The Austrian Church is celebrating 50 years of the “professional and family skills” of its married permanent deacons.

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December 21 marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination in Austria of the first permanent deacon, a separate level of the ancient Church hierarchy reintroduced at the modernising Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

To celebrate the occasion, Kathpress spoke with Franz Ferstl, spokesman for the Austrian association of permanent deacons, who praised the special gifts these ordained ministers bring to the Church.

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The special thing about permanent deacons is that they are all “almost entirely married and are in professional life and thus bring their professional and family skills to their office”, Ferstl explained.

“This professional competence and the very specific life situation bring a big plus for the diaconal ministry, for example in the preparation of the sacraments when it comes to talking to the parents at eye level and from one’s own experience”, added the spokesman for the Austrian permanent deacons.

Why it matters

In these past five decades since the restoration of the permanent diaconate, 900 permanent deacons have been ordained in all the dioceses of Austria, and though 150 have passed away, some 750 continue in active service.

That number means that, statistically, there’s one permanent deacon for every four Austrian parishes.

Ferstl explained that there are many advantages to having parishes with permanent deacons, who also work in jobs outside the Church and are often the focal points of community life.

“The pastor is often responsible for several parishes [and so is] often not on site. The deacon, on the other hand, is present and represents closeness to the people”, Ferstl affirmed.

It isn’t though, that permanent deacons are restricted in any way to parish ministry and to service in the liturgy, and least of all as ‘substitute priests’.

Rather, as Ferstl pointed out, permanent – and transitional – deacons are a sign “that the Church should serve people”.

For that reason permanent deacons are particularly active in Austria and around the world above all as chaplains in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and schools, and more often than not on a voluntary basis.

For the record

For the celebration of the half-century of the permanent diaconate in Austria, Ferstl has written a book as an “outlook on an office that points to the future”.

It’s a volume dotted with testimonies of these special ministers devoted to the vulnerable, sick and poor, its author said.

In his preface to Ferstl’s book, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, called the permanent diaconate “one of the most promising areas of the Church” today.

Schönborn absolutely has reason in his assessment, according to Ferstl, who said the number of vocations to the permanent diaconate is “astonishing”, especially given the fact that it’s not a job, but a service.

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