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Deacon-structing WYD: From Disciples to Apostles

Last week we saw how important Saints are, not just to WYD, but also to living our Faith.

In 2005 World Youth Day went back to Europe, to Cologne, Germany. This was Pope Benedict’s first World Youth Day. By now, WYDs are an establishment. For me Toronto was very much the WYD that brought it all together. The service component was the key ingredient, but something was missing.

In Toronto we also added something else. Traditionally the Saturday night Vigil was a celebration, a rally, an opportunity for the young people to be with the Holy Father. In Toronto we kept this idea, but made the core of the celebration Evening Prayer. I don’t know about you, but before this, I had never even heard of Evening Prayer. There is so much about our Faith that we don’t know. How many of us don’t know about these “prayers of the Church?” Why are these prayers not taught in Catholic Schools? But I digress…

In Cologne, they kept the Vigil as Evening Prayer, but added Adoration. Of course, this made sense because the theme for that WYD was “We have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2). But it also makes sense because that is the real reason why we gather: to adore. That’s why we go and do service: to adore. Worship is the reason why we respond to the call to being Saints.

wyd08pilgrimsIn the last three WYDs, Sydney 2008, Madrid 2011 and Rio 2013, all these components came together beautifully. We traveled as pilgrims, together with Mary and the Saints, under the Cross, in a spirit of reconciliation and service to meet with the Holy Father, the institutional Church, to learn about our Faith, to connect with and celebrate our Faith and to worship. These last three WYDs included adoration as part of the Vigil with the Holy Father. In Krakow it will be the same.

It is now 14 years after World Youth Day came to Toronto. It is 32 years since that very first WYD in Rome when Pope John Paul II entrusted the Cross to the youth of the world. And three years ago hundreds of thousands descended upon Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro to go and make disciples of all nations. So many young people who, over the years have been simply saying yes to being saints.

Being a saint is not hard. Being a saint doesn’t mean that you don’t make mistakes or that you don’t sin. It doesn’t mean you have to be a nun or a priest or you have to found a religious congregation. Being a saint simply means following Jesus, trying to get to heaven and helping others make it to heaven. Jesus already told us how to do that: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to those who are thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison. And pray. This is something that you and I can do very easily. And if we do, or try to live this way, we will realise that we are no longer just disciples who merely follow Jesus, but apostles whom Jesus sends.

This is what happens at WYD – one arrives as a disciple and having a personal encounter with Christ, we return home sent, as apostles – to share the experience with our families, our friends and all those whom we encounter on a daily basis.

But the good news is that we don’t have to go to a WYD to have a personal encounter with Christ. You didn’t need to go to Sydney in order to “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” and be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8) . You didn’t need to go to Madrid in 2011 to be “rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf Col 2:7) and you don’t need to go to Krakow this summer in order to experience God’s Mercy and share that Mercy with others. This is something that all of us can do right here at home.

You may not be able to go to WYD, but are you willing to let Jesus call you to be an apostle?

Are you willing to live as a saint?

Do not be afraid!

Photos WYD08/Getty Images

Deacon-strucitng WYD: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

From Producer to Artistic Director

I am very excited to be taking a slightly different role for this World Youth Day. Even though I am still helping with our S+L coverage and you will see me on TV, I am going to be spending most of my time at the Mercy Centre at the Tauron Arena-Krakow, which will be the hub for English-speaking pilgrims at WYD2016. I am responsible for all the artistic programming for this Catechetical and Youth Festival site, which is a role reminiscent of my role in Toronto 2002. I think I will enjoy the change of pace, not that I’ll be less busy than on previous years!
This is going to be my 5th World Youth Day. I was the Artistic Director for Toronto 2002 and then attended Sydney 2008, Madrid 2011 and Rio 2013 as part of the S+L coverage team. Even though I didn’t physically attend Cologne 2005, I really feel like I lived that WYD because I was part of the team, covering the event from our broadcast centre in Toronto.
That’s the beauty of what we do here at S+L. Many people cannot attend WYD and some have no desire to attend a WYD but are still interested in the event, because the experience, the messages and the spirit are nourishing to their Faith. You don’t have to go to WYD to live the experience and to benefit from it; you can live the experience through Salt + Light TV.
Photo: Salt + Light

Deacon-Structing WYD: Saints

Last time we saw how WYD is an opportunity to “proclaim it from the rooftops.” Today, we have some models that we can follow when we gather to live and celebrate our faith.

In the year 2000 WYD returned to Rome for the Year of the Jubilee. On the Holy Father’s message to the youth of the world on the occasion of this World Youth Day, Pope John Paul II wrote “Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.” We are created to be saints, JPII told us we can be, and to help us understand this, every WYD has Patron Saint. One of the Patron Saints for WYD2000 was Pier Giorgio Frassati. This is very exciting because Pier Giorgio was not a priest or a monk. Pier Giorgio was a regular young lay man, someone to whom I can relate.

When we think of Saints, normally we think of “holy” and religious Europeans who lived hundreds of years ago – people who levitated, or who had the stigmata; people like Saint Francis of Assisi. But there is little in common between St. Francis and me.

But Pier Giorgio lived from 1901 to 1924. His sister just died last year. He was a young man, went to university, fell in love – but he lived a good life and did a lot of good, in particular by helping the poor and marginalised, from whom he contracted the tuberculosis that killed him at age 24.

wydpatrons-101x300WYD Toronto’s Patron Saints and Blesseds were mostly young people from different countries, and most of them lived in the 20th century: Agnes of Rome, Andrew of Phu Yen, Pedro Calungsod, Saint Josephine Bakhita, St. Therese, St. Gianna Molla, Marcel Calo, Francisco Castelló y Aleu, Kateri Tekakwitha and again Pier Giorgio. Young Saints who the youth of today can imitate. I would suggest that you go and research the lives of these great people of the Church. For us, there are no greater models for life.

And this is the reason why we need Saints: we all need models to imitate. John Paul II knew this very well. It is no coincidence that more people were canonised and beatified during his 26 years of Pontificate than of all the other Popes put together.

And that brings us to 2002. It’s important to mention that a new aspect was introduced to WYD in Toronto in 2002: the service project. Why gather all these young people together, calling them to live as the saints that they are, and not give them an opportunity to serve – to serve the poorest of the poor, the marginalised and those left out? We had service projects with Habitat for Humanity, with the Canadian Organisation for Development and Peace, and with many local service agencies. After all, don’t we, as Catholics have a preferential option for the poor and are called to act with justice and charity? These service projects were repeated in Cologne, in Sidney and in Madrid. The plan for Rio is to replace the “Days in the Diocese” with “Days of Mission.” Latin Americans have always had a sense of mission when it comes to service.

And this is the most important aspect of WYD. The Pope invites us to go to WYD, but this is not an invitation to a party or just a celebration. The invitation is to go on a walk, under the Cross, together with Mary and the Saints, towards Jesus – in order to meet with the Church and to learn about our beliefs – and to go in a spirit of reconciliation, pilgrimage, worship and service. It’s an invitation to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s an invitation to live as Saints.

But it’s not an invitation to be something that we cannot be. John Paul II said to us, “do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium”. That means we can be. But it’s not an invitation to be saints if we feel like it, or if we’re in the mood. We are created to be saints. The invitation is to say yes to that for which we are created. For many (and for me too) this is very hard to realize – it’s something that scares us. But JPII kept telling us, and Pope Benedict has reminded us: “Do not be afraid.”

Deacon-structing WYD Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Deacon-structing WYD: Proclaim it from the Rooftops


Last week we looked at the importance of pilgrimage of Catechesis and Mary during World Youth Days.

In 1993 WYD came to North America: Denver, Colorado, U.S.A. By now WYD is a week-long event, with three Catechesis days, incorporating all aspects of pilgrimage and reconciliation, particularly between the Church and the Native People of North America, and the Way of the Cross.

The Way of the Cross was popular in the first centuries of the Church, when people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem in order to visit the different places of the passion of Christ. In the 15th century, Turks invaded the Holy Land preventing people from making pilgrimages to Jerusalem. And so, people started to pray the “Via Crucis” where they were. Throughout time, Catholic popular culture developed 14 “stations” representing the various stages of the passion of Christ.

In Denver, WYD pilgrims were gathered in a stadium while a group of actors moved from Station to Station, bringing them to life and helping the participants enter into the mystery of the Passion.

In Toronto we closed one of the city’s main avenues, University Avenue and “took over” the city in order to recreate these final moments of the life of Christ.

This is another important part of WYDs: It’s not to “stick all the Catholics in one place” where no one can see them, to “ghetto-ize” them, but to “make the avenues of the city resound with the joy and love of Christ.” In Toronto, Christ was condemned in front of City Hall, and took up his cross in front of the city’s courthouse. He fell for the first time in front of the U.S. Embassy and consoled the women of Jerusalem in front of Toronto General Hospital. He was crucified and died in front of the Provincial Parliament Buildings and was buried in front of the Royal Ontario Museum. Some 300,000 young pilgrims filled Toronto streets and hundreds of thousands others, watched on secular national television (and millions worldwide) while a group of actors moved from station to station. Hundreds of thousands prayed this beautiful Catholic devotion in the middle of a completely secular city. Who says that young people are not interested in Catholic traditions?

In 1995 WYD traveled to the South Pacific to the Philippine Islands. The Closing Mass was the largest gathering of Catholics in history, perhaps followed in size only by the funeral of Pope John Paul II. It is interesting to note that it’s never the Papal Welcome Ceremony or the Saturday night Vigil, the most “fun” events, that attract the most people. It’s always the Closing Mass. Young people want to go to Mass. The youth want to celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. That is why every WYD begins with a Mass and concludes with a Mass. Every Catechesis Session ends with a Mass. The Eucharist is the reason why Catholics gather.

In 2005, in Cologne, Germany, the Saturday Night Vigil was adapted to include a time of Exposition, Adoration and Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. This was appropriate for that year’s event since the theme was “we have come to adore Him”. This is another reason why we gather for WYDs: to adore Him and we do so in His Real Presence. It’s clear to see that all those things that make us Catholic are the very core components of every WYD.

In 1997, in Paris, France, WYD introduced the Youth Festival. This is one component of WYD that allows young people to be co-producers of the event. In Paris, most of the Youth Festival events were organised by Lay Movements and Associations, and Religious Communities. In Toronto, many of the events were organised by individuals. There were events hosted by Eastern Rite communities, by Aboriginal People and for the disabled. There were more than 900 Youth Festival events: music, dance, theatre, cultural and religious gatherings, prayer meetings, discussion groups and a film festival. WYD is a celebration and the Youth Festival exemplifies this.

So what do we have so far? A pilgrimage together, under the Cross, towards Christ, to meet with the Holy Father and the Church, with each other, to learn about, connect with and celebrate our Faith and we do so in a spirit of reconciliation and worship, along with Mary.

We can’t deacon-struct WYD without looking at Saints. We’ll do that next week.

Photo credit: Way of the Cross in WYD Sydney 2008/Getty Images. 


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing WYD: Pilgrims Together

Last week we learned that World Youth Days are a meeting of the hierarchical Church with the Lay Church and it happens under the Cross. The first two informal gatherings took place on the eve of Palm Sunday in 1984 and 1985. St. John Paul II made World Youth Days official in 1986: They take place on Palm Sunday and are to be celebrated locally in dioceses around the world. But they also take place at an international level every two or three years. How did that happen?

In 1987, Pope John Paul II was going to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina and he invited youth to meet him there. This gathering lasted a couple of days and provided an opportunity for the youth to learn more about their Faith and encounter the Church. This is what the Catechesis Sessions are for. We all know priests. They are the face of the Church to the world. But, how many of us know Bishops? Bishops are supposed to be the shepherds of the Church, but frequently, these servants, are relegated to the role of administrators. Catechesis Sessions are led by Bishops and give them the opportunity to be Shepherds and give the youth the opportunity to actively participate as “sheep.” During WYD 2002, 250 Bishops came from around the world and there were 387 Catechesis Sessions in 17 different languages. And these sessions were packed with youth. Attendance was incredible! Young people want to know about the Church and about the Faith. They want to learn the Catechism and participate in Church. For WYD 2016 in Krakow, there will be 27 English-language Catechesis sites. The largest will be at the Mercy Centre (at the Tauron Krakow Arena) and will host 15,000 pilgrims.

In 1989, JPII invited young people to make a pilgrimage with him to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. In the Basilica of Santiago rest the supposed remains of the Apostle James the great, the brother of the Apostle John. Hundreds of thousands of people make a pilgrimage every year on the Camino de Santiago (the road of St. James), from France and the north of Spain.

What is a pilgrimage? A trip, a journey… What is the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim? The tourist arrives with an empty suitcase, but returns home with a heavy one full of stuff. A pilgrim returns home with a much lighter load. The tourist may go through a lot of places, but pilgrims lets the places go through them.

WYD is a pilgrimage – a journey, but not a journey full of comforts and nice hotels. It is a journey done on foot, where you sleep on the floor. In Toronto, on the Saturday morning, everyone walked, from different places, towards Downsview Park – a walk that helped all of us enter into the mystery of what it means to be a pilgrim. The fact that for WYD most participants stay in schools and parishes and sleep on the floor is not just to save money. It’s because it’s a pilgrimage. And that’s why we go: as pilgrims, to meet the Church, under the Cross.

In 1991 we were invited to another pilgrimage. This time it was to the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Czestochowa, Poland, a place that JPII loved. This WYD was extraordinary because of the recent fall of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe. A few years before, such a gathering would not have been possible in an Eastern European nation. And JPII was instrumental in helping bring an end to communism. But the “east” represents much more. Most of us don’t know that as well as the Roman Rite (which most of us belong to), in the Catholic Church, there are 23 Eastern Rites. These include the Ukrainian, the Maronite, Melkite, and Syrian Rite, among others. They are all Catholic. They are all in Communion with Rome. In Toronto, for the first time, all the Rites of the Church participated completely in the planning of the event.

In order to bring together these Rites, we need reconciliation, since reconciliation is an integral part of our Faith. Of course, it is also an integral part of WYDs. During WYD 2002, more than 100,000 youth celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation in “Duc In Altum” (set out into the deep”, Luke 5:4), Park, with hundreds of priests in dozens of languages. Who says that young people don’t go to Confession! Since Madrid 2011, the Pope himself has been listening to Confessions at WYD. It is expected that Pope Francis will hear the Confessions of several young people in Krakow.

Czestochowa is also a Marian Shrine: Our Lady of Jasna Góra. It’s important to recall that Mary is our Mother. She is the Mother of all Saints – she is our advocate. At the foot of the cross, Jesus said to his beloved disciple John: “here is your mother… take her into your home.” Jesus asks us all to bring Mary home with us, because just as Christ came to the world through this woman, the world can also get to Christ, through His Mother, Mary.

In Czestochowa, the young people presented the Holy Father with an Icon of Mary. Icons are part of the Eastern Catholic tradition and since 1991 every WYD has included an Icon of Mary. In Toronto, the Icon was of the Presentation of the Wise Men: the Mother, the Son and those from other lands and cultures who have come to adore him, which was the theme of the following WYD, in 2005 in Cologne, Germany. In 2003, during the 18th WYD on Palm Sunday (I was there!) JPII made it official and entrusted to the youth an Icon of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romanix. He said, “From now on it will accompany the World Youth Days, together with the Cross. Behold, your Mother! It will be a sign of Mary’s motherly presence close to young people who are called, like the Apostle John, to welcome her into their lives.”

And so we have World Youth Days: Meetings with the Holy Father, with the Church, under the Cross, in pilgrimage with Mary and in the spirit of reconciliation.

Next week let’s continue by looking at what it means to celebrate our Faith.

Photo Credit: 3 million pilgrims pack Copacabana beach for the World Youth Day closing Mass in Rio de Janeiro July 28, 2013. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Bill C-14: Conscience Rights

By now you may have heard of Bill C-14. It is the bill that regulates medically assisted dying in Canada. This bill will affect all of us, but in a special way, it will affect our medical practitioners, many who argue the restrictions are not adequate. The issue is complicated further by the fact that the bill is a Federal bill, but how it will be implemented is a provincial jurisdiction.

To explore the matter further, and to find out how the new Assisted Dying Bill will affect medical practitioners, I spoke with Deacon Larry Worthen, Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada.

Join me for this special “end-of-life” edition of Perspectives, tomorrow, Friday, July 1st at 7pm ET / 4pm or 8pm PT. If you miss it because it’s Canada Day, it will repeat on Sunday, July 3 at 7pm and 11pm ET / 8pm PT.

Learn more about the issue:

S+L Programs on Assisted Dying:
Perspectives: The Weekly Edition:
Catholic Focus interviews:
Other series:

From our Blog

Deacon-structing End of Life:

Deacon-structing End of Life Issues:
From Fr. Rosica:

Deacon-structing WYD: The Beginning


Last week I shared a bit of my WYD experience and how this event can (and does) change so many people’s lives. But many are not familiar with the history of World Youth Days nor with the reasons behind it.

During the pontificate of Paul VI, the Church was trying to figure out how to make this whole youth thing make sense. Someone suggested inviting youth to Rome for an “encounter” but nothing ever came of it. There is also a rumour that John Paul II, after being elected Pope, was on retreat near Assisi during a youth gathering called “Giovanni Verso Assisi,” “Youth Towards Assisi”. I was in Assisi for this same gathering in 2001 – there were some 3000 young people from all over Italy. It was like a mini-WYD. They say that this original gathering gave JPII an idea.

As it turns out, in 1984, the Holy Year of Redemption, JPII invited youth from around the world to come to Rome, to St. Peter’s Square, for Palm Sunday. Skeptics predicted that perhaps some 30 kids would show up and publicly proclaim their faith. On the contrary, some 300,000 came! On this occasion, John Paul II gave the youth of the world a simple wooden cross – the cross that has become the symbol, the Olympic torch, for World Youth Days. If we are to deacon-struct WYD, we have to start with the Cross.

For one year before each WYD, this Cross travels around the host country visiting schools, jails, malls, old-age homes, nightclubs… those places which most need the Cross.

Here in Canada, the Cross went from east coast to west coast, to north coast, travelling by car, truck, bus, plane, boat, sailboat, canoe, snowmobile and helicopter, and went into the most remote communities in the country – even those places where there are no roads. The WYD Cross brought the country together in ways that nothing else had before. For the last 40 days of the Cross’ journey, it was brought on foot, from Montrèal to Toronto. While it traveled through towns and villages, groups of young people, adults and children would join on the pilgrimage – they would take turns carrying it – praying with it. The Cross is one of the reasons for WYD. But not so much the Cross that reminds us of the suffering and passion. Instead, the Cross without which there is no redemption, no salvation and no resurrection!

1985 was declared the International Year of Youth by the United Nations. John Paul II thought that it would be appropriate to, once again invite the youth back to Rome. This time many more came. Why? What did that old man have that attracted the youth so much? John Paul II was the only living person who could gather so many people in one place – no rock star has been able to gather so many people at one time. In Toronto 800,000 came to celebrate the Closing Mass with the Holy Father. That day, Downsview Park became the 7th largest city in Canada. For WYD 2000 in Rome, during the Year of the Jubilee, 2 million people attended the Closing Mass. In the Philippines in 1995, 5 million people were with JPII for the WYD Final Mass! Popes Benedict and Francis definitely continued with this ability to gather youth: 1.5 million were with Pope Benedict at the Final Mass in Madrid and 3 million gathered in Copacabana Beach for the Final Mass with Pope Francis for Rio 2013. 2.5 million are expected at the Final Mass in Krakow.

Nowadays with Pope Francis we normally here the cheers of “Viva el Papa”. Many of us can remember the shouts of “Benedetto” but do you remember the young crowds cheering, “John Paul II, we love you”? Often he would respond, “John Paul II, he loves you.” John Paul II used to say that he loved young people. I think it was much more. JPII understood that the youth are not the Church of tomorrow: They are the Church of today. When he met them, he encountered the Church of today. At the same time, the youth, when meeting with the Pope, with any Pope, meet with the hierarchical Church and can connect with the tradition and structure of the Church. That’s another reason why young people come to WYD: to meet with the Pope and with the Church. The motto of World Youth Days since its beginning has been The Pope and Young People Together. So at WYDs we have a meeting of the Lay Church with the Hierarchical Church, under the Cross.

Next week, let’s look at the pilgrimage aspect of WYD.

Photo Credit: Young people from Brazil, left, pass on the World Youth Day cross to youths from Poland, right, at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ celebration of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 13. (Photo: Paul Haring/CNS)


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing WYD: The Kingdom of God

Often, when I speak to young people, I’ll start by asking where they are from: Is there anyone here from Ottawa or Quebec? How about anyone from the States? This usually gets the groups cheering as I call out their home town. But when I ask, “who is from the Kingdom of Heaven?” not everyone puts up their hand. And that’s exactly my point: Not all of us think we are worthy to belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let me explain: If we are all sons and daughters of God, made in the image of God, then, by definition, we are members of the family of God. And if we are members of the family of God, then we belong in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Heaven. Get it?

And who lives in the Kingdom of Heaven? The Saints, right? So, if we belong to the Kingdom of Heaven, then, by logical deduction, we are saints. All of us!

It’s true. You may not like the idea that you are being created to be a saint, but you are. The calling is not to be something that we are not; the calling is to say “yes” to that for which we are created. Saint John Paul II already told us: “Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.”

Me too. I’m just an ordinary Catholic, from an ordinary Panamanian family. I belonged to a youth group and Church choir. Even when I left home at age 16, I continued to go to Mass on Sundays. I never really strayed from the Church. I can’t say that I understood Church teachings, but I never really doubted the Faith. Still, like many other “ordinary” Catholics, although I’d always been in the Church and I always “followed” Jesus Christ, I had never had a real close personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Well, I’d had them, I just hadn’t recognised them.

Why? Because having a personal encounter with Christ almost always leads to a calling. Yes, I’d had encounters, but none had really led to a calling, until I came to work at the National Office for the World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.

I was the Artistic Director for WYD 2002, in charge of all artistic programming for the event: all music, dance and dramatic expression. For the Youth Festival we coordinated the participation of almost 200 groups, from 35 different countries, in eight different languages, with a total of some 400 performances. I also coordinated the production of the official WYD 2002 Souvenir CD album and all the dance and music for all the main events with Pope John Paul II. It was an unforgettable experience filled with many blessings. I’ve never been so busy nor have I slept so little! But, at the same time, I never felt super stressed, nor that the whole world was caving in. I never lost hope. I always knew that this was God’s work and that He was in charge. And it was in that small detail, that something inside of me changed.

I worked 20 months for the WYD 2002 Office – for me that was a time of many challenges and frustrations, yet at the same time, of incredible peace and joy. My experience with WYD was one of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the frustrated, those who have no money, those who don’t have enough time in the day and too much work to do… Blessed are those who are hungry. Blessed are those who got lost and never made it to their Catechesis sessions – those who didn’t eat because the food ran out, those who were dirty, wet, sleepy, cold or too hot, suffering from sun stroke – Blessed are those who were dehydrated… Those who had to raise thousands of dollars to buy a plane ticket only to have their visa applications denied… Blessed are they, for the Kingdom of God is theirs.

In just about a month, hundreds of thousands of young people will be traveling to Krakow, Poland for the 30th WYD. But why? Why spend so much money and travel so far? Why go through the discomfort of crowds, only to end up so far away from the stage or a screen and not see anything – why get soaked in the rain and be hungry? Why all this suffering? Why were we called to “make the streets resound with the joy and love of Christ”? Can’t we be salt and light right here at home without going to World Youth Day?

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you why World Youth Day came about and why it is so important for our Church, so keep coming back. Next week, “The Beginning.”

Photo Credit: Mexican pilgrims march down Atlantic Avenue along Copacabana beach for the the opening Mass of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro July 23, 2013. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing the diaconate, part 3: Women

Last time we looked at a little bit of the tradition of deacons in the Catholic Church. Deacons go way back and there is a consistent presence of deacons and the diaconate in many Church documents and writings up until the 3rd century. We also saw that the diaconate as a permanent order was brought back with the Second Vatican Council.

It is also true that there are many documents that refer to women deacons or deaconesses. Let’s look at those, beginning with the most obvious one from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae…” (Rom 16:1) Note that she is referred to as a “deacon” (male form) and not a “deaconess”. In some translations you may find her described as a “servant” and in others as a “minister”. (I only found one translation that referred to her as a deaconess.) Was Phoebe an ordained deacon? Was she a servant (remember that the word servant in Greek is diaconos)? In Greek, Paul calls her a diákonon. Does Paul mean “servant”; does he mean “Ordained deacon”? No one knows.

A less obvious passage that is sometimes recognized as referring to women deacons is 1 Timothy 3:8-11:

“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”

The argument is that in verse 11 Paul writes about women. Why would that instruction to women follow the instruction to deacons if it’s not referring to women deacons? (St. John Chrysosthom, Clement of Alexandria and Pelagius are among those who argued this point.)

It’s not as convincing an argument considering the verse that follows is: “Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” If the previous verses were referring to all deacons, men and women, why then, doesn’t Paul clarify that “deacons must be husbands (or wives) of one spouse”? Were women deacons not married? Or is Paul not referring to women deacons? Or does it mean that women deacons were the wives of men deacons? Again, no one knows.

There are dozens of references to women deacons (or at least that title) in the Eastern Church. Among the most notable ones are four letters John Chrysosthom wrote to the “woman deacon Amproukla in Constaninople.” Also, Severus, Bishop of Antioch wrote at least four letters to the “woman deacon Anastasia”; and Theodoret of Cyrrhus wrote to the “woman deacon Celerina in Constaninople.” All these letters exist to this day.

There are also substantial records to indicate that a woman by the name of Olympias was ordained a deacon by Bishop Nectarius in Constantinople, in 385. Her husband had died and she had decided to never remarry.

These are just a few. There are many more texts from the Eastern Church that point to the fact that there were women referred to as “deacons”. By the 11th century, however, women deacons were no longer ordained in the Eastern Church (except in the Armenian Church, which still today has women deacons. They are very similar to women religious or consecrated women in the Latin Church. They are part of what is referred to as “women monastics”. I’ve even seen them described as “nun-deaconesses”).

References to women deacons in the Western Church have more to do with suppressing them than recording they existed. The First Council of Orange in 441 noted, “Women deacons are by no means to be ordained. If there are any who have already been ordained, let them submit their heads to the benediction that is granted to the people.” Was the council referring to women deacons in the West or women deacons from the Eastern Church? Were they saying “we should no longer ordain them” or “we shouldn’t do what the Church of the East is doing”? The Council of Nimes in 394 seemed concerned about deacons and priests coming from the “far eastern parts”.

There is another theory that argues that women in the West who played the role of deacons were called “widows”. Widows were an order of women in the early Church who had their own distinctive vestments, vows and role in the liturgy. As far as I can tell, all references to these women (or really any women orders in the early Church) required that they be single (or widowed) and celibate. It sounds like they were consecrated virgins or something similar.

Proponents of the female diaconate say that perhaps the most famous “woman deacon” in the Western Church was St. Radegund, wife of King Clothar I (511-58). Though married, she seemed to have lived a celibate life and served the poor. One night she left her husband and demanded to be consecrated by St. Medard, the bishop. The bishop did. However, it’s hard not to read the description/poem of that event by bishop Venantius Fortunatus without concluding that she was being consecrated into a monastery. At the end of paragraph 12 it says that Medard laid his hands on her and consecrated her as a deaconess, but all throughout, she is referred to as a “monacha”, which is a nun. And she is given a monastic garb.

There are other references, such as three letters by Pope Gregory II who wrote to “women deacons of St. Eustachius” and also to “Matrona, a religious woman deacon, and her sons and nephews.” There is also Sergius, Archbishop of Ravenna, who in 753 “consecrated his wife Euphemia, a “diaconissa” and other references forbidding the marriage of women deacons by Pope Leo VII (c.937) and during the Council of Rome (826).

There are references to the Rites of Ordination for women deacons in the Eastern Church. There are also references in the Western Church, dating as far back as the 8th century. The 9th century Gregorian sacramentary includes a prayer for the making of a female deacon and in the 10th century Romano-Germanic Pontifical there is a complete liturgy for both the ordination of a woman deacon and a male deacon. It refers to the women as “deaconess.” An almost identical liturgy appears in the 12th century Roman Pontifical, but without instructions so it’s not clear if it was used to ordain women. By the 13th century this rite had completely disappeared.

Where does this leave us? History records both women called “deacons” and women called “deaconesses”. Some women called “deaconess” were married to men deacons. Some were called “deaconess” merely as a description of the work they were doing. There is a tradition in both the Eastern and Western Church of bishops formally appointing women to perform a type of diaconal (service/charity) ministry. Is it possible that “deaconesses” became what today are women religious and nuns?

It’s clear that in the early Church women were required to serve certain functions that men could not serve – as in baptizing other women (remember people were baptized naked or with little clothing). Even entering the house of a woman may have not been proper for a man. Anyone instructing women in the faith had to have been a woman. We see this even up until almost the end of the 1st millennia: Ninth century canonical commentaries describe women deacons as “ordained by the imposition of hands by the bishop… in order to instruct all Christian women in the faith and law of God as they did in the old Law.”

This is likely what the function of these women was. But, were these women involved in the governance of the Church? Were they allowed to preach in Liturgy? Did they even have a liturgical function at all? See how no one really knows.

Let’s not end without pointing out that bringing this up was not just a Pope Francis thing. As the hierarchy considered the restoration of the permanent diaconate, it was Paul VI that asked about women deacons. Pope Benedict XVI also brought up the question. John Paul II also spoke about it. When Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) said that ordination to the priesthood is reserved to men alone and made  no reference to women deacons, is that because he meant that only ordination to the priesthood is reserved to men, or simply because he (like so many) was just not thinking about the diaconate? (I am always amazed when we see prayers for vocations to the priesthood instead of vocations to the ordained life – this is not because we are only praying for priests and not deacons; it’s because no one is thinking about deacons!)

It is fair to ask whether we can separate the question of ordination of women to the diaconate from the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood? Even the idea that priests and bishops are ordained to the ministerial priesthood, but deacons to the priesthood of service, does not adequately address the question of the difference of those two. Why are all three major orders? I have yet to find an adequate and clear  explanation of this distinction.  The truth is that the theology of the diaconate is still under-developed.

This has been a little scattered, but I hope that it gives you an idea of why many will say when we speak of women deacons or deaconesses in the tradition of the Church, we just don’t know. They existed, yes. But what were they? Were “women deacons” the same as “deaconesses” (a minor order separate from the order of deacons)? Were women deacons merely wives to deacons? Were women deacons widows or consecrated singles? Could they be married or only married if married to a deacon? Sure there were women in the Church that were appointed to the work of caring for the sick and the poor (which is very much diaconal service). That sounds like women religious to me.There were women deacons, but were they ordained in the sense that we understand “ordination” today?

I have to say that, while I find difficulties with this conversation (mainly because of the issue of ordination), in the last weeks that I’ve been researching this, I have grown more and more open to the idea that there is a bigger distinction between a deacon and a priest that I thought. Perhaps some of you brother deacons can help me with this.

What I’ve always known however, is that the Church can have diaconal-type ministers that are installed to do certain things, preach even (we call them Lectors, actually), or lead certain type liturgies (which again, already exists – lots of women lead para-liturgies every day) and do those things that women in the Church already do, like take Communion to the sick.

But I do not think that the real problem would be addressed by ordaining women to the diaconate. The question has to do with giving women leadership roles in the Church. And so, can the Vicar or Chancellor of a Diocese be a woman? Can the head of a Marriage Tribunal be a woman? Can the Rector of a Seminary be a woman? Can the president of a pontifical council be a woman? Can a parish administrator be a woman? To all of the above, absolutely yes.

Maybe what we need is less clericalism.

Next week let’s begin deacon-structing World Youth Day.

Photo Credit: St Radegund Led before Clothair I. Miniature from the Life of St Radegund. 11th century. Bibliotheque Municipale, Poitiers, France



Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Me Before You


That’s the title of a new film that just opened last weekend to mixed reviews. It stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in a romance with a bit of a twist. Clarke plays Louisa “Lou” Clark, who takes a job as the caregiver to Will Traynor (Claflin), a former daredevil who is now a quadriplegic who has decided to end his life. The mixed reviews are not because it’s a bad film, badly written, performed or directed. It’s because of the underlying “right-to-die” message.

I have not watched the film but am eager to watch it. I will not spoil the ending, but I think the title says it all. “Me before you” is exactly the opposite of what any loving relationship, especially marriage is all about. Marriage is all about “you before me”! And it’s not surprising that this is probably the message underlying a lot of these end-of-life issues.

We’ve spoken before about autonomy; “I can do whatever I want with my own body.” Well, you can’t really. I suppose I could cut off my arm if I wanted to. I would have a hard time finding a doctor to assist me in doing that. I would probably be sent to the mental hospital if I did. And no matter what I do to my own body, it affects all those who love me. In the case of medically assisted dying, it affects not just your loved ones, but your doctor and the whole medical system and the legal system too. No act is really ever a completely autonomous act because we are not completely autonomous. We are relational.

Mark Pickup said it very well during our conversation for Catholic Focus a few weeks ago. People who want to end their life because the pain is unbearable or because their life is not what it used to be or they have no quality of life, or because they don’t want to be a burden to others need to stop putting ‘me’ before ‘you.’ In the film Will tells Lou that he has decided that he will live 6 more months and then he will seek assisted dying. He already decided that before he met her. Lou responds, “but that was before me.” Once we find meaning, love and relationship; once we know we’re not alone, usually we want to live.

That’s the message of tonight’s last interview in the Catholic Focus mini-series on end-of-life issues. I spoke with Chuck and Jeri Marple who are the parents of Mary, a young woman with Cerebral Palsy. Some would say that Mary’s life has no quality and it’s not worth living. Others would disagree.

I hope you can watch Catholic Focus: End of life Issues – Quality of Life, tonight at 7:05pm ET (repeats at 9:05pm MT).

I encourage you to go watch Me Before You. Watch it and talk about it. It’s a great opportunity to speak out about these issues. It’s very serendipitous that the film came out exactly at the time when Canada has de-criminalized medically assisted dying. The Canadian Senate is right now reviewing Bill C-14, which will likely be sent back to the House of Commons for some amending. I don’t think MAD should be legal, but I do think that a law with as many safeguards as possible is better than no law. We’ve had no abortion law in Canada now since 1988. Let’s not do the same with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.

More importantly, I encourage you to learn as much as you can about these issues. We need to be informed. We need to know the law and we need to know what the Church teaches.

That is why we at S+L have been putting together many programs and providing many resources to help you stay on top of these issues. I’ve tried to compile many of the ones that I’ve worked on in this blog post. Just scroll a little bit and you’ll see how much there is to read and watch.

Perhaps most important of all, I encourage you to be Catholic. This was Archbishop Smith’s advice at the end of the Every Life Matters series. According to the Census, 44% of Canadians report that they are Catholic. If 44% of Canadians were truly Catholic, living their Catholic Faith with knowledge and passion, we would not have these issues in Canada.

Be Catholic. Defend and protect life from conception to natural death.

Learn more:

Turning the Tide:(a documentary on dignity, compassion and euthanasia)

Catholic Focus interviews:
End Of Life Issues: The Law
End Of Life Issues: Human Life Matters (with Mark Pickup)
End of Life Issues: What Does the Church Say? (with Archbishop Richard Smith)
End of Life Issues Ending the Pain
End of Life Issues: Quality of Life

Perspectives: The Weekly Edition:
End of Life: Jeremy Tyrell

Every Life Matters Series

From our Blog:
Deacon-structing End of Life: Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Deacon-structing End of Life Issues:
The Law
Palliative Care
Life, Liberty and Security

From Fr. Rosica
There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted – A reflection on Euthanasia

Photo Credit: Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in the 2016 MGM film Me Before You. Image courtesy of mebeforeyoumovie.com/