Jeffrey Ball, Enrique (Rick) Castro, Ramiro Hernandez, Jack W. Milholland Jr., Roberto Pagán, Vern W. Smith, and Dr. William Soscia reached the altar of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice by very different paths.
Through their passionate belief in their Faith and with the support of their wives, children, family and friends, they arrived to take the of the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Venice on Aug. 15, 2020, The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The men processed into Epiphany Cathedral dressed in white albs of a candidate. It wasn’t until Bishop Frank J. Dewane laid his hands upon the head of each candidate that they were officially ordained Deacons. During this moment, in silence, he laid his hands on each man’s head and prayed for an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The imposition of the Bishop’s hands confers grace and spiritual power.
The mission of the Permanent Deacons of the Diocese of Venice is to: serve as ministers of charity, lead in identifying the needs of others and strive to meet those needs; serve as ministers of the Word, when they proclaim the Gospel, preaching and teaching in the name of the Church; serve as ministers of the Sacrament of Baptism; witness marriages; conduct wake and funeral services; and lead the faithful in prayer.
Deacons Ball of Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria; Castro of St. Cecilia Parish, Fort Myers; Hernandez of St. Michael Parish, Wauchula; Milholland of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch; Pagán of Jesus the Worker Parish, Fort Myers; Smith of St. Martha Parish, Sarasota; and Soscia of St. Joseph Parish, Bradenton, are examples of men who chose to give their lives to Jesus Christ in this unique way, Bishop Dewane noted.
“Your soul has been indelibly marked; be conscious of the change that has taken place within you,” the Bishop continued. “As Deacons you are loved by Jesus Christ in a particular way that comes with a grace from your response to His call. Be the instrument of Jesus Christ in response to that love.”
Bishop Dewane called on the men to be the leaven in the community and to be a pillar in their Parish while calling others to the Faith. “The Lord will give you the words,” he said. “Your life experiences will add meaning to those words and serve you well. Do the will of God from your heart and serve the people with love and joy.”
During his homily, the Bishop also took time to thank the wives of the Deacons for their effort in joining their husbands sacramentally, through marriage, on this spiritual journey. He noted that the partnership they have, and the support from the whole family has helped to shape the new Deacons into who they are today: men of God.
Deacon Hernandez said he was nervous beforehand but felt the presence of the Lord by his side as the ordination progressed. The emotions were most pronounced during the Litany of Saints, when the seven were prostrate before the altar while everyone sang the beautiful prayer. A tranquility then came over him during the laying of hands by Bishop Dewane. “It is hard to describe that moment, but it was wonderful. The joy the beauty of this day is like nothing I have ever experienced. I feel so blessed.”
At the start of the formal Rite, the candidates were called forth before Bishop Dewane by Diaconate Director of Formation Deacon William Ladroga and then they were presented to the Bishop for his examination by Permanent Diaconate Director Father Fausto Stampiglia, S.A.C.
The election by Bishop Dewane includes the following prayer: “Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose these, our brothers, for the Order of the Diaconate.” The gathered deacons, priests and faithful responded: “Thanks be to God.”
After the homily, the candidates came forward, and the Bishop asked them whether they were willing to accept the responsibilities of the ministry: to live in humble charity, to hold fast to the mystery of the faith, to celebrate the liturgy of hours with and for the People of God, and to maintain and deepen their prayer lives. To each question, the candidates responded, “I do.” Then each individually approached and kneeled before Bishop to give their promise of obedience to the Bishop and his successors.
The celebration consists of several parts including the presentation of the Book of Gospels and the fraternal greeting.
In addition to family, many friends and supporters, priests, deacons, Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta and Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, were present for the ceremony. Necessarily postponed from and earlier date due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the celebration was streamed live for anyone unable to attend. A reception followed in the Epiphany Cathedral Parish Hall where friends and family congratulated the men on this special day.