Last week, after a few days in Florida celebrating various Masses with the Brazilian community, I traveled to Louisville, KY, to participate in the June Plenary Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It was a busy few days; today’s blog will offer a quick recap of the meetings I attended and some of the important decisions made by the bishops during the Assembly.

Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America

My first order of business, when I arrived on Sunday night, involved my work on the Church in Latin America subcommittee, primarily our work in approving the distribution of 2.5 million dollars in funding to nearly 200 pastoral projects throughout Latin America. These funds come from the Annual Collection for Latin America, which benefits and provides support for churches and pastoral projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The subcommittee gave special attention to several areas, including Haiti, Nicaragua, and Brazil, with the remainder of the funds approved for the usual projects. We hope to assist in the horrible, desperate situation occurring in Haiti, where many have no security. In Nicaragua, the government is persecuting the Church, often confiscating any aid coming from outside the country. Lastly, in May, Brazil experienced unprecedented flooding; entire cities and towns were destroyed, and many of the residents are still suffering. 

Photo Source: USCCB Facebook

Spiritual Recharging

The Spring 2024 Plenary Assembly opens with a private morning of reflection, prayer, confession, and Mass for the Bishops; it is an important opportunity for spiritual preparation, as well as discussion and fellowship. This opening session also provides the bishops the opportunity to attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God’s mercy is a tremendous gift, one all Catholics need to avail themselves of as they strive to grow in faith—even bishops.

YouTube Link to Plenary Assembly Playlist of Sessions

Important Documents Approved

Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry was developed by the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church/Subcommittee on Native American Affairs of the USCCB.

In serving Native communities in their respective dioceses, bishops often come to realize
the importance of listening to the Elders and other Catholic Native leaders and recognizing the
wisdom of the Holy Spirit speaking through them. These leaders, through example, have taught
bishops and priests, and other ministers serving among them, the importance of both listening
and patience. In keeping with this synodal spirit, on March 26 and 27, 2019, a listening session
for bishops and Native leaders was held in Phoenix, Arizona. From this session was born a
renewed commitment to listen more deeply, to reflect, and to put into motion the actions and
recommendations emerging from these dialogues.

“Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise” Preface

The full text of Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry is currently posted here, and the formatted version will be posted to the USCCB’s website on the page of the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs shortly:

Additionally, Listen, Teach, Send: A National Pastoral Framework for Ministries with Youth and with Young Adults was also approved. The framework is outlined below.

  • Part One: Listening (Jesus) asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” (Lk 24:17) • Encountering Young People • Being Fully Present • Understanding Across Generations • Healing Brokenness
  • Part Two: Teaching Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, (Jesus) interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. (Lk 24:27) • Proclaiming Jesus Christ • An Evangelizing Catechesis • Sharing the Truth in Love • Renewing Sacramental Life 
  • Part Three: Sending They set out at once and returned to Jerusalem. (Lk 24:33) • Bold Evangelizing Witnesses • With Charity and Justice • Vocational Discernment • Faithful Protagonists Today

The approved version of this document can be found here.

Learn more here:

Good Work of Diocese Highlighted

Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minn., leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, gave an update on the National Catholic Mental Health Campaign. The USCCB’s mental health campaign was launched in October 2023 under Bishop Barron and Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. The Catholic Review shared a thorough recap of the update; you can read that article here.

Click Here to Learn More

One of the initiatives discussed was the new Hope Chat Service Hotline —a free, confidential, private, and available 24/7 through Catholic Charities. “Hope is a FREE chat service providing encouragement and strategies on how to manage everyday stress and anxiety using Chatbot technology.” Hope does not diagnose or replace trained professionals; it “offers proven technology to offer custom mental health help when and where you need it. She is used by over 13 million users worldwide.” I was so very proud to see the Diocese of Fall River among the twelve dioceses currently offering this invaluable hotline.

Migration and the Religious Worker Visa

Finally, I would like to share one very critical issue currently facing the Church in the United States. In March 2023, the Department of State announced changes to the visa bulletin that made it harder for foreign-born religious workers to get permanent residency on time and reduced the number of permanent residencies available to religious workers. This backlog, made only more dire by the pandemic, means many of our foreign-born priests, even those incardinated here, are forced to leave the country with an uncertainty of when, or if, they will be able to return to resume their ministerial work. During the Assembly discussion, I shared a concern I had regarding the status of green card applications for those having to leave to renew their Religious Worker (R1) visas.

My remarks begin at the 2:53 timestamp on the Day Two Livestream video, available here.

This is a critical issue, and I was pleased with the good presentation and discussion during this Assembly. I am afraid it will only get worse before we see any improvement; at present, we are experiencing this in St. Mary’s in Fairhaven and St. Anthony’s in New Bedford, both parishes with priests waiting to have their R1 visas approved. Let us all hold this situation in prayer, trusting in the Lord’s goodness to bring a quick resolution so that we may be able to serve His faithful here and across the country. 

Yours in Christ, 
Bishop da Cunha

The Most Reverend Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., D.D.
The Most Reverend Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., D.D.
The Bishop of Fall River