FALL RIVER — This year Ash Wednesday fell in early March less than a week after the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and as the heartbreaking plight of the Ukrainian people was becoming evident.
As a way for area Catholics to respond, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., authorized that the Ash Wednesday collection be designated “to help the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.” To date, that collection has raised a total $256,021 from parishes across the Diocese of Fall River with additional returns still being received.
“Once again the faithful women and men of the Diocese of Fall River have shown their characteristic generosity in responding to the suffering of others,” said Bishop da Cunha.
“I think we have all been moved both to prayer and a desire to do something after learning about and seeing through the news the utter destruction in Ukraine, the indiscriminate loss of life, the separation and displacements of families, and the unimaginable suffering.”
The Diocese of Fall River is forwarding proceeds from the collection to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, which, through its long-standing relationship with bishops in Central and Eastern Europe, is able to assist the Church in that region in its response and outreach to those affected and displaced by the violence.
Officials in the Fall River diocesan finance office said that many parishes reported continuing to receive contributions to the collection for Ukraine well after Ash Wednesday throughout the rest of March and right into April. In fact, some parishes were still remitting Ukrainian collection returns as of last week.
Father Jeffrey Cabral, who is pastor at Santo Christo Parish in Fall River, explained he had been accepting donations in the weeks following Ash Wednesday.
“Through Facebook posts, parish announcements, homilies and intentions during the Mass, and obviously through the television news, parishioners became profoundly more aware of the desperate need of the Ukrainian refugees, much like the Holy Family who once had to flee to Egypt,” he said.
Sharing that the response to the Ukrainian collection at Santo Christo far exceeded that of other special collections, Father Cabral said he is “truly humbled by the great generosity of his parishioners.”
In Falmouth, the St. Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family Parish decided to augment the Ash Wednesday collection with proceeds from a chowder-to-go lunch and a special collection on Holy Thursday both earmarked specifically for relief efforts of the Knights of Columbus in Poland and Ukraine.
The pastor of St. Joseph’s, Monsignor Stephen J. Avila, explained, “To see families displaced, living in fear, losing homes and family members has touched many of our hearts and souls.”
Most dioceses in the U.S. hold the annual national collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe to help support the overall rebuilding of the Church in that region since the collapse of communism. In the Diocese of Fall River that collection is historically taken up on Good Friday. This year, however, in response to the urgency in Ukraine and collection’s focus on providing assistance there, Bishop da Cunha moved it up to Ash Wednesday.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website explains that the collection is an opportunity for Catholics in the U.S. to show their solidarity with their sisters and brothers in Ukraine.
In a February 28th letter to his brother bishops, the USCCB chairman of the Subcommittee on the Church in Central and Eastern Europe wrote that contributions to the collection “will continue to provide emergency funds that are already helping the victims of this war with food and water, hygiene supplies, support, and other necessary humanitarian services.”