Our eyes may be used to the men who assist the priest during the liturgy, to the men who proclaim the Gospel from the pulpit, those servants who lift up our petitions as they prepare the gifts during the offertory. However, these men we call deacons are constantly active beyond their parish responsibilities, reaching out, helping, teaching, consoling… And this time of pandemic has only led them to find new ways to serve, to be creative and innovate within their ministries.
“Many of the ministries that deacons do outside the parish require making contact with people, with the persons in the hospital, the prisoner, the single mother, the widow, the homeless… And the coronavirus has prevented us from being able to be face to face and in direct contact with them and see their grief, pain or remorse,” said Deacon Joseph Donohoe, Director of Deacon Personnel for the Archdiocese of Denver. “In order to work around that and keep a distance, we’ve had to use technology. While there’s something meaningful in being face to face, we’ve still been able to reach out to those in need.”
During the pandemic, many deacons across the archdiocese have dedicated themselves to serving the faithful by organizing formation classes, RCIA programs and prayer sessions via Zoom or providing resources at their parish, nursing homes, jails, prisons and detention centers.
One of these many services is the grief ministry that deacons have been carrying out with Mount Olivet as a response to this pandemic. Its purpose is to touch base with the people who have lost a loved one during this difficult time.
“It’s led me to realize how different deaths are handled as a result of the pandemic. Before, when people experienced death or illness, they had the opportunity to be with their families, friends and clergy. [Now,] if they die from COVID, the family doesn’t see their loved one at all. It’s a very different experience,” said Deacon Clarence McDavid from Cure d’Ars Parish, who has been one of six deacons reaching out to people in their grieving process. “What we’re invited to do as deacons is to call and acknowledge that this is a different time and find out how the family and those who have been left behind are doing. We let them know we are praying for them and their family member, but the most important thing is to listen and hear what they have to say.”
Deacon McDavid said that many of the obstacles that grieving families have had to endure during this time also include not being able to have the Funeral Mass they normally would and delays in burial or cremation. Nonetheless, he has seen many fruits during his ministry, both in people’s lives and in his own. He’s been able to meet them in their loneliness and provide a space for them to express and acknowledge what they’re experiencing, something many of them have been grateful for.
“I’ve found the faith of people very touching. They help you know that no matter the situation, there’s always growth and opportunity to experience God more deeply. In the midst of their grief, they’ve also given me strength,” he said.
‘Deacons have a special place with the intercessions: They cry tears in their soul for love of the people.’”
Deacons have also carried out their ministry by creating virtual spaces of prayer and community for parishioners.
Deacon Dan Cook from St. Mary in Breckenridge and Our Lady of Peace in Silverthorne never imagined that when he and wife decided to host the live Stations of the Cross via Zoom, that virtual space would later become an opportunity for prayer and fellowship cherished by many parishioners.
This practice not only brought parishioners from both churches who had never met each other together, it also led people to start sharing their personal prayer intentions and praying for one another.
“We’ve had a number of parishioners who have had surgeries and our prayers have been answered for them. What we’ve also seen is that parishioners who were regular attendees but not very strong in their faith have really come to strengthen their faith by doing these daily prayers,” Deacon Cook said.
Some parishioners even decided to take it a step further and organized a Zoom meeting every Monday to pray the Rosary. Deacon Cook and parishioners have even considered making these practices permanent.
One of the many apostolates our deacons carry out in the archdiocese and that has also needed innovation during this pandemic is the ministry to people in prisons, jails and detention centers.
Unlike many others, inmates or detainees do not have access to phones, computers or Wi-Fi, which means that the face to face interactions they used to have in confession, spiritual direction or Bible Study cannot be replaced by a Zoom meeting.
This led Deacon Hal Goldwire, Director of Jail and Prison Ministry for the archdiocese, to figure out a way to reach them even if he was not allowed to be in contact with them.
“We were doing Bible studies, RCIA classes, Mass, confessions, communion services, visiting and accompanying them in prison, listening to their stories and letting them know that they’re not forgotten just because they’re behind a wall. But when COVID hit, nothing was happening,” Deacon Goldwire said.
Deacon Goldwire has been checking in with different facilities to provide rosaries, books, Bibles and Divine Mercy Chaplet pamphlets. He has reached out to other prison ministries across the country to brainstorm how to best serve inmates and detainees during this time.
Furthermore, he’s worked with the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care on behalf of the archdiocese to provide 1,000 face shields for the Denver Sheriff’s Department County Jail and Downtown Detention Center personnel and incarcerated population.
“Certainly, as deacons we miss seeing people face to face, but we’re still here to reach out to anybody that needs support or help in a wide variety of ministries, and we’re anxious to help,” Deacon Donohoe concluded. “As a priest told us in our last retreat, ‘Deacons have a special place with the intercessions: They cry tears in their soul for love of the people.’”