By Deacon Arnaldo Antonio Santos
As a new deacon, I received a diocesan assignment to work in youth ministry. I expected it since I felt called to youth work even before becoming a deacon. As a former civil servant and newly retired police detective, I had always felt the call to help lost souls who long for someone to understand them.
Pope John Paul II’s 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio called for a new evangelization, a new mission work to those who know about God and His mercy, even if they are not fully engaged in their faith. As a deacon, I learned different ways to evangelize through retreats, to reach out to separated brothers and sisters, to help and guide youth, and to reach out to gang members. Yes, I said gang members.
I find it’s easier to reach individuals involved in gangs as a deacon than it was when I was a cop. Why? When a grave sinner feels rejected, judged and condemned by us, then the sinner is less likely to repent and return to God.
I have seen individuals lost to the gang world return to the church, repent, receive the sacraments and be freed from the bondage of the gang world. It happened when I was able to guide them with prayer, patience, moderation and brotherly love. As a police detective I was respected, but the advice that I gave troubled youth was not as easily accepted. As an officer, I was judged by the persons feeling condemned. They felt I couldn’t possibly understand or sympathize with them.
Ordination changed my life. I have a new a sense of security as I see myself becoming a more devout Christian and servant. Not that the ongoing journey is without challenge. The main challenge I have faced is working with under-catechized or poorly catechized Catholics. I seek to re-introduce Christ all over again to them. Many think that the word of God doesn’t speak to them. I also find I must focus on the fundamentals of the church and preach the truth without sugarcoating it. As a servant of the Lord, I face these challenges head on and pray as much as I work to help bring back the lost sheep and to help those still in the church come to a full understanding and love of God.
As a deacon, husband and father, my most my meaningful experience was ordination day, May 21, 2011, when through the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of hands, Bishop Joseph A. Galante ordained me a deacon in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey. My wife and children were present to share in that day. As a family we also serve the church in a renewed youth ministry called “Teens for Christ.” I am privileged to lead exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, preach and teach alongside my wife. My two children sing and play instruments with inspirational messages in our praise and worship band, “Voices of Praise.” My diaconate has spread through the whole family.
Arnaldo Antonio Santos is a deacon for the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, and a retired police detective.