By Becky Aubut
DARTMOUTH, Mass. — When Deacon Frank Lucca received an email from Salvatore “Rino” Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, regarding upcoming events during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, he immediately began to spread word about the jubilee Mass for deacons being held at the end of May.
“At that point I didn’t know that much about it,” said Deacon Lucca, “but I thought it would be interesting to celebrate with all the deacons of the world who can make their way there.”
Deacon Lucca reached out to deacons within and beyond the Fall River Diocese’s borders, was able to get a great package from Proximo Travel, and now in just a couple of weeks a conglomeration of deacons, families and parishioners from a few dioceses, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, will be traveling to Rome to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis.
Deacon Gary John has been at Espirito Santo Parish in Fall River for 18 months. A successful businessman, Deacon John said he felt something missing in his life 20 years ago.
“Religion was lacking in my life after all the physical things I had attained in life, and I felt unfulfilled,” said Deacon John. “Once I had religion, my life became fulfilled. I felt like I was very fortunate and wanted to give back to the Lord for helping me achieve the happiness I’ve had in life.”
Deacon John volunteered in various roles at his parish, Holy Trinity Parish in Fall River, and felt called to the diaconate. He was ordained in 2013, initially assigned to Holy Trinity, and then assigned to Espirito Santo Parish.
“It’s a very active parish,” said Deacon John. “It was a new and challenging experience for me. I’m not Portuguese and I don’t know the language, and it’s a very Portuguese-influenced parish; I think it’s the largest Portuguese parish in the diocese.
“They have three of the five Masses in the Portuguese language, so I had to learn the deacon’s role in the Mass and the Portuguese language for the deacon’s role. I’m starting to learn the language additionally so that I will be able to preach the Gospel for my homilies; currently I only deliver homilies at the English Mass, which I do every other weekend. It’s been a big challenge, not just to learn the language but also to learn the Portuguese culture. There’s a lot of history and culture they celebrate during their Masses and their feasts and various events that they hold each month.”
When he heard from Deacon Lucca about the jubilee Mass in Rome for deacons, he was excited. Deacon John had traveled extensively for his employment, but had never been to Italy: “I really look forward to visiting and seeing the antiquity and appreciating the statues, structures and Gothic architecture. I look forward to soaking it all in. Being a faith-filled Catholic and to be able go to Rome and see the significant structures and the home of our faith, in addition to being able to celebrate the jubilee Mass with the pope is an honor that one only dreams about.”
Deacon John was not able to see Pope Francis when he visited the United States, so this is his first opportunity to be at a Mass where he is celebrating.
“I’m looking forward to it, as is my wife who is going with me,” said Deacon John. “I’ve heard there’s going to be a substantial turnout. We’re all bringing our albs with us, and a plain white stole; nothing of any ornate nature so that we all have a similar appearance. That’s very important; you don’t want to stand out in the group because we’re representing all the deacons in the world when we’re there. That’s something I’m very excited about.
“I’m going with my eyes wide-open and my heart wide-open, and I’m looking to appreciate everything, and take in everything that I see there. I’m looking forward to having some great memories.”
Deacon Eduardo Borges was also ordained in 2013, but becoming a deacon was not a sudden decision but developed over time, he said. He was a cantor at his parish, St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, and he said being close to the altar and singing to the Lord, he felt touched by the Holy Spirit and felt like he was home.
“As I went on serving in that capacity [as a cantor], I was approached by a deacon who became my mentor,” said Deacon Borges. “Eventually that started brewing inside of me, thinking about it and asking him questions.”
Deacon Borges continued to think and pray on it for a few more years until he “trusted in the Lord, found myself in the program and going through formation and just saying yes at each step that came,” he said, and was assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish in New Bedford.
Being a deacon is “part of who I am, and I am happy to serve the Lord in this capacity,” said Deacon Borges.
When he saw the email from Deacon Lucca, Deacon Borges had a deep discussion with his wife about their finances, and were able to save up enough money to attend: “The fact that we will be there during the Jubilee Year of Mercy in Rome, having a Mass with the pope — that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m very excited,” said Deacon Borges.
Deacon Borges had briefly visited Italy during a stop on a cruise, but wasn’t able to see much. Now he will spend a week exploring many popular sites, along with visiting many Spiritual places of worship, including a few churches of St. Lawrence: “St. Lawrence being a deacon means a lot to me in my Spiritual life,” said Deacon Borges. “I’m a lover of ancient architecture and just that alone fascinates me; and being in the presence of so many other brother deacons from throughout the world, in one Spirit and being with the pope. He’s a popular pope who fascinates everyone, including me.”
In the U.S., the diaconate has been around for a long time, said Deacon Borges, but in other countries, such as the Azores Islands of Portugal, where Deacon Borges was born, “there, the permanent diaconate is still very unknown. There are only less than a handful of permanent deacons, and people are unaware of what we do.
“It will be just seeing deacons from all over the world for this event, that will be interesting to see. Knowing that I’m part of a bigger group of people who are devoted to the faith in the capacity of a deacon, the anticipation makes me happy.”
Born and raised Catholic, Deacon John Foley moved around a lot in his youth so he never got confirmed until he was about to be married. Deacon Foley admits to spending time away from the Church, because “I had an alcohol problem as a young man; I’m actually a recovered alcoholic for almost 35 years. When I got sober, I really got reconnected to God. I didn’t go to AA or any type of that stuff; I really felt a sense that God did save me.”
He met his wife, who was very involved in the Church, settled in on Cape Cod with her, and they became members of Our Lady of the Cape Parish in Brewster.
“I always wondered what deacons did. I knew the deacons at Our Lady of the Cape, and got to know them as friends, and then one day the pastor asked, ‘Did you ever think about this?’ and I went to the meeting, admitted to the program and was ordained in 2007. It’s a pretty remarkable story because I didn’t think I’d live long enough, but I got sober, met my wife and got back into the Church actively, it seemed to lead me to the diaconate,” said Deacon Foley, who is currently assigned to Holy Trinity Parish in Fall River.
When Deacon Lucca sent out the email, Deacon Foley and his wife had different reactions: “My wife thought it was awesome, but [I said to her], ‘Honey, we can’t afford this.’ Our son is getting married in September and we have a son in college, so money is a little tight. She said, ‘How can we not do this?’” said Deacon Foley. “She made it work financially for us; it’s remarkable how she pulled it off.”
Deacon Foley and his wife have been on religious pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Ireland, but being able to go there and celebrate Mass with the pope is “a continuation of our faith journey,” said Deacon Foley. “When we went to Israel and the Holy Land, I proclaimed the Gospel in all of the places where Jesus was; it was just remarkable. We actually renewed our vows in Cana, which is pretty neat, but now to go to Rome and see the pope — and he’s such a dynamic pope — this is the seat of the Catholic Church in the world. Being in St. Peter’s Square will be awesome.”
May is already a huge month in the Foley Family. The couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary, and May 26 is the anniversary of his sobriety. Incidentally, the day of the Mass is Deacon Foley’s 58th birthday: “It will be quite the birthday for me.”
Knowing he’ll be one face among many, Deacon Foley said he would be happy if Pope Francis just waved in his direction; “Anytime there’s an audience with the pope, it’s not going to be intimate, but that’s OK. I think the way the Church is right now, I think deacons will play a pretty prominent role, maybe more so in the next decade, because of the shortage of vocations. We serve in the parish but also outside in the community. I’m still working full-time, so it’s hard for me to do a lot of ministry outside of the Church, but I’m active in the ECHO retreat program. We do the March for Life with our teen-agers. Those kind of things are great ministries for a deacon, but to see so many of us together, answering the call and being in front of the pope — that is going to be phenomenal.”
“He recognizes that deacons are assigned by the bishop, and we go out and do our work and do it out of our vocation. We certainly don’t do it for the accolades or stipends; we don’t do it for that, we are serving and answering God’s call. For the pope to recognize us, and for all of the attention the pope gets, it will shine a different light on the deacon. We’ve kind of gone — I don’t want to say unrecognized — but we’ve kind of gone under the radar. Deacons work side-by-side with priests but we also live in the community, shop in grocery stores or coach our kid’s team,” Deacon Foley said of how deacons balance their ministry with their family. “I think it’s incredible that the pope wants to recognize us, our service to the Church. For as old as the Church is, the diaconate is not that old. I think it would bring a great attention to it, like most things Pope Francis does.”
The diaconate is an important part of the clergy of the Church, added Deacon Lucca: “A lot of times people are not familiar with the role of the diaconate, and I think sometimes our deacons are the ‘unsung heroes’ who do a lot in the role of deacon as servant to a servant Church. Deacons don’t look for the spotlight or to be ‘sung’ — at least in my estimation — but it is truly wonderful to be acknowledged by the pope and the Church during this jubilee year for their important role in the Church. Servants come in and do their job and then standby to do the next job. Our deacons do that day in and day out, quietly going about their ministry of the Word, Liturgy and charity. The deacon, like a servant, is there to serve the people in charity and love along with the rest of the clergy. I don’t want it misunderstood that deacons are upset with their roles or that we’re not acknowledged for our work. I believe our bishop and local Church appreciates the work that deacons do. I never entered the diaconate to be praised or thanked or ‘sung.’ I entered merely to serve God and His people.”
Wives will be accorded reserved seating, “as they should be,” said Deacon Lucca. “We’re separated from our wives because of the role we play in the Liturgy, either here or there. It’s nice that they’re being acknowledged. It’s going to be wonderful to celebrate the diaconate, but for me it’s being able to attend some formation sessions.”
The group will also be spending a day in Assisi, and St. Francis was a deacon, said Deacon Lucca, “so he holds a special place in my heart, so to be able to go to his tomb and pray there will be a great day.”
Deacon Foley said he and his wife are just going to go with the flow: “We don’t have any specific thing to see, we’re just going to soak it all in. My expectations are to be in awe in the audience of the pope, the rest of Italy is part of the deal too. I’m just going in awe and wonderment, and coming back [thinking], I can’t believe we just did that.”