The package

There are few people who do not like to receive gifts. Whenever they come, or for whatever occasion they are presented, they are gratefully received. 

Yearly, I receive a package for Christmas containing a gift from a friend. I know who it is before I open the package, and I usually guess what the gift might be. This does not take away, however, from the enjoyment of the gift or my gratitude to the giver.

It is in this context I would like to suggest, that we have, as a diocese, received a gift. It has been sent to us by Pope Francis. The gift arrives on September 24 when Bishop Edgar da Cunha becomes the eighth Bishop of Fall River. It is then that we will begin to fully appreciate the gift that we have received.

Although the installation of our new bishop is weeks away, we have already gained some insight into what the gift will be. He is a young bishop filled with much energy. He has been a bishop for more than 10 years and has served as vicar general of the Newark Archdiocese. He knows how to be a bishop and how to be a leader.

His biography tells us that he speaks many languages and is, therefore, able to speak in the native language of those in our diocese who hail from Brazil, Spanish-speaking countries, and Portugal. He comes from a religious order whose goal is to foster vocations. It will be his priority to assist us in finding seminarians to carry on the mission of the Church in the future.

In our diocese, you will find many Brazilian-speaking members. While many live on Cape Cod, other enclaves can be found. On the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, there are so many Brazilians that the pastor, Father Michael Nagle, and Deacon Karl Buder, travelled to Brazil last winter. They wanted to be versed in the language and traditions of many of their parishioners.

Immigrants in our diocese will find in Bishop da Cunha an understanding man who himself at one time immigrated to the United States. 

We will come to understand other gifts and talents as the gift is opened for us.

Naturally, we want to welcome and understand our new bishop. Recently, a Facebook posting referred some in the diocese to a YouTube presentation. Entitled “Going to the Chapel,” it showed an interview of a reporter and Bishop da Cunha. The opening shot showed the bishop playing soccer and demonstrating outstanding skill with his fancy foot-work.

One of the retired priests noted how they were going to form a team of retired priests to play soccer and even get uniforms. I stated that while that was good, they had better be careful that this new endeavor did not cause many heart attacks.

The interview with the bishop disclosed a pastoral and caring person — one who loved the Church and wanted to reach out to those who had abandoned the faith, a bishop who wanted to teach.

The final segment of the brief presentation showed the bishop and interviewer in front of the altar of his parish in Newark and concluded with both praying together. Our new bishop is a man of prayer.

But let me note one of the realities that may be underestimated in our appreciation of this gift. Bishop da Cunha is a human being. While we will concentrate on his role as our bishop, as a leader, as the first teacher of the faith in our diocese, as a successor to the Apostles, let us not forget that he is human, with feelings, hopes, and desires.

Having lived with Bishop Daniel Cronin and Bishop Sean O’Malley, I have had the opportunity to see that side of a bishop. We should appreciate that Bishop da Cunha will be leaving a place where he serves now and loves. He will be leaving his family and friends to undertake the challenge of being a bishop in this time and age. The problems he will face did not deter him from saying his yes to our Holy Father when he asked him to be the next Bishop of Fall River. But I imagine there may be some apprehension and anxiety as he undertakes responsibility of a large diocese. 

We do know that God will give him the graces he needs. We do know the Sacrament of Holy Orders will provide him with the graces he needs. We know that the Holy Spirit will guide him in his deliberations. We do know, as our retreat master said, “If God puts you in the place, He will give you the grace.”

As we anticipate the gift of our new bishop; as we unwrap the gift; and as we begin to appreciate its fullness; we should all become a powerhouse of prayer for this man, this gift, this bishop given to us. We must pray that he listens to many, but that he is able to discern the best way to lead. We ought to pray for Bishop da Cunha’s good health and happiness as he ministers among us.

Perhaps we can recite this prayer daily for our new bishop: 

“O God, Eternal Shepherd of the faithful, Who tend Your Church in countless ways and rule over her in love, grant, we pray, that Edgar, Your servant, whom You have set over Your people, may preside in the place of Christ over the flock Whose Shepherd He is, and be faithful as a teacher of doctrine, a priest of Sacred worship and as one who serves them by governing. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.”

Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts