2000-04-03 00:00:00

Tokyo archdiocese is pioneering a four-year formation program for the permanent diaconate in Japan and is accepting applications for the first group of candidates April 1-May 31.

The archdiocese is the first diocese in Japan to institutionalize the permanent diaconate, Auxiliary Bishop Paul Mori Kazuhiro of Tokyo told UCA News recently. He said the formation program took a year to develop.

About 40 laypeople including several married couples packed the briefing conducted by Bishop Mori for applicants on March 19.

"This time we recruit applicants between 50-year-old and 60-year-old on a full time basis. The week-end-basis diaconate is another problem we have to tackle with in the future," the bishop said.

Father Momma Kunio, a member of the team that formulated the program, briefed prospective applicants on the program.

According to the priest, successful applicants will attend the Tokyo Catholic Seminary for three years. They will then undergo further training which includes serving in parishes for six months.

They will have to resign from current jobs before the formation program starts, he said. He added that the archdiocese "cannot accept applications unless family members, in particular wives, support the applications."

Selected candidates will also be asked to submit a pledge saying that they will not ask the archdiocese to help pay their families´ living expenses, although they will not have to pay the seminary tuition.

The archdiocese will cover the tuition, but cannot pay pocket money, Father Momma said. He added, though, that the diocese will pay about 150,000 yen (about US$1,400) a month to deacons as a "living subsidy" after ordination.

According to Bishop Mori, the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of Japan agreed unanimously in 1994 to introduce the permanent diaconate.

Seven permanent deacons are currently serving in Japan -- five for religious orders and two for dioceses.

Cardinal Peter Shirayanagi Seiichi of Tokyo promised to institutionalize the diaconate after a married man in his early 60s was ordained the archdiocese´s first permanent deacon in March last year.

The cardinal´s pastoral letter "On introducing the permanent diaconate as God´s gift to modern society" served as a working paper for the five-member committee led by Bishop Mori that drew up the formation program.

Several persons who attended the briefing but did not belong to Tokyo archdiocese were told to consult with their respective bishops.

Father Momma said that the most difficult part of the program may be the intensive theological training at the seminary.

"Candidates have to complete within three years subject matter similar to what seminarians learn in four-and-half to five years," he explained.

"In addition to theological formation, we will also provide spiritual formation as well as pastoral and evangelical formation," he added.

The bishop said the archdiocese will assess candidates every year based on consultations with the seminary rector, members of the formation committee and interviews with the candidates.

But he admitted that assessment would be difficult. "That is why we stipulated a pledge in which candidates vow they will follow the archdiocese´s decision and will not ask any retirement money," he said.

The list of successful applicants is to be announced by the end of September and formation is to start in April 2001.


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