On October 21, 2019, I published my first Building Faith blog entry. The blog began as a recommendation from the Rebuilding in Faith and Hope initiative and continues to provide opportunities to share Diocesan activity, spiritual encouragement, and important updates.
While I focused on sharing events and announcements in the first few years of the blog, this year, I decided to move to a more conversational format. The change has been well received, and I look forward to many years of connecting with you here.
Sharing Special Events
One of the benefits I discovered within a month of starting the blog was the unique opportunity it affords me to share special moments of my life as a Bishop. In November 2019, I traveled to Rome for my ad limina visit with Pope Frances. While there, I had the incredible honor of being the main celebrant of a Mass with the other Bishops in the Basilica of St John Lateran.
Walking into this magnificent Basilica brought memories of my first Papal Mass at St John Lateran, Holy Thursday of 1975, with Pope Paul VI. The honor of offering Mass in that same Basilica, 44 years later, among the breathtaking art and architecture, with my brother Bishops, the feeling is almost indescribable. I used many of those early blogs to share this special visit, including my brief yet poignant meeting with Pope Francis.
In the meeting, I mentioned my concerns about 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 remembered my early comments on the topic. With all the conversations that had gone on for nearly two hours, I found it remarkable that he would have recalled this information.
Navigating a Pandemic
Many times throughout 2020, I thanked God for guiding me to launching this blog, as it became an invaluable avenue for sharing information in the ever-shifting COVID-19 landscape, especially in those early days in March and April. My March 25th entry showcased the strange times we were navigating as I shared some “Beacons of Hope,” emerging in those unsettling days. This included my decision earlier that week to publish my Pastoral Letter, Reflections on Five Years — Continuing the Mission in The Anchor. It was my prayer then to help us look back while also taking time to consider our future. I saw this as an opportunity for us to be renewed in hope for life beyond our current difficult situation.
Following publication, I spent many subsequent Building Faith blogs to share reflections from the various sections of my Pastoral Letter — focused on where we have come over the first five years as Bishop of Fall River and sharing thoughts on how I would like to build on those foundations. We have stayed the course in the last three years, and while the pandemic has delayed some of the proposed ways forward, I am delighted at how much we have accomplished. The future grows brighter, and I still believe our finest hours are yet to come.
Opening of the Synod
In October 2021, I opened the diocesan phase of the Synod —For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission—in the Fall River Diocese in the context of Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. A synod indicates the way that the members of the Church—clergy and lay—travel toward communion with Christ together. A process of listening to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and to each other to fully participate in the mission of the Church.
This special votive Mass of the Holy Spirit sought the guidance and inspiration of the Spirit for a fruitful synodal experience and outcome. As I expressed in my homily over two years ago, I have a dream for our Diocese—to see it renewed and its people centered on Jesus and the Eucharist, with the synodal process as its main character. A united Church with active participants focused on the teachings and Real Presence of Jesus.
We estimate nearly 5,000 individuals participated in our diocesan phase of the Synod. Of the 72 parishes in the diocese, 69 parishes (96%) designated ambassadors for this synodal process, and 54 parishes (75%) submitted final reports to the diocese. The Synod report can be read here: https://www.fallriverdiocese.org/diocese-submits-report-on-findings-for-synod-on-synodality.
As the Synod continues through 2024, I look for our Diocese to continue as well to reset, rekindle, reconnect, restrengthen, revitalize, and renew our Church and our parishes. The synodal process is a time for us to walk together as a listening Church, a time for every Catholic across the world to take responsibility for where the Church is going. The opening Mass was the perfect start to our coming together, calling upon the Holy Spirit, and beginning this incredible journey together. May God bless our Diocese, this process, and the fruits that will come from it.
As a Vocationist Father, with its main charism as “identifying and fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life, especially among the less privileged,” I take great delight in celebrating our Diocesan ordinations — whether to the diaconate or priesthood. I have had the pleasure of sharing the last four years of ordinations with you here, an extraordinary blessing during those that occurred during the pandemic years. Highlighting these special moments in my May and June blogs for the four years, I pray it encourages other men to discern a vocation in the Church. Please continue to pray for vocations, especially to the priesthood.
Comforted By Your Kindness
One of the more difficult blogs to share came just this past year with the passing of my beloved mother, Josefa. She passed on Saturday, July 8, 2023, in her home in Brazil at the age of 92. She lived a long and beautiful life; she raised 13 children and saw her family grow to 39 grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren, 12 great-great-grandchildren, and one great-great-great-grandchild, to a total of 101 descendants.
Although filled with sadness and sorrow with her loss; my solace comes from the hope of our Christian belief in eternal life. Your outpouring of kindness with the many cards, condolences, and Masses was overwhelming and will never be forgotten. She was a person of great faith, and her memory will be treasured as a person who lived her life dedicated to God and family. Resharing the many images from my annual trip home to Brazil in my tribute blog was a great source of comfort and a special way to honor my mother’s memory.
Years to Come
As I mentioned earlier, the blog is evolving. Yes, there still will be weeks when I share in the blog some of the many activities, celebrations, and responsibilities that come with being Bishop — Confirmations, Graduations, USCCB meetings and conferences, and special Liturgies (such as the annual Chrism Mass). Along with this, I also want to offer content that is inspirational, catechetical, and introspective. My hope is that all of this will be enriching and helpful as we continue to build our faith and strengthen our Diocesan sense of community.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop da Cunha