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Wanted: deacons

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It’s not every day that you see a story like this in the secular press. But here’s an item about a call for vocations to the diaconate, from Pittsburgh:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is urging interested applicants to join its next class of deacons-in-training, part of an effort to respond to a persisting shortage of priests.

Bishop David A. Zubik announced Tuesday that the diocese will begin taking pastoral nominations for college-educated men 30 to 59 who seek to be admitted to the Deacon Formation Program.

The program’s first two classes drew 31 participants, who still are in the training process. The program takes five years.

Zubik intends to call for a new class every other year.

“My hope in calling for another diaconate class is to foster the formation of men who are willing to develop their potential for servant leadership in the Church and to embrace the model of Jesus Christ’s humble, loving care for others — especially those who are sick, elderly, imprisoned, hungry, poor, lonely and forgotten,” Zubik said in a statement.

…Increasing the number of deacons — as well as lay leadership in general — has been identified as a key piece to addressing the broader priest shortage problem affecting Catholic churches nationwide.

Twenty-five years ago, the Pittsburgh diocese had more than 600 active priests.

By 2000, only 338 priests remained, and the figure dwindled to 209 as of last May, the diocese said.

The trend has spurred an increase in roving priests and contributed to reorganization efforts intended to reflect the shifting needs of parish communities.

Nationally, nearly 3,500 of about 17,500 Catholic parishes do not have a resident priest, compared with 549 of 17,600 parishes that did not in 1965 and about 1,800 that lacked one in 1990, according to data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Meanwhile, U.S. deacons have proliferated — from fewer than 900 in 1975 to more than 17,500, CARA data show.

The Pittsburgh diocese says the ideal deacon candidate is a “man of solid faith, deep spirituality and good reputation and character” who follows all Catholic teachings.

Further, he “should be physically, psychologically and emotionally healthy; generously willing to serve the diocesan Church; and capable of assuming a leadership role and working well with a diversity of people.”

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