lives. Indeed we can say 'once a deacon always a deacon.' Diaconia' is the permanent spirit, the fundamental character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This spirit must inform the work and ministry not only of the deacon but also of every priest and bishop, for we too are always deacons. I hope that is the spirit we can renew in ourselves today.
There are three characteristics to this service.
1) Service to the Word of God.
John Fisher's great preoccupation was for the well being of his priests, particularly in their ability to preach and teach well. This, he knew, required a willingness to engage in constant study, just as he did himself. And in this study, Fisher was not afraid of innovation or new learning. Indeed he was highly instrumental in bringing to this country the new learning of the biblical languages and the new appreciation of the biblical texts which came with that study. He it was who introduced Erasmus to our Universities. So we too ought not to be afraid of new
frontiers of learning.
But we have to remember that Fisher saw clearly that the fruit of academic work had to be its application to the pastoral tasks and life of the Church. He was not in favour of academics for their own sake. Indeed in his foundation of St John's College, Cambridge, his explicit purpose was that the College should equip priests for their ministry, especially in the north of England, from where he had come.
So today we pray that these new deacons, and we ourselves, will remain men of study so that we may be true servants of the Word.
Our first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles, also gives us a model for all deacons. It comes in the figure of Philip, taken up by the Spirit to minister to the Ethiopian. Please note that Philip enters the chariot and sits side by side with the Ethiopian. That surely is an indication to us of the best setting in which we will effectively share the Word of God with those who seek Him: sitting side by side. And by the way, this must be the shortest RCIA course on record! Not to be forgotten!
2) Service at the altar.
For this reflection permit me to take the altar as the symbol of our unity and so to emphasise the role of the deacon as the servant of unity. It is surely the deacon's task to draw all that is best out of the people he is serving and help them to bring it to the altar as their precious offering. In this way the deacon becomes the servant of the priesthood of all the baptised. You will recall, I am sure, the invitation of Pope Benedict spoken here in this Cathedral, that the Catholic community is to rediscover the dignity of the baptismal calling to sanctify the world to God each day. This is our baptismal priesthood and it is to be served by the deacon, as indeed by everyone in Holy Orders.
St John Fisher also had concerns about the unity of the Church of his day. He saw the utter importance of unity in teaching, of the proclamation of the truths as entrusted to the Church. Indeed much of his effort, in the circumstances of his day, was aimed at defending the mandate of the Church as the guardian and teacher of revealed truth. If we look again at Philip, he is sent to the Ethiopian in response to the plea: how can I understand these Scriptures unless someone explain them to me? Philip is the one who is sent, personifying the early Church and its mandate from the Lord.
3) The service of Charity.
This, of course, is a central aspect of the ministry of the deacon, and of us all. The response of the Church, of each one of us, of our parishes, to those in need around us is what gives contemporary credibility to the proclamation of the Gospel.
Fisher is a fine example of this. Once appointed to the Diocese of Rochester he visited its parishes every three years from 1503 to 1529. And on those pastoral visitations he visited the sick and the housebound, thereby setting an example for his priests. This is surely one of the marks of a golden priest: that he cares, especially for the sick and does not hesitate to visit them in their homes, no matter how inconvenient that might be. This, too, will be the hallmark of the deacon.
Today's Gospel reading calls every disciple to the pathway of love - the love shown to us by the Lord to which we respond with our total generosity.
"A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends."
That is what the Lord did for us. We try to do the same for him who is the best of all friends
For those who seek to enter the priesthood this means the radical, positive and free choice of a celibate way of life. In this way of life we offer an undivided heart to the Lord; we give a life-long dedication and struggle to being a 'father in God' rather than a 'father in nature'. We give a promise that gives shape to every relationship, to every intimate friendship, to every decision and action, so that all we do may have as its first focus an unswerving willingness to serve the Lord.
"I do not call you servants anymore because a servant does not know his Master's business. I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have learned from my Father."
With these words taking root in our hearts, it is now time to address these five candidates directly about the solemn promise they are about to give to strive for a celibate way of life in the service of the Lord.
Source: Archbishops House