By Dave Jolivet

FALL RIVER ­— On April 12 at the annual Chrism Mass held each Holy Week, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V. acknowledged 11 priests of the diocese celebrating significant anniversaries in their ministries. He included himself among the 11, since he was ordained to the priesthood 40 years ago on March 27.

Dozens of priests and hundreds of area faithful attended the service at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River. During the Mass, priests in attendance renewed their commitment to priestly service.

In his homily, directed to his brother priests, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., referenced the book by Sister Helen Prejean, “Dead Man Walking,” about the nun’s relationship with a death row prisoner, Patrick Sonnier, about to die. The bishop mentioned how Sister Prejean told the inmate after he was lethally injected and waiting to die, to watch her face. That way the last thing he would see would be the face of someone who loves him. “‘I’ll be the face of love for you,’ she told him. He does this and dies in love rather than in bitterness,” the bishop relayed.

“In a world filled with so much pain and sorrow, can people who are suffering look to us and see the face of someone who loves them?,” the bishop asked the priests. “Do our people, our parishioners see in us, their priest and their pastor, someone who is there for them, to pray with them and for them, to hold their hand, to console them in their difficult times? That is our mission, my brothers. Like Sister Helen, we need to be able to say, ‘In your sickness, in your sadness, in your loneliness, in your suffering, or even if you are facing bitterness and anger, watch my face and there you will see the face of someone who loves you.’ 

“That is our mission, that is what the Lord is asking of us. As we heard in the readings today, ‘The Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, … to comfort all who mourn. To give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, you yourselves shall be named priests of the Lord, ministers of our God shall you be called’ (Is 61:1-6).

“This is a consoling message and, at the same time, an awesome responsibility. This is our call, our vocation and the mission entrusted to us: To bring healing, consolation and hope to those who are suffering.

“We do this in various and diverse ways. Through our preaching, through the celebration of the Sacraments, and though our presence.

“And because we are able to touch the lives of so many people by bringing God’s consoling and healing presence to their lives, we can say with the psalmist: ‘Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.’ 

“We need to tell the people we serve: ‘Hold my hand and resist bitterness. Forgive, let go, be at peace.’ Thus, anyone of us who visits a dying person, regardless of how inadequate and stuttering our actual words may be, we can anoint that person, just as a priest does during the Sacrament of the Sick.

“It is good to offer prayers for those who are suffering, but it is even more important and more meaningful to be there, to be present, so that they can look into our eyes, gaze upon our face and know they are not alone, know that they are loved. We don’t have to wait until they die to tell them they are loved; they need to hear this before they die.”

Also in the context of the Mass, Bishop da Cunha blessed the sacred oils that will be used in the coming Liturgical year. Prior to the sharing of the Eucharistic Body of Christ, the bishop blessed the oil of the sick. Following the Lord’s Supper, the bishop blessed the oil of catechumens used at Baptisms and during the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults. Finally, he consecrated the chrism used at Confirmations and at the ordinations of priests and bishops and in the dedication of churches and altars.

“Today we are blessing and consecrating the three oils used for anointing,” the bishop said in his homily. “Anointing those preparing for Baptism, anointing those who receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit during the Sacrament of Confirmation, anointing the hands of priests, the head of Bishops and the consecration of altars. And anointing those in preparation for death and seeking healing.

“We forget sometimes that the power of healing comes not only with the anointing with oil, but it comes also with the ‘anointing’ of presence, of a gentle touch, of a friendly word, of a contagious smile.” 

Recognized along with the bishop for major priestly milestones, all celebrating more than one-half century of service, were, at 60 years: Msgrs. Ronald A. Tosti and Barry Wall, and Father Philip A. Davignon. Recognized for 50 years of service were: Msgr. Daniel F. Hoye and Fathers George C. Bellenoit, Marcel H. Bouchard, Richard Furlong, Timothy J. Goldrick, Michael Nagle and Gastão Oliveira.

The Anchor reached out to several jubilarians for some thoughts on such a wonderful journey of faith. Msgr. Wall shared, “Anniversaries allow us to pause and to give thanks to God for so many gifts, for a loving family, loyal priest friends, and for the encouragement of the many faith-filled people encountered in parish ministry over the years. Ordained shortly before the Second Vatican Council convened I have been blessed to serve this local Church under five of our eight bishops in extraordinary times.” 

“It is hard to believe 50 years have gone by since my ordination,” Msgr. Hoye told The Anchor. “I have great memories of the parishes I have served and the years spent in various national assignments.

“I am glad to say my years have been happy ones. I pray that other young persons will be open to giving their lives over to the Lord.” 

Father Bouchard said that the greatest joy of his priesthood is celebrating the Sacraments. He added, “My first thoughts lead to gratitude: Appreciation for all the people with whom I have been called to serve, to whom I have been sent to serve, and who have served me. Holding all his together is the Lord’s mandate to serve as He has.

“I am unworthy, but the Lord equips those whom He calls to do the work that is His — serving, sending forth, meeting needs, challenging, and reconciling.

“All along I have felt the support of God’s holy people keeping me in their prayers. All along I have been encouraged by the example of good, loving, hard-working priests — most from our own diocese and from religious communities serving here.”

Like his brother priests, Father Bellenoit marvels at how quickly the last 50 years have passed. “Fifty years, where have they gone? It seems like just yesterday that I began priestly ministry.

“As I reflect on those years, I am extremely grateful for all the people whom I have had the opportunity to minister with and to over the years. 

“Jesus talks about having come not to be served but to serve. This statement has guided me over the last 50 years. Whether in parish ministry, hospital ministry, school ministry, or in administration, serving God’s people a diet of God’s love, mercy, and compassion has been my motivation. With His help I look forward to continuing to serve them in the days ahead.”

The bishop concluded his homily encouraging his brother priests, “We have to recognize the tension we face and this is not easy. We are pulled in one direction by our human condition and sinful tendency and at the same time are called, urged, attracted, committed to the sublime, the pure, and the holiness. We constantly feel this tension. Or as the story goes: There are two wolves fighting inside each of us. One is a peaceful, gentle and loving wolf. The other is a violent, brutal, arrogant, selfish wolf. And the question is: Who wins the fight? The one we feed.”