The call to serve the poor and the marginalized is growing louder
Diaconate in Canada
Following Vatican II, bishops in Canada discussed the restoration of the permanent diaconate and put forward a proposal to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to study the conciliar documents and the needs of the church in Canada. After two years of study the CCCB decided to restore the diaconate in Canada and on January 20, 1969 received approval from the Holy See.
The first permanent deacons were ordained for the Archdiocese of Quebec in 1972 and for the Archdiocese of Toronto in 1974. Slowly over the next 40 years dioceses throughout the country began to put programs in place and now in Canada there are roughly 1,000 permanent deacons.
Canada is a country with a very large land mass and many dioceses, large and small in population, where even the smallest of diocese in population could cover a land area ten to hundred times the area of metropolitan dioceses.
As a result, due to smaller and more remote populations, many dioceses lack resources to develop and hold formation programs. For many, the problem of distance makes it extremely difficult to bring potential candidates together for formation classes.
Another challenge for programs come from increasing work demands in our competitive economies, people getting married and starting families later in life, thus candidates are applying at older ages. The desire of diocese to have deacons with more theological training, thus increasing the time of candidacy, our deacons are that much older at the time of ordination. Thus they are not able to serve for as many years as our first deacons.
There is also the challenge in placing deacons to serve in some of our urban institutions, such as hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. Management of these institutions have very secular priorities thus the religious and spiritual needs of their residents are not a priority. Thus we are finding it more difficult to minister in these institutions.
Lastly Canada has no national diaconate association. We have linked with the United States Association which has benefits, but we do have some unique problems and lack the forum to address them.
With distance-learning becoming more available this may provide for more affordable programs thus allowing dioceses to take on and / or expand their diaconate programs, especially in more remote areas.
The call to serve the poor and the marginalized is growing louder. Ministry opportunities lie in the growing need for deacons to serve in soup kitchens, foodbanks, to serve those who are returning to society from prisons and homes for addictions.
Stephen Pitre, Deacon Archdiocese Toronto