In October 2019, I introduced my new Building Faith blog, which came as both a fruit of the diocesan Rebuilding in Faith and Hope initiative and a wonderful way to celebrate my fifth year as Bishop of Fall River. It was my desire to utilize this weekly blog each Wednesday to build community within our diocese, strengthen our faith, and share the many activities a Bishop is blessed to participate in. I believe we have accomplished that and so much more. In today’s blog, we will look back at a few of the many stories, situations, and announcements shared over the last year.
Historic Ad Limina Visit
On November 6, I was in Rome with about twenty of my fellow Region I Bishops for our ad limina visit with Pope Francis. As faithful people, we are called to trust in God’s timing, even when it appears inopportune. This mandatory meeting with the Pope and other Vatican officials is formally called ad limina apostolorum, which means “to the thresholds of the apostles.” The ad limina visit is a pilgrimage all Bishops are required to do typically every five years; however, due to the change of Pope in 2013, this is the first one for our region and the US since 2011.
After I visited with Pope Francis, I shared these thoughts in my November 13th blog:
Although Pope Francis was detained in joining us because of another commitment, he did not rush his time with us. Giving the Bishops of Region I, nearly two hours of his time, to engage in conversation. A conversation that did not feel like a formal meeting but a discussion among brothers. There was no hierarchy in where each of the Bishops sat nor in the order in which we spoke.
In the meeting, I mentioned my concerns for the suffering faced by so many people who are forced to leave their own countries and become migrants and refugees around the world. Pope Francis’ response to us was lengthy and thoughtful. To summarize, Pope Francis wished for immigrants to remain hopeful and to know that the Church continues working on their behalf; and will do all it can to best serve their needs.
Later, nearing the end of our meeting with Pope Francis, he turned again to the topic of migrants and refugees, showing how concerned he is with these suffering brothers and sisters. I was also impressed when he looked right at me and not only remembered what I had said but also that I was the one who had said it. With all the conversations that had gone on for nearly two hours, I found it remarkable that he would have recalled this information.
Highlighting the Diocese
One of the Building Faith blog aspects I enjoy is the opportunity to share all the remarkable work done by the parishes, schools, and organizations in the Fall River Diocese. Most weeks, the blog includes blessings, news, or announcements from around the diocese.
One of the ways I was able to share the good works and the future hopes and goals of these outstanding entities came with a special ten-week feature on my Reflections on Five Years — Continuing the Mission Pastoral Letter. The series allowed me to expound on the letter, which encompasses a look at the first five years of my time here in the Fall River Diocese.
On July 1, in the midst of the pandemic, with so much uncertainty to the upcoming school year, I shared my thoughts on the task of strengthening Catholic Education in our Diocese. Over these last few months, I have tried to continue to include our Diocesan schools’ work and challenges, as they planned and implemented a highly successful reopening of our schools.
Amid the trying times of 2020, especially when the Diocese of Fall River staff did their part to stay home and flatten the curve, they continued to work to serve our diocese. Catholic Social Services met the challenge of feeding and housing in their many shelters, relying on donations to cover the extra expenses this unprecedented time has brought.
The Pro-Life Apostolate office remained available to assist and asked that you continue to keep in prayer all the youth, mothers experiencing a crisis pregnancy, and families as we pray for a quick end to this pandemic.
Navigating Difficult Times
The blog also offered me an opportunity throughout the year to explain Church teachings and words of encouragement, again, no more critical than during the height of the pandemic stay at home orders and uncertainty. Since we remain in unprecedented and uncertain times, it is good to revisit the words offered back in March. A reminder of the strength and comfort we can find in the Scriptures.
“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are experiencing the trouble in the world Jesus spoke of, and we can be sure, if we live long enough, we will experience more troubles. Yet, as Christians, we are not to lose heart. Look careful at Jesus’ words. He offers us peace and inviting us to have courage, not of our own accord but through His grace. In his Passion, death, and resurrection, he has won the victory over not only illness and problems in our lives, but over death itself. While we are in the midst of the trouble, it can be hard to maintain that peace, return to this passage, and ask Jesus for the grace to endure knowing you are standing in His victory.
As I have said many times during these past months, these days are different and continue to provide trials for each of us; however, we must not lose sight, as Pope St. John Paul II said, “We are an Easter people,” a people who live in hope. When we get to the other side of this crisis, if we use this time to grow in faith, hope, and love, we will be renewed and emerge better people. I hope, pray, and wish we all use this opportunity as a learning experience, a time of reflection and conversion, and change so we can build a better world after this.
Thanks to this blog, I was able to share the many ways parishes were connecting with parishioners, particularly through virtual Masses. These Masses can be found on Facebook live, YouTube, and live-streamed from the parish website. It is encouraging to see parishes continuing to offer daily Mass, in addition to weekend Masses. For an updated list of churches offering online masses, visit the Fall River diocese website. Even I learned how to go live on the Diocese of Fall River Facebook page and celebrate Mass in both English and Portuguese.
State of the Diocese Report
Finally, the blog provides the benefit of sharing important announcements and documents, including the August release of the State of the Diocese of Fall River Report, 2014-2019. This document was designed to convey a much broader perspective of the objectives, goals, challenges, and finances for the ministries in our Diocese. Hopefully, you found it helpful to learn more about these many ministries, services, and offices that all serve to keep our Diocese moving forward in faith and hope —following Christ’s mission.
This methodology of sharing a broader perspective of the diocese is how I tried to use the Building Faith Blog.
The Building Faith blog has been an incredible blessing to assist my work as your Bishop. As we begin our second year, I look evermore forward to using this blog to connect with you.
And to that end, let me close today with an important upcoming event. Please join me this evening at 7:00 PM for the 26th Annual FACE Fall Scholarship Dinner as we honor our Catholic school’s faculty, administrators, and staff with the Timothy J. Cotter Friend of Catholic Education Award. We have an exciting program featuring our students, faculty & staff, the inspirational Christian recording artist Matt Maher, and much more!
Lastly, I invite you to please join me virtually in a Holy Hour for Vocations at 3 p.m. this Sunday, November 8. It will be livestreamed on our Diocesan Facebook page. I will be leading this Holy Hour at St. Mary’s Cathedral to conclude our diocesan observance of National Vocation Awareness Week.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop da Cunha