Blog World Café The Deacons in Chile


The Deacons in Chile

Our delegate Miguel Ángel Herrera Parra describes the situation of deacons in Chile, their numbers, their mission and current challenges.

1)How many deacons are there in Chile?

Whenever Chile compares itself with the developed countries it is inferior on all indicators and we are very grieved by it.
But when it comes to permanent deacons, comparing the diaconate in Chile with the country having the biggest number of deacons in the world, i.e. with the United States, let’s see what happens1:

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a) Number of deacons per capita:

The total population of the United States is 327,054,000 inhabitants and it has 18,938 deacons. Which translates to a deacon for each 17,270 inhabitants. Chile has a population of 17,793,000 inhabitants and has 1,200 deacons. This means that in Chile there is a deacon for every 14,828 inhabitants, a number which is better than that of the United States.
Other countries with which one could make a comparison would be: Brazil, with a deacon for every 43,664 persons; Argentina, with a deacon for every 45,871 persons; Columbia, with a deacon for every 62,406 persons; Spain, with a deacon for every 104,369 persons and Mexico, with a deacon for every 138, 598 persons.

b) Dioceses which have restored the permanent diaconate as suggested by the Second Vatican Council:

In the United States there are diaconate formation programs in 174 out of 196 dioceses, i.e. in 89% of them. Chile has diaconate formation programs in 26 out of 27 dioceses, i.e. 96.3% a percentage higher than that of the United States. The only diocese in Chile which does not have diaconal formation is the Diocese of Illapel; however, there are two deacons incardinated in that diocese and carry out their ministry there, although they had their formation in other Chilean dioceses.

c) Pioneers in the formation and ordination of deacons:

The United States celebrated 50 years since the restoration of the diaconate in the country in July, 2018. Chile celebrated 50 years of restored diaconate in July 2017, which means one year before the Americans. Moreover, Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, Archbishop of Santiago, and great promoter of the diaconate in Chile, was one of the Cardinals who, towards the end of the Second Vatican Council, together with other Cardinals from Europe and the rest of the world, formed and helped the creation of the International Diaconate Centre, IDC, headquartered in Germany. Today the IDC is a great help for all the deacons in the world.
Therefore, in light of these three global indicators, we can state that Chile, despite being a small country and located very far from the centre of the world, can be considered – proportionally – the “world champion” of the diaconate, because it has the best coefficient of deacons per capita; the Chilean Episcopate took on the challenge of restoring the diaconate – under the impulse of the Second Vatican Council – very early in the day; and the Chilean Church was a pioneer both in the formation and the ordination of deacons.

2) What is the mission of the deacons?

The ministry of the permanent deacon is characterized by the exercise of the three “munera” (services) pertaining to ordained ministry and in accordance with the specific perspective of the diakonia:

Munus docendi (service of teaching): the deacon is called to proclaim the scripture, to instruct and exhort the people.

Munus sanctificandi (service of sanctifying): is carried out through prayer, the solemn administration of Baptism, the preservation and distribution of the Eucharist, the assisting and the blessing of marriages, the presiding over the funeral rites and burials and the administration of sacramentals.

Munus regendi (service of leadership): is exercised through the commitment to works of charity and assistance and through the animation of communities and sectors of ecclesial life, particularly with regards to charity. This is the most characteristic ministry of the deacon and involves a resolute service to justice and equality.

Permanent deacons must cover the most diverse fields of ministerial action, both in matters of geography and social environment so that, in this way, the salvific action of the Church reach every single sector of society. In Chile one underscores the following ministerial sectors as particularly important: youth, family, the Basic Ecclesial Communities, the poor, the workers and farmers, education, health, the media, migrants, native peoples, sexual diversity, and any other frontier ministerial fields that might be discovered.

3) Achievements and difficulties

Some achievements:

Over the last few years there has been an increase in the awareness permanent deacons have of their own ecclesial mission, which is not exclusively bound to the exercise of the liturgical ministry, but rather is open to other spaces, like for instance accompanying communities and chapels which through the activity of the deacons become lively centres of welcome, sharing and evangelization. Deacons are present in the fields of education, professional life and others, they accomplish tasks of solidarity and evangelical charity, they offer spiritual direction to many lay people involved in various ministries. They are involved in family and youth ministry, in liturgy and catechesis, in workers’ ministry, in biblical ministry, as well as managers of Church assets, as judges in ecclesiastical tribunals and in other diocesan offices.

The missionary dimension gradually becomes tangible, as institutional spaces are being created. So, for example, we started to have deacons exercising their ministry in primary and secondary schools and not only in those run by the Church, but also in some public ones, in hospitals and clinics, both public and private, in many businesses; they assist and organize those who live out of public charity, as well as social and professional groups like fishermen, miners and native peoples. In prisons, they work with both inmates and guards. They also work in the media, in universities, be they Catholic, private, or state-run, and in the Military Ordinariate. Certainly these tasks are a great help and support to the People of God.

Another significant progress was the approval and publication – in 2006 – of the Pastoral Guidelines for the Permanent Diaconate: “Gift and Mission”, offered by the bishops to the deacons and the Church of Chile in general.

In the last three years, the Archdiocese of Santiago – via its Department for the Clergy – offered (through scholarships) some courses of continuing formation for permanent deacons and their wives, following some findings obtained in 2016.
The latest such courses, offered with the help of the Theology Department of the Pontifical Catholic University, were “The Gospel According to Mark”, “Social Doctrine of the Church” and “Preaching by the Deacon”. The title of the next course will be “The Deacons in the New Frontiers”.
We can also point out that there is an increasing awareness of the diaconal vocation as a gift of the Church. There is also an increased awareness of the necessity to improve the process of vocational discernment with the involvement of the wives and children and of improving the structure of the various diocesan formation centres which would also result in an increased integration and communion within the diocesan clergy.
An important progress is represented by the ever more numerous small communities or fraternities of deacons, where, together with their wives, they share their life and ministry, enriching each other and, at the same time, experiencing the community life of the Church.

Some difficulties:

We also notice some difficulties in the development of this ministry. These difficulties sometimes hinder its flourishing. Among these obstacles is the persistence of negative preconceptions held by some priests and bishops regarding the mission and the role of the permanent deacons. For the most part, such preconceptions are the product of insufficient information about this ministry.
Another obstacle is that there are permanent deacons in each diocese – although they represent only a small percentage – who do not wish to be part of the respective organized body of deacons and do not participate in deacons’ meetings because of their professional obligations, health, costs or geographical distance.

There still are certain difficulties with regard to the formation and strengthening of the diaconal body; in many dioceses it is difficult to organize meetings, because both the geographic conditions or the economic situation of the deacons make it difficult for them to travel.

Miguel Ángel Herrera Parra. Permanent Deacon, B.A. in Sociology from the Universidad de Chile, M.A. in Religious Education from the Silva Henríquez Catholic University, Refresher Course Certificate (Theology) from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Deacon in the San Alberto Hurtado Parish, Peñalolén, Director of Advocacy in the Commission of Family Ministry of the Archdiocese of Santiago, National contact person for the International Diaconate Centre (IDC)

1 “Permanent deacons are the group of clergymen witnessing a significant growth. The medium annual increase during the 2010-2015 period reached 2.88% globally and continued throughout 2016, albeit to a slower pace (2.34%); in said year, their number grew to 46,312 compared to the 39,364 of 2010.” (Source:Anuario Pontificio 2018 and “Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae”, 2016).

2 “Diaconato permanente: Dono e missione. Orientaciones Pastorales para el Diaconado Permanente”, Conferencia Episcopal de Chile, luglio 2006, n. 45.

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