|Diocese of Nashville Deacons Hector Martinez, left, John Lammers, Mike Rector, Hernan Andrade, Dan Pyles, and Ernie Gartung attended an international gathering of deacons in Rome this spring. They attended a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis and traveled to various historical and religious sites in the region.|
Six permanent deacons from the Diocese of Nashville and their families enjoyed the unity of the global diaconate during a visit to Rome to attend a conference about deacons’ role in the Year of Mercy.
Deacon Dan Pyles will never forget the feeling of celebrating his Catholic faith with thousands of his brother deacons from around the world.
“If you could imagine a line of deacons, four deacons wide, extending for a half a mile, walking together, it might capture that sense of unity we shared,” he said. “Truly, to be standing around with deacons from Italy, Germany, Australia, France, and many others gives shape to the intellectual reality of deacons joined by ordination and mission together, regardless of nationality nor language.”
The conference, which drew deacons from around the world, was held in Rome May 27-29 and culminated in a closing Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. The focus of the conference was on the deacon’s role as being an instrument of God’s mercy to everyone he meets.
Attending with Deacon Pyles, who serves patients at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Veterans’ Affairs Tennessee Valley Health Care System in Nashville, were five other deacons, all of whom were ordained in 2014: Deacons John Lammers and Mike Rector from Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, Hector Martinez of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Lebanon, Ernie Gartung of St. Luke Church in Smyrna, and Hernan Andrade of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Nashville. The deacons were accompanied by their wives and Deacon Pyles’ in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. William Woodward.
Before arriving in Rome for the conference, the group also visited Assisi and Orvieto in Italy.
In Orvieto, the group toured a papal residence during the Middle Ages, and in Assisi, they visited the burial place of St. Francis of Assisi; the papal Basilica of St. Francis, which is the mother church of the Franciscan religious order; the Church and Convent of San Damiano, where St. Francis heard Jesus calling him to rebuild His Church and St. Clare founded the Poor Clares religious order; and the Basilica of St. Clare.
Upon arrival in Rome, sightseeing highlights included the Forum and Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Pantheon, and the Basilica of St. Lawrence.
“Touring Rome connects a person to the ancient heritage of the Church and of our faith,” said Deacon Pyles. “Yet, being with deacons from around the world, attending Mass with thousands upon thousands of the faithful worshiping together in St. Peter’s Square, and hearing of the great needs in the world connects the diaconal ministry to the people in need all around the world today.”
Deacon Pyles first heard about the conference in Rome while reading a blog post from Aleteia.org and Patheos Catholic contributor Deacon Greg Kandra. Included in the article was information about Catholic travel agencies offering pilgrimages attached to the conference. Upon finding that his former employer, EO Catholic, was one of the agencies listed, Deacon Pyles’ interest was piqued and he spread the word to other deacons in Nashville.
“Anyone who wanted to go could go, though each person was financially responsible for paying his or her own way,” Deacon Pyles said.
The deacons attending the conference were split into groups according to their native language. English language presenters included Deacons Greg Kandra, James Keating and Anthony Gooley and Cardinal Peter Turkson. Keynote addresses were given on deacons as icons of mercy in the New Evangelization, the home, the workplace, and the parish; and a talk on the deacon’s call to charity in the life of the community. Attendees also had opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Penance, and a procession through the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s Basilica.