Mumbai: Catholic Church gets its first-ever married deacon

Photo: Lloyd Dias, 74, will be ordained as one of the first permanent deacons of India's Roman Catholic Church on Sunday.

Mumbai, Jan 18: On Sunday, the Roman Catholic Church will ordain two lay persons as deacons for the first time; chosen from among city parishoners, the men will be able to perform baptisms, nuptials and masses.

The Roman Catholic Church in India will witness a landmark event on Sunday when the Archbishop of Bombay will ordain two married men as permanent deacons.

Lloyd Dias, belongs to the Sacred Heart Parish, Vashi, and Elwyn deSouza is a parishoner of St Joseph’s,  Juhu will receive their religious orders at a ceremony at the Holy Name Cathedral in Colaba.

Deacons are ranked next to bishops and priests in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. They can perform most of the religious duties that a priest does, like baptism and nuptials, but cannot conduct mass or hear confessions. Till date, priests have worked as deacons. This is the first time a lay person is being ordained as a permanent deacon.

Father Anthony Charanghat, spokesperson for the Cardinal Ivan Dias, Archbishop of Bombay, said, "This is the first time a married person will be officially ordained as a deacon. No other diocese in India is known to have ordained a permanent deacon."

In the West, a shortage of priests, caused by a decline in the number of men taking up the vocation, was one of the prime reasons for the decision to train deacons to perform some of the religious duties previously performed only by priests.

In India, though the problem is not so acute, there has been a perceptible decline in the number of candidates at seminaries.

The church says that deacons could help take the work pressure off the priests on weekends when baptisms, nuptials and masses are lined up one after the other. Married men who take up the vocation are expected to embrace the vow of celibacy.

Though the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome had given the go ahead for the ordaining of lay Catholics as deacons as early as 1983, the church in India decided to let the idea seep into the laity slowly. "We had to prepare the people for it. There could have been resistance from people, especially old people who would not like to receive communion from a lay person. We also needed to create a training programme for the candidates," said Charanghat.

Dias, a 74-year old grandfather and a former supervisor with a Saudi Arabia-based shipping company said that his fascination for preaching the word of God led him to a two year course in theology at the St Pius Seminary in Goregaon, Mumbai. "Even in Saudi Arabia where preaching in religions other than Islam is not allowed, I preached to fellow workers. The American workers there encouraged me to learn theology," he said.

He studied theology between 1985 and 1987 after he came back from the Middle East and worked with the community till Bishop Bosco Penha, auxiliary bishop of Bombay suggested his diaconate with cardinal Dias.

To prepare the laity for this significant event, parishioners in Mumbai were given questionnaires to seek their opinion. Some church members did say that they did not see the need for deacons from the laity. "We are saying that priests should get married. But I do not see the need for deacons who are married, when priests and nuns are asked to be celibate.

"If we have married deacons, what is the difference between the Catholic Church and the new born-again churches," said a parishioner from South Mumbai, who requested anonymity.

There are an estimated 30,000 permanent deacons all over the world today. But for India, this will be a first.

In a church circular released this Sunday Bishop Dias said, "January 22, 2006 will truly be a red-letter day in the history of the Bombay Archdiocese, for it will mark a big step forward towards providing an ever more efficient pastoral care to the faithful," he said.

Courtesy: Mumbai Mirror

 
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