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Deacon Brian McCaffrey and his immediate family listen to the homily of Bishop Gerald L. Vincke of Salina, Kan., in Sacred Heart Cathedral April 18, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. McCaffrey was ordained a transitional deacon. (CNS photo/Karen Bonar, The Register)

SALINA, Kan. (CNS) -- When Brian McCaffrey was ordained as a transitional deacon April 18 in Sacred Heart Cathedral, the event wasn't quite what he envisioned it would be.

"For five years, I've been picturing this day, and an empty cathedral was not what I was imagining," Deacon McCaffrey told The Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Salina. "Obviously, I would have preferred to have my family and friends from the community there, but I surrendered it into God's hands."

While the pews were only filled with a few family members, Deacon McCaffrey said he knew many friends and loved ones would be watching the livestream and praying from afar.

"There was a bit of sadness people couldn't be there," he said, "but I've gotten so many messages from friends and family in the last couple days that they would be joining from other towns and states. Knowing all of these people who would have been there anyway could watch and join in was powerful.

"At the end of the day, the joy of being ordained was greater than any sadness over the situation."

During his homily, Salina Bishop Gerald L. Vincke said he hoped the cathedral is able to be filled for a priestly ordination. The cathedral remained empty for the diaconate ordination to comply with state and national guidelines, restricting the number of people who can gather in a place, to help prevent further spread of COVID-19.

"To use an analogy, this coronavirus is contagious," Bishop Vincke said. "In a way, so may you be contagious in bringing Jesus to the world -- a world that desperately needs him and his peace and mercy."

The bishop thanked Deacon McCaffrey for exploring a vocation to the priesthood and for having the courage to say, "Yes."

"Today you are really committing all of those gifts and talents that you have been given to God, to your parents, for God and his people in a special way," Bishop Vincke said. "Especially to become a deacon, know that there is no greater love to lay down your life and serve others, for your friends.

"You are going to encounter people who are struggling with life, people who in a sense think that God couldn't possibly love them. You are going to meet a lot of people like that, but God willing, you are going to preach that Jesus is God, he is alive and with us and his mercy is greater than our sins."

"There is certainly a lot of bad news in the world today, and you becoming a deacon today is the greatest of news," Bishop Vincke said. "The news that brings hope to all of us, including me, great hope."

Once ordained, a deacon may assist the celebrant during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Additionally, deacons are able to proclaim the Gospel, initiate the sign of peace and announce the dismissal.

Deacon McCaffrey is assigned to serve as deacon at St. Thomas More Parish in Manhattan, Kansas, this summer, where he was active as a high school youth.

"I'm excited to preach. I'm excited to get the chance to do baptisms or assist with liturgies," he said. "At the same time, in our situation, I don't even know what will be going on in the parish."

On April 14, Manhattan announced the cancellation of spring and summer recreational programs, including use of the public swimming pool, youth and adult sports leagues, camps, activities and events.

Deacon McCaffrey assisted with the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the dismissal at his ordination, but the first full Mass where he proclaimed the Gospel and delivered the homily was April 19 at St. Isidore in Manhattan. Like the cathedral for his ordination, the church was empty.

"I've been staying at St. Isidore with Father Gale (Hammerschmidt), so I've gotten used to having an empty church," he said.

"Father Gale told me it was both the smallest and largest audience I'll probably ever preach to," Deacon McCaffrey said. "It was not how I thought my first homily would be, preaching at a camera."

Yet because the Mass was livestreamed on the St. Isidore Facebook page, locals in Manhattan were able to watch, but also viewers around the country were able to watch.

"After Mass, my phone was exploding with text messages from family and friends who were able to watch it," he said.

While Deacon McCaffrey has been an altar server for several years, April 19 was his first time assisting liturgically.

"I've been comfortable around the altar for years," he said. "It was like I was taking the next step -- advancing to the next level. It was familiar, while at the same time completely new."

Deacon McCaffrey will finish his final year of studies at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Indiana.

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