Many once-in-a-lifetime moments occurred when a group of deacons and deacon candidates from the Diocese of Columbus visited the Vatican, Rome, and Assisi last month, with the most memorable event being a visit to St. Peter’s tomb, said Deacon Frank Iannarino.
“We knew it would be a moving experience, but it was more overwhelming than we could have imagined,” said Deacon Iannarino, director of the diocesan Office of the Diaconate.
Nine deacons and three deacon candidates from the diocese made the pilgrimage to Italy as part of the Jubilee for Deacons which took place at the Vatican from Friday, May 27 to Sunday, May 29. The wives of 11 of the 12 men accompanied them on the trip. Deacon Rob Joseph brought his father because he and his wife will return to Italy in the fall with a group from Columbus Our Lady of victory Church.
The jubilee attracted thousands of deacons and their families from around the world. It included catechesis sessions for various language groups on the first two days of the event and a visit on Saturday, May 28 to the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, which is open for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The concluding event was a papal Mass the next day in St. Peter’s Square.
“All of us had a chance to carry a Year of Mercy cross when we went to the Holy Door,” Deacon Iannarino said. “Our diocesan group went through the door together. It became very emotional as we began walking down the aisle to Peter’s tomb” underneath the basilica. “All the guys from the diocese said ‘Frank, you take us into the tomb.’
“To go up the main aisle of St. Peter’s and carry the cross to the tomb was a very powerful thing. I don’t think there was a dry eye among those of us in the group.”
Deacons from around the world went to Peter’s tomb during a five-hour period. English-speaking deacons were the first group to pray there, and were followed by those speaking Spanish, other languages, and Italian. At the tomb, the portion of Matthew’s Gospel which includes Jesus saying “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” was read to each group, followed by the Apostles’ Creed, and the praying of the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the pope’s intentions.
The Columbus deacons visited Assisi on Monday, May 30 and prayed at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare. “Being in Assisi reaffirmed our call to the diaconate through the eyes of St. Francis, who himself was a deacon, and our commitment to be people of justice, charity, and peace. It was a very peaceful experience.”
The deacons flew from Columbus on the Tuesday and Wednesday leading up to the Vatican event. Their first joint gathering was a visit on Thursday, May 26 to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, where Deacon Tim Birie of Mount Vernon St. Vincent de Paul Church assisted at Mass.
The next day, Friday, they went to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, known as “the pope’s cathedral,” because it is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. Later that day, they had their first catechesis, on the subject “The Deacon: Image of Mercy for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.” It was delivered by Deacon James Keating, who received his diaconal formation in the Diocese of Columbus and is director of theological formation for the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Deacon Keating emphasized how much the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony are both sacraments of vocation and how one complements the other, rather than competing against each other,” Deacon Iannarino said. “He said a deacon has to be a strong family man and the face of Christianity in the marketplace, especially when helping families. Deacon Keating also said that a properly formed deacon’s wife “will actually fall more in love” with him because he will be converted to a closer relationship with Jesus.
Saturday began with the pilgrimage to the Holy Door, which included three stops – at the Castel Sant’Angelo, near the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, and at Bernini’s colonnade at St. Peter’s Square – before reaching the Holy Door. Prayers said at the stops included Psalms, the prayer for the Jubilee, and the Hail Holy Queen.
This was followed by time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the afternoon, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who leads the Vatican’s office on the economy, spoke on “The Deacon: Called to Be a Dispenser of Charity in the Christian Community.”
“We asked him a lot of questions about the role of the deacon in the parish and the diocese and working in collegiality with bishops and priests,” Deacon Iannarino said. “Deacons are unique in the church because they live with and among laypersons, but are members of the clergy because they have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, giving them an opportunity to balance the life of the laity and that of the clergy.”
“There were 2,500 deacons at the Sunday Mass with the pope, and we all had the opportunity to wear our vestments,” he said. “In his homily (delivered in Italian with simultaneous translation), the pope was adamant that the deacon is the face of Jesus. He was very direct, saying you must be strong ministers. What impressed me was what an unbelievably lively figure he was while speaking to us, and how graciously he shook our hands after Mass and thanked us for accepting our calling.”
The day after the papal Mass, the Columbus deacons visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museum before traveling to Assisi. Some went home the next day, while others extended their visit for a few days.
“This was my first time in Italy, the land of my heritage, so this was a very important trip for me,” Deacon Iannarino said. “I could feel the presence of my ancestors throughout my stay.
“Last September, I was among several deacons from the Diocese of Columbus who distributed the Eucharist at the pope’s Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Eight months later, the cycle was completed by visiting the pope in his diocese. It’s been an amazing period in my life – one that I’ll never forget and is not likely to be duplicated.”
By Tim Puet, Catholic Times