MUMBAI, India – Permanent deacons have a unique role in promoting the New Evangelization, according to a chief advisor of Pope Francis.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay – a member of the pope’s C9 Council of Cardinal Advisors – said it should “be the symbol `par excellence’ of the servant-Christ.”

Gracias was the keynote speaker at the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the International Permanent Diaconate Center in Stuttgart, Germany on Nov. 1.

The restoration of the diaconate as a permanent ministry in the Church was called for by the Second Vatican Council, and authorized by Pope Paul VI in 1967.

Gracias said the return of the permanent diaconate “represents both a retrieval from tradition and an opening up of the Church to the world.”

“In fact, the implications of the restoration of the diaconate as a full and equal order would go a long way towards the recovery of a truly organic conception of the Church and its ministry. For in this rediscovery of the permanent diaconate we recognize with a new clarity that the essential oneness of creation, symbolized by Jesus’ incarnation, as the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ are united in the deacon of today,” he said.

In 2015, there were over 46,000 permanent deacons in the world, compared to over 412,000 priests.

The country with the most deacons is the United States, with over 13,000; Italy and Germany are the next highest, with around 2,500 each.

However, the number of deacons has been growing in Asia and South America, and Gracias’s own archdiocese began ordaining deacons in 2006. Today there are 16 permanent deacons and 8 candidates for the diaconate.

“With the introduction of the permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese the hierarchical structure of the Church in Bombay is indeed, complete!” the cardinal said.

Gracias said that since he is “configured to Christ in a particular way through ordination to service,” the deacon leads by example, “showing how service is integral to the baptismal vocation of every Christian.”

“Indeed, the permanent diaconate cannot make sense in the Church until the entire Church is diaconal in its life. It is the task of deacons to bring about this transformation, because we are ordained not only to put our own gifts at the service of the Church and the world, but also to foster the Spirit’s many gifts poured out on the people of God,” the cardinal continued.

Gracias proposed several ways in which permanent deacons could help lead the Church in its New Evangelization: Witness an authentic Christian life; revitalize the local parish, especially by leading small Christian communities; use the Church’s worship to encourage the laity; since deacons can be married, they have a “key role” in promoting family life; and through his involvement in the running of Catholic institutions such as schools, hospitals, and social service facilities.

The cardinal also mentioned the role of preaching in the life of the deacon, as well as the way deacons can use modern communications to spread the Gospel.

The deacon can stress not merely that these institutions are run professionally, but promote the values of the Gospel; working in modern communications.

“Perhaps, the greatest challenge before the Church today is the need to move to the margins of society and give hope to marginalized groups,” Gracias added.

“There is the need to co-ordinate the efforts of individuals, communities and activist groups working towards the education, empowerment and involvement of the marginalized in society. Shelters for orphans, battered women, ecological programs, fight for human rights, legal protection for the discriminated, etc. need to be organized and promoted. The Deacon can coordinate this ministry of social involvement and empowerment,” he said.

The cardinal noted that the ancient role of the deacon in caring for the poor, and said, “very specially by his calling, [he] embodies the responsibility of the Church for the poor.”

“It is therefore imperative that he and his team motivate people of goodwill to raise a prophetic voice and engage in advocacy to bring about a new social order.”