Bishop Tylka addresses permanent deacons, candidates, and their wives
As they gathered for the first time since COVID-19 shut down many public meetings and events in March 2020, permanent deacons from around the Diocese of Peoria had the joy of seeing one another in person and hearing words of gratitude and support from their new spiritual father.
“Your ministry is valued. I appreciate what you do as deacons in our diocese. I appreciate how you offer the presence of Christ to the people in the communities that you serve,” Bishop Louis Tylka told the deacons who came to the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria for the Deacon Convocation on March 5.
“I just want to encourage you in your ministry to keep doing what you have been doing, to give yourself over as you promised when you were ordained deacons to serve the church, to serve especially assisting at the altar, to serve the word of God, and to serve the poor and those in need,” he said.
Telling them he looked forward to working with them for many years to come, Bishop Tylka added, “Know that I look forward to seeing you when I come around to the parishes.”
The convocation, held annually until the pandemic began, also drew candidates for ordination to the permanent diaconate, which is scheduled for December. In addition, the group included wives of the ordained and candidates.
During the daylong meeting they had an opportunity to reflect on “Ministering in Times of Crisis.” The sessions were presented by Father David Songy, OFM Cap., president and CEO of the St. Luke Institute, a healing ministry dedicated to serving priests, deacons and religious.
TELLING OUR STORY
The Deacon Convocation came just two days after Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, retired and Bishop Tylka succeeded him as the ninth Bishop of Peoria. He talked to the deacons about the importance of not only spending time with Scripture and praying with “the stories of our faith,” but putting themselves into those stories.
“I think we have to be able to give witness again to what we have seen, which is Jesus Christ in our life,” he said. “That’s what evangelization is about — it’s telling our story of our encounter with a God who loves us so much that we get to be disciples of his son, Jesus. That we get to live knowing God’s mercy and love in our life.”
When we do that, it should come naturally to go out and share that story with others, Bishop Tylka told them.
And when we allow God’s word to speak to us in prayer, it can shape who we are and help us to understand what we’re called to do, he said.
At the end of his remarks, Bishop Tylka took questions and there were very few “softball” questions. Among them was what he considered the greatest pastoral challenge facing the Diocese of Peoria.
“It’s the challenge of the church, which is to evangelize,” he replied. “I’m not confident that we have a good understanding of what that means.”
As a young priest he believed that the most important thing he could do was get people to come to Mass and encounter Jesus that way.
“I’m not diminishing that. But for someone who doesn’t have a strong faith or no faith, if somebody has yet to have a personal encounter with Jesus, telling them to go to Mass isn’t going to do it,” Bishop Tylka explained, adding that evangelization doesn’t begin with catechesis but with relationship.
“It’s when they encounter Jesus that their life is changed,” he said.
That will be very important as the bishops of Illinois bring back the obligation to attend Mass, according to Bishop Tylka.
“In many cases I think those who are coming back have come back, for the most part. There are a lot of people who haven’t come back, which is sad. It’s very, very sad,” he said. “I don’t think they’re coming back.”
While some stopped coming because of the pandemic, there were probably reasons that they had been thinking about previously. It just shows how much work we have to do as a church to bring people’s minds and hearts to the Lord, he said.
Another question had to do with the cause for beatification and canonization of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Will he continue to further the cause?
“Absolutely,” Bishop Tylka said simply.
“I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about the cause,” he said. “I will do everything I can to promote him and his life and his legacy. I’m hopeful.”
With regard to moving priests and his plans for ministry to Spanish-speaking Catholics, Bishop Tylka talked about the diocese’s limited resources and the need to deploy them in better ways. The key is using the gifts and talents of the priests in a way that benefits them and the people they serve at that particular time.
“Moving forward we need to encourage our seminarians and our priests to continue to learn Spanish — and for that matter, our deacons,” he said.