On February 18 the diocese bade farewell to Father José António Ferreira dos Santos. On page five of this edition of The Anchor you can read his life story.
Father Santos was part of proud tradition in the Diocese of Fall River of priests arriving from the native lands of our parishioners to come and serve them here. Some of the priests (there were more than two dozen present, together with Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., and several deacons, as well as a church full of laity) who concelebrated his funeral were also immigrants from Portugal, like Father Santos.
Bishop da Cunha reminded everyone at the end of Mass of how Father Santos crossed the Atlantic to come and serve here and now he is making an even more important crossing aided by our prayers.
The preacher of the funeral Mass, Father Henry Arruda, also was an immigrant from Portugal and had lived with Father Santos at the Cardinal Medeiros Residence for Retired Priests in Fall River (Humberto Cardinal Medeiros also was a priest of the Fall River Diocese who was Portuguese-born).
Father Arruda, at the beginning of his homily, invited “all here present, who were, in some way or another, touched by Father Santos’ loving and generous priestly ministry, to please stand and remain standing.” Almost everyone in the church stood up.
Referring to the first reading at the funeral (Is 25: 6a, 7-9), the homilist noted, “Isaiah the prophet uses prophetic language, lifting up the vision of a weary people in their search to build the Kingdom of God. In place of burdens and veils that cover and blind people, in place of fear of death, tears and reproaches, Isaiah proclaims God’s Salvation for the people, ‘This is the Lord to Whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that He has saved us.’”
What Father Arruda was referring to was the difficulties that all people experience, but especially in Father Santos’ ministry he was dealing with the specific challenges that immigrants face. The people who Father Santos served most of the time were people who had left Portugal looking for a better life (as well as their children and grandchildren, who were born here). Most had left the country when it was still a dictatorship with a poor educational system. They came in search of “the American dream,” and yet Southeastern Massachusetts in the early 1970s, when Father Santos arrived, was not going through a renaissance, but rather a decline. Nonetheless, Father Santos, like Isaiah, was called upon by God to help the people remove the veil from their eyes which blocked them from seeing the presence of the Lord in their midst.
Father Arruda noted that “This prophetic role,” about which Isaiah wrote, “belongs in a special way to the priests of Jesus Christ, and Father José was one of those prophets throughout his almost 64 years of priestly ministry.”
From Catholic school or Religious Education, we know that prophets are not Nostradamus-like figures telling us what the future will bring, but rather people who show us what the present actually is — a time of encounter with our God. Father Arruda reminded the congregation of how Father Santos acted as a prophet, thanks to his Baptism and his ordination. “Every one of us here at one time or another has brought to him our difficulties and burdens, not just to seek some immediate guidance, but to help us look beyond our Job-like despairs, to more peaceful and joyous days, when tears are wiped away from our faces and our spirits are buoyed up with God’s compassion and mercy. Father José assured us of the love, the compassion, and the mercy of Jesus Christ, and helped us leave behind sorrows and disappointments, and discover the presence of Jesus walking at our side every step of our journey.”
All priests are called to do this — as are all baptized Christians, since after we are baptized, the priest or deacon anoints us with Holy Chrism and prays, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of His Body, sharing everlasting life.”
Our Divine call to be prophets in our world is not given to us just so that we can console people. Our prophetic witness is also a call for those observing us to respond to God’s invitation to them to move from observing to acting (with the understanding that this action always comes as a fruit of prayer). Preaching in Portuguese, Father Arruda reminded his listeners of how Father Santos’ ministry invited people to “use the gifts and talents which the Holy Spirit had abundantly given them.”
“Father José’s precious gift to us was that he pointed us toward God, and called us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, our Way, our Truth, and our Life. May our sharing of Father’s story and life give us hope to continue forward along our journeys to the Kingdom of God,” Father Arruda urged the people.
May we seek to be these prophets of the Kingdom, always guided by the teachings of the Holy Spirit in the Church, so that we, too, can give hope to people in whatever darkness they face. May that Christian hope then move them to action, according to God’s plan for us, so as to make the world one which is full of the light of God’s love.