Sunday, January 1, 2012

St. Stephen glorified through martyrdom



Even though we observed his glorious feast a week ago, on Monday, 26 December, I did not see this amazing depiction my lifelong patron, who is also the patron of Καθολικός διάκονος, St. Stephen, until today, when I saw it as the Facebook photo of my brother deacon Michele Onesti, who is a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Verona, Italy.

Michele was ordained a permanent deacon in 2003. He was in his late twenties when he was ordained, which is permitted as long as the ordinand is not married and is at least twenty-five. An unmarried man who is ordained a permanent deacon is required to take a public vow of celibacy. Michele and I have a connection because he spends a lot of time with the LDS missionaries who proselytize in the part of Italy in which he lives and serves.

He told me, "My vocation's story is a bit original: I began my theological studies to became priest then I decided to stop my presbyteral ordination to better live my diaconate and finally I decided that permanent diaconate was my life!" Having spent the past two years researching the role and necessity of married permanent deacons, one thing became clear, that when the diaconate was updated and restored, in addition to married deacons, Pope Paul VI envisioned more deacons like Michele.

This painting of St. Stephen is by the contemporary Italian master Ulisse Sartini and was commissioned by an anonymous benefactor. Sartini depicts St. Stephen dressed in a golden dalmatic with the palm of martyrdom in his right hand and the Book of the Gospels held between his left arm and his body. At the top of the picture the Cross is barley detectable. The original is in the Church of St. Stephen, Martyr in the city of Rivergaro, Italy. It was presented by the artist to His Excellency, Gianni Ambrosio, bishop of the Diocese of Piacenza-Bobbio, the diocese to which Rivergaro belongs, on 14 June 2009. Sartini is perhaps best known outside of Italy for his portraits of both Bl. John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI.

St. Stephen, pray for all deacons, that, like you, we may witnesses, that is, martyrs, of Jesus Christ.

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