PROVIDENCE — For John Silvia, who serves as a deacon at St. Barnabas Church, Portsmouth, the opportunity to travel to the Vatican May 27 through 29 for the Jubilee of Deacons and participate in one of the largest gatherings of Catholic deacons ever held was a chance he didn’t want to pass up.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that’ll probably never happen again in my lifetime,” he told Rhode Island Catholic following his return from the trip.
Deacon Silvia was one of four deacons from the Diocese of Providence who traveled to Rome to participate in the international gathering, which celebrated the important role of deacons in the Church during the Jubilee Year of Mercy and also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate by the Second Vatican Council. The four deacons, including Deacon Robert Lafond of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, Woonsocket; Deacon Cy Cote of St. Joseph Church, West Warwick; and Deacon Bud Remillard of St. Jude Parish, Lincoln, traveled with family and parishioners to attend the special event.
“The trip itself was magnificent. And we were fortunate and blessed that we were able to represent the Diocese of Providence,” said Deacon Silvia.
The highlight of the trip took place on Sunday morning, when the deacons had the opportunity to participate in a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square. During his homily, Pope Francis addressed the deacons directly, encouraging them to act as servants of Christ and bearer of God’s mercy without selfishness or distraction.
“To be ready to serve, we need a healthy heart,” said the pope. “A heart healed by God, one which knows forgiveness and is neither closed nor hardened. We would do well each day to pray trustingly for this, asking to be healed by Jesus, to grow more like him who ‘no longer calls us servants but friends.’”
Pope Francis continued by acknowledging the daily stresses of ministry and encouraging the deacons to offer these moments up to the Lord and rely on the Eucharist.
“Dear deacons, this is a grace you can implore daily in prayer,” he said. “You can offer the Lord your work, your little inconveniences, your weariness and your hopes in an authentic prayer that brings your life to the Lord and the Lord to your life. When you serve at the table of the Eucharist, there you will find the presence of Jesus, who gives himself to you so that you can give yourselves to others.”
More than 2,100 deacons participated in the Mass, and approximately 30,000 family members and other pilgrims were present in the square for the celebration. According to Deacon Cote, the crowds filled the square and made the special event even more extraordinary.
“If you look from where we were seated on the dais next to the pope, if you looked out at the square, all you’d see were people,” he said. “It was packed. Truly packed. An amazing sight, actually.”
Earlier in the weekend, the group met other deacons from around the world with their families and participated in a number of activities to support them in their ministry. On Saturday, they made a pilgrimage to the Seven Churches of St. Lawrence for Eucharistic adoration and heard catechesis on the topics of charity and evangelization. The deacons also had the opportunity to pass through the holy door at St. Peter’s Basilica, completing their pilgrimage and receiving the indulgence associated with attending a Jubilee Mass.
“Meeting all the deacons from throughout the world and their wives was such a gift,” said Deacon Lafond about the experience. “And what was so amazing was that when talking with the deacons, no matter where they were from, they all had the same goal to be the best servants they could possibly be. They all have their own special gifts, given to them by our Lord, and want so much to share them with others.”
In addition to attending the activities planned for the Jubilee of Deacons, the group visited several holy sites around the city, including the basilicas of St. Paul, St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran and the tomb of St. Jerome. On Tuesday, they visited Assisi, where they participated in a Mass in a chapel beneath the burial chamber of St. Francis.
“We actually served at the altar that was formed from the tree stump that St. Francis himself preached from,” said Deacon Silvia, adding that he carried prayer intentions from the parishioners of St. Barnabas with him to Italy and laid many of them on this altar.
As the deacons and their guests returned home, they reflected on the experience and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to join together in communion with their fellow deacons. For many, Pope Francis’s blessing offered a chance to renew their dedication to the Church and recognized the important role of their ministry.
“I truly felt blessed,” said Deacon Cote. “When we came back home and could actually stop for a moment and think about what we just participated in, sitting there listening to the pope talking to us, it meant a lot, it really did.”
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