This week, I have been in Baltimore, Maryland, for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual General Assembly. On Saturday and Sunday, I participated in two committee meetings. I am a member of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers and Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America.
As you are aware, this is a very difficult time for migrants and refugees. We’ve witnessed their struggles and challenges right here in our own Diocese. The subcommittee met to discern what needs to be done and how the Church can play an active role in assisting to ease their struggles.
The Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America came together to discuss how to distribute funds to the many pastoral projects and needs in Latin America, particularly of the people in Haiti, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. These areas are of special concern due to the ongoing (and in some cases increasing) violence, poverty, oppression, and unstable government structures. In Nicaragua, Church resources are being confiscated, and those who would most benefit from those monies are neglected.
Monday was mostly a day of prayer and reflection for the bishops; one of the most important elements of our coming together in person each year. The reflection from Archbishop Emeritus of Seattle, Archbishop Peter Sartain, focused on Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini, whose feast day we celebrated that day. He focused on her work with the Italian immigrants. We reflected and were encouraged by her dedication, energy, and courage. Her mission to build schools and hospitals, her wisdom and faith, serve as an excellent example of how to leave this world a better place. That evening, we previewed a new movie on the life of Saint Francis Cabrini called Cabrini. It will be released in March 2024 in theaters across the country and is a beautiful portrait of her life.
Tuesday began with remarks by Cardinal Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio, which you may read here. The rest of the week included a very full agenda; videos of all the public meetings are available on YouTube here. One of the elements I enjoyed was the inclusion of more small group discussions on various topics. This offered us more opportunities to connect, contemplate, and express our thoughts on discussion items.
Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens from Minnesota gave an update on the National Eucharistic Revival and the National Eucharistic Congress (which will take place in Indianapolis in July of 2024). More on that in the new year, including the incredible planned Eucharistic pilgrimage that will begin from four locations in the US and converge in Indianapolis at the start of the Congress.
In an effort to raise awareness on this important issue, remove the stigma of mental illness and mental health challenges, and advocate that those who struggle receive help, Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, reported on the launching of the National Catholic Mental Health Campaign. It was affirming to hear that much of what is recommended is already in place here in our Diocese. As we know, this is a huge crisis that is affecting so many people in our country and in the whole world. We need to embrace and help families to address the situation, to make sure everybody who’s facing these challenges or has family members suffering from mental health challenges has the support they need. It was shared that the number one cause of death among young people is currently suicide — that is heartbreaking. We pray that bringing awareness and accompanying individuals and families will have a positive impact.
Also on the agenda was the subject of Catholic schools. We recognize that all Dioceses are facing the same issue — how do we save Catholic schools in our country? There is a consensus among the bishops that we need to keep our efforts in this area at the forefront of our mission for the church going forward. It is imperative we do all we can to ensure there are good Catholic schools for the well-being of our children and our Church.
FACE Fall Dinner
Last Thursday, we gathered for the 29th annual FACE Fall Scholarship Dinner. It was wonderful to join with some 350 persons, many representing area businesses and organizations, along with members of our schools and parishes, to support the incredible mission of Catholic education. FACE stands for the Foundation to Advance Catholic Education, and proceeds from the Fall Dinner support need-based scholarships for students attending Catholic schools in the Diocese. FACE is the primary source of financial assistance for our diocesan Catholic school students. Statistics compiled for the dinner convey an impressive accomplishment: FACE has distributed over $25 million to over 20,000 students since 1998!
The FACE Fall Dinner is always an enjoyable evening with socializing, a delicious meal, and a program that celebrates Catholic education. This year was no exception. Logan Reis, a senior at Bishop Stang High School, shared his journey through Catholic education as well as his gratitude for the support of FACE in making it possible. With warmth and humor, our featured speaker, Dr. Ernie Collamati, a professor of Religious Studies at Regis College, gave insight and witness on the value a Catholic education brings not only to students but also to society as a whole. Also, it was my pleasure during the dinner to present Kathleen St. Laurent with the Timothy J. Cotter Friend of Catholic Education Award.
After a career change from nursing to Catholic secondary education, she served our schools for over 32 years as a science teacher, then department chairperson, vice principal, principal, and finally, president/principal. We are grateful for the dedication, professionalism, and service of this faith-filled champion of Catholic education.
In my closing remarks, I described Catholic education as an incredible investment in our future. Yes, it makes a major difference in the lives of our young people. But it doesn’t stop there: as we transform our young people, we also transform the world in which we all live. A good education and faith in God can make a difference and help make this world a more peaceful place for all of us. I hope all will join in the mission of Catholic education and help make the difference.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop da Cunha