Pope Francis met with deacons and their families Saturday at the Vatican and encouraged them to help their parishes to recognize Jesus in the poor.

“Deacons remind the Church that what Saint Thérèse discovered is true: the Church has a heart inflamed by love. Yes, a humble heart beating with service,” the pope said June 19.

“The generosity of a deacon, who gives of himself without seeking the front ranks, has about him the perfume of the Gospel. He tells of the greatness of God's humility in taking the first step … to meet even those who have turned their backs on him,” he said.

The pope welcomed deacons from the diocese of Rome to the Vatican’s Hall of Blessings, where he expressed to each of them the importance of their distinct ministry in the life of the Church.

“The decrease in the number of priests has led to a prevailing engagement of deacons to substitute them in tasks which, however important, do not constitute the specific nature of the diaconate. They are substitute tasks,” he said.

Pope Francis cited the dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium, which describes the diaconate a ministry in which “hands are imposed not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.”

He said: “The Council, after speaking of service to the People of God ‘in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word and of charity”, emphasises that deacons are above all - above all - “dedicated to duties of charity and of administration (Lumen Gentium, 29).’”

“The phrase recalls the early centuries, when deacons looked after the needs of the faithful, especially the poor and the sick, in the name and on behalf of the bishop. We can also draw on the roots of the Church of Rome.”

The pope encouraged the deacons to follow Christ by embracing his “logic” of lowering oneself.

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“We are all called to lower ourselves, because Jesus stooped to us, He made himself the servant of all. If there is one great person in the Church, it is the one who made him- or herself the smallest, and servant of all,” Pope Francis said.

“I expect you to be humble. It is sad to see a bishop and a priest showing off, but it is even sadder to see a deacon wanting to put himself at the centre of the world, or at the centre of the liturgy, or at the centre of the Church. Be humble. Let all the good you do be a secret between you and God. And so it will bear fruit,” he said.

Deacons can also serve the community through their witness as good spouses, fathers, and grandfathers.

“This will give hope and consolation to couples who are going through difficult times and who will find in your genuine simplicity an outstretched hand,” he said.

The pope added: “Doing everything with joy, without complaining; this is a testimony that is worth more than many sermons.”

Deacons can act as “sentinels” for their parish, he said, by helping “to help the Christian community to recognize Jesus in the poor and the distant, as He knocks on our doors through them.”

“Whatever the need, see the Lord. So you, too, recognize the Lord when, in so many of his little brothers and sisters, He asks to be fed, to be welcomed and loved. I would like this to be the profile of the deacons of Rome and of the whole world,” Pope Francis said.

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