2021 US Bishops’ Fall General Assembly
This week I am in Baltimore, Maryland, for the General Assembly of US Bishops, also known as the November 2021 Plenary Assembly. It is nice to be back in person again after two years of meeting via Zoom. Connecting with and having the opportunity to engage in conversation with my brother bishops is an important aspect of this gathering that I have greatly missed, although grateful for the online option we have used in the past two years.
This year, however, is still somewhat different with added security, masks always required while indoors, and some other Covid safety protocols still in place. Some of the items on our agenda this week include the Eucharistic revival initiative and approval of a national Eucharistic Congress in 2024; an update of the “Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines”; a statement on the Eucharist: The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church; the proposal to add Saint Teresa of Calcutta on the Proper Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States as an optional memorial on September 5; the Resolution on Diocesan Financial Reporting; new English and Spanish versions of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults; a translation of Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Outside Mass; “National Statutes for the Catechumenate” in English and Spanish; and the USCCB’s 2022 budget, among other topics.
I was pleased to see more time for prayer, reflection, and Adoration included this year. During the course of the Assembly, the Bishops offered all-night Eucharistic Adoration over two evenings, an excellent addition to this Assembly. Each bishop has signed up to be present with the Blessed Sacrament for an hour which covered the Adoration times of 8 pm on Monday to 8 am on Tuesday and again from 6 pm on Tuesday to 8 am on Wednesday. Seeking to be guided by the Holy Spirit, in addition to being present with our Eucharistic Lord, the bishops began the General Assembly on Monday with a half-day in prayer.
Please keep the bishops, all those gathered here with us, and this week’s proceedings in your prayers. You may follow the live public session on the USCCB website here or watch any missed session recordings on the USCCB Assembly playlist on here.
A Listening Church
The Synod is an invitation for every diocese to embark on a path of profound renewal as inspired by the grace of God’s Spirit. The Synod considers the question: How is our “walking together” in synodality realized today in the Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “walking together”? The goal is to ensure the participation of the greatest number possible in order to listen to the living voice of the entire People of God. This goal is not attainable unless we make special efforts to actively reach out to people where they’re, especially those who are often excluded or who are not involved in the life of the Church.
Reaching out will begin in the parishes. We started with our Parish Ambassador Formation Day, providing guidelines for bringing together as many different voices as we can across the Diocese of Fall River. The Synodal Process must be simple, accessible, and welcoming for all; and may look different at each parish or community. The Diocesan Phase of the Synodal Process 2021-2023 is thus an opportunity to listen more deeply to the voice of the Spirit, enhance participation and outreach, improve the quality of dialogue, and discern about further issues. Additionally, it provides a chance to strengthen conversion in attitudes and skills and animate people’s sense of connection between the local, regional, and global Church.
As we move forward with the synodal process here in our Diocese and formulate how the Spirit calls us to listen, I want to share these words from the Vademecum for the Synod on Synodality (Preparatory Document). I believe this speaks to the question of what will happen with the data we collect in the parish, deanery, and diocesan consultation sessions:
In this sense, it is clear that the purpose of this Synod is not to produce more documents. Rather, it is intended to inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission (PD, 32). Thus the objective of this Synodal Process is not only a series of exercises that start and stop, but rather a journey of growing authentically towards the communion and mission that God calls the Church to live out in the third millennium.
Religious Jubilee Celebration
Earlier this month I was able to join with women and men religious from our Diocese for part of their Day of Reflection and Celebration of Jubilees. It is an annual event coordinated by Sister Paulina Hurtado, O.P., who is our diocesan Episcopal Delegate for Religious. The day included a program focused on the psychological and spiritual impact of living through a pandemic. The guest speaker was Emily Cash, a licensed psychologist who directs the Saint Luke Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
Those in attendance represented several religious communities who live and/or minister in the Fall River Diocese. I celebrated Mass for the group and joined them for lunch. This yearly gathering also provides an opportunity for us to recognize those women and men religious who are observing significant anniversaries in religious life. There were 19 jubilarians honored that day, among them two observing 75 years and five others 70 years! All of the honorees represent lives dedicated to ministry and the Church. They are certainly deserving of a celebration along with our abiding gratitude.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop da Cunha