Annual Appeal supports Latino vocations to diaconate
“Why am I not studying to be a deacon?”
Librado Maiz, a member of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler, asked himself this question as he considered what more he could do for his parish community.
He currently serves as a lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion (EMHC) and sacristan. But he recognized that the growing Hispanic community in his parish needed more Hispanic ministers, and that led him to discern a calling from God to begin diaconate formation.
Maiz, 48, originally from the Mexican state of Hidalgo, has been in the United States for 27 years and in Nebraska with his family for the past 20 years.
He said there are many people in his parish community whose first language is Spanish. “Here in Schuyler we don’t have any deacons (who speak) Spanish. We have two, but they are only English (speaking), so we are too many Hispanics” for the church’s pastoral resources, he said. Of Divine Mercy’s approximately 1,100 households, 600 are Hispanic.
Maiz had begun diaconate formation once before. In 2013, when his current mentor, Deacon Gregorio Elizalde, was also going through formation, he had to withdraw before finishing. Maiz and his wife had several small children and his pastor at Divine Mercy at the time, Father Carl Zoucha, recommended that he take a step back and re-enter formation when he had less responsibility.
Now he has returned and is in the first year of formation, called aspirancy. The goal of aspirancy is “to deepen each man’s understanding of Holy Orders as a way of living with Christ in service to his church,” said Deacon James Keating, director of the archdiocesan Permanent Diaconate office. “The men and their wives learn how to pray, study Scripture and come to an understanding of marriage and Holy Orders.”
Aspirants attend formation classes with their wives at Immaculata Monastery in Norfolk one weekend every other month for the first year.
For the next three years of the program, the men study Scripture, Catholic morality, the sacraments and church history. They also attend workshops on liturgy and preaching as well as practicums in pastoral ministry, such as visiting the sick and the imprisoned, he said.
In these years, the men are required to attend monthly formation weekends September through May, meet with their pastor at least four times a year, confer with their spiritual director monthly and perform 100 hours of supervised pastoral field experience in their third year of formation.
GIFT OF SELF
Maiz’s family has played an active role in his formation. He and his wife, Dilcia, and their four children have become closer as a family as they serve the church together. They share in ministry at the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass at Divine Mercy, where Librado is often an EMHC or a lector, and his children Judith and Daniel are altar servers.
Dilcia supports her husband by attending formation weekends with him.
“The most important thing for me is that I am always in prayer for the candidates to be deacons and for everybody,” she said.
In addition to growing in their vocational understanding and deepening relationships with their families, diaconate aspirants are called to explore themselves as men of faith. “They begin spiritual direction in earnest and come to know their formation mentors as men who call them to generous self-revelation,” Deacon Keating said. “This last part is vital so the archbishop can truly discern if each man is called.”
Deacon Keating emphasized the importance of a deacon’s ability to be flexible in his ministry — his willingness to serve in the areas where he is most needed. “A deacon should be creative, imaginative and courageous in discerning with the archbishop where the real unmet spiritual and pastoral needs of the archdiocese are and meet those needs,” he said.
Maiz believes his capacity to communicate with and understand the needs of Hispanic parishioners at Divine Mercy and other area parishes sets him apart from non-Hispanic aspirants for the diaconate.
There are many nuances in the Spanish language that can be better understood by a native speaker, Deacon Elizalde said. Some words cannot be translated literally without changing the meaning, so being able to communicate the correct connotation is important, he said.
Deacon Elizalde said it is beneficial to have a group of Spanish-speaking deacons, not only to translate the needs of the people but to help the parish priests meet those needs. Currently, there are five native Spanish-speaking deacons in the archdiocese. There will be nine by the time Maiz is ordained in 2021, he said.
Providing formation material to Spanish-speaking candidates going through the program is vital, said Maiz. For the first two years of formation, Latino candidates can take classes in Spanish. This option began in 2017, Deacon Elizalde said.
However, this still separates the Spanish- and English-speaking communities, he said. To resolve this issue, the archdiocese is transitioning to a unified formation class and providing Latino candidates with a mentor, spiritual director and a counselor, all of whom speak Spanish and can help them understand all aspects of formation, he said.
The Permanent Diaconate office is one of more than a dozen ministries funded by the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, said Tom Crowley, development officer for the Stewardship and Development office. The role of the deacon in serving at the altar and serving the most vulnerable of his parish is critical to the life of the church, he said, which explains why funding the office is a priority.
Maiz is most grateful for the prayers and support of those around him during his formation. The community needs to be served in their language, and a deacon who knows and understands the people can do that, he said.