Goa: Deacon Jason Fernandes Gets Rare Honour To Be By Pope's Side At Christmas Mass In Vatican

Goa: Deacon Jason Fernandes Gets Rare Honour To Be By Pope's Side At Christmas Mass In Vatican

Deacon Jason Keith Fernandes was given the rare honour to stand to the right of Pope Francis and images of Deacon Fernandes were telecast across the world.

THE GOAN NETWORKUpdated: Tuesday, December 26, 2023, 06:18 PM IST
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Deacon Jason Keith Fernandes standing by the side of Pope Francis at the Christmas Mass in the Vatican. | The Goan Network

Panaji: As the world watched and prayed along with Pope Francis at the Christmas Mass in the Vatican, Goans were delighted to see one of their own right by the side of the Holy Father during the service.

Of all prelates and priests who concelebrated the Mass along with Pope Francis, Deacon Jason Keith Fernandes was given the rare honour to stand to the right of Pope Francis and images of Deacon Fernandes were telecast across the world.

Something that Deacon Fernandes may never have imagined, considering that he joined the seminary as a late vocation, years after being an acclaimed researcher who had completed his doctorate.

About Fr. Deacon Fernandes

When asked how did he get the rare honour of standing by the side of Pope Francis, Deacon Fernandes told The Goan: "It was all providential really!"

"I was Deacon at the Mass where our Archbishop of Goa and Daman Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrão took possession of his titular church Santa Maria in Via. At the end of the Mass, the papal MC who was present to guide the ceremony suggested that I write to the Office of the Pontifical liturgies for an opportunity to serve as Deacon," recalled Deacon Fernandes, who traces his roots to Malar-Divar, but grew up in Panjim.

"I assumed that this was a polite courtesy and I thanked him. Nevertheless, I did write to the Office, but got the email wrong! However, Providence ensured that it got to the right desk and they wrote back to acknowledge receipt, assuring me that when there was an opportunity they would be in touch."

"Once again I assumed that with the large numbers of persons requesting this privilege I would never hear from them again (after all, I will only be in Rome till June 2024). Imagine my surprise therefore, when sometime in the middle of November  - I was on a pilgrimage to Loreto at the time - they got back in touch, and inquired if I was available to serve as Deacon for the midnight Mass. I had already booked my tickets to Lisbon for the Christmas break by that time,  but I didn't hesitate in responding that I would be available!"

Deacon Fernandes said his initial reaction was sheer delight.

"To serve at a Papal Mass, at a Papal altar? Who would not wish for such an opportunity,  or privilege? I did decide, however, not to spread the news. After all, discretion is a virtue! What touched me though, was that the few friends in the seminary who I did tell were so happy for me. This was humbling," said Deacon Fernandes, who is currently his final year of priestly formation at the Pontifical Beda College, doing the final courses in theology, and pastoral care.

One would have assumed there would have been intense preparations and protocols before the Christmas Mass, given that Pope Francis would be presiding over the Mass. But Deacon Fernandes said "the preparations were remarkably simple actually."

"We had a practice on December 23 at 9.30 am, it lasted an hour, and another practice on December 24, at 6 pm, an hour and a half before the Mass. I believe the whole operation rests on the fact that all involved have a good knowledge of Catholic liturgy."

"In my opinion, what made the whole operation flawless was the way which the entire mass had been divided between the team of Papal MCs. Each MC took charge of a team, and indicated to us what we had to do, and were by our side through the whole service. One really has to laud their efficiency and their mastery of the discreet act," acknowledged Deacon Fernandes.

Deacon Fernandes was then asked what was is like standing by the side of Pope Francis during the service, and what was going through his mind during the service, especially with the whole world watch the service.

Replied Deacon Fernandes: "Knowing that the whole world is watching can be unnerving, but if you attend to every liturgy with care and dignity, then if, and when, you get the opportunity to serve the Pope, then it becomes much easier."

"I have to thank the priests at my local parish (Igreja São Nicolau) in Lisbon. The liturgy there is taken very seriously, and every Sunday Mass treated with great care. After all, Jesus is more important than the Pope, and the eyes of the world,  and it is Jesus who we meet at every Eucharistic celebration. Must we not take, therefore, every liturgy seriously? Over the  years, I received a good drilling on how to be an efficient acolyte, Deacon. And then, of course, at the seminary too."

A rare honour to be standing next to the Pope

"To be standing next to the Pope is a huge honour, and I think I was very grateful for this opportunity. To also be able to gaze at him from that distance (or lack of it) allowed me the opportunity to get a sense of the man. This was precious."

Asked if he got a chance to interact with the Pope before or after the service and if so, what was the nature of the interaction, Deacon Fernandes said prior to the Mass, all the servers lined up to greet the Pope. 

"But it was a momentary greeting, I can't say we got to discuss weighty matters of theology -- as much as I may have liked that," exclaimed Deacon Fernandes.

For Deacon Fernandes, Christmas Mass in the Vatican will surely be one of the highlights in his life.

Asked if there was any specific moment that will remain with him forever, Deacon Fernandes replied: "I'm still processing all of it, but I think that the task that was offered to me, to take the image of the Christ child from the hands of the Pope, place it in the crib, and then incense the crib, before the assembled servers, and Cardinals, was a solemn moment that I won't forget soon!'

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