By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor
FALL RIVER, Mass. — At noon, Rome time, on July 3, 6 a.m. eastern time, the Vatican announced that Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., will become the next Bishop of Fall River, taking over the reins from Bishop George W. Coleman, who, following Canon Law, submitted his request for retirement at age 75 this past February.
Bishop da Cunha, the first Brazilian-born priest to be made a bishop in the U.S. was an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.
Bishop Coleman announced the news in a letter to his brother diocesan priests that morning (see page 10), and the formal announcement came at an 11 a.m. press conference in Fall River at the diocesan Office of Communications.
Bishop Coleman was first to address the assembled media, thanking them for their presence and explaining Canon Law regarding the resignation of a bishop upon reaching the retirement age of 75.
“During the past four months [since his submitting his resignation to Pope Francis] of the process for naming a new bishop has taken place under the sure guidance of the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
“This morning, I express my gratitude to the Lord Who continues to guide His Church, to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and to Archbishop Vigano for providing a new pastor for our local Church of Fall River.”
Bishop Coleman next turned his attention to his guest and successor, Bishop da Cunha. “Bishop da Cunha, the Diocese of Fall River consists of thousands of God’s people — priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and faithful — who live the life of faith and seek to serve the Church.”
Bishop Coleman also took a moment to direct comments to the faithful of the Diocese of Fall River, whom he’s shepherded for the last 11 years. “On a personal note, I express my gratitude to the clergy and people of the diocese for their prayerful support over the years and will have an opportunity to do so at greater length at a Mass next month [at St. Mary’s Cathedral on August 26].
“Bishop da Cunha, our diocese, founded 110 years ago, is rich in history and in its traditions. Welcome to the Diocese of Fall River; welcome to your new home.”
Following an embrace at the podium, Bishop da Cunha addressed the diocese for the first time.
“First of all, I want to thank God for calling me to serve in a new position here in Fall River. I see this new mission as a gift from the Lord and an opportunity to exercise the ministry to which He has called me. I also wish to express my sincere thanks to our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, for his confidence in entrusting now to me the pastoral care of this local Church, the Diocese of Fall River, my new home. I see this as a gift from God, an opportunity to use the gifts God graciously gave me to serve the faithful people of this diocese.”
Bishop da Cunha expressed his appreciation to Bishop Coleman for his warm welcome and brotherly love, and “for all the good work he has done here among God’s people during his whole life, and especially during the last 11 years as the shepherd of this local Church.”
The new Fall River bishop went on to say that he wishes to greet all his brother priests in the diocese and that he is eager to know them and work with them for “the Kingdom of God and the service of God’s people.”
He extended greetings to the deacons, men and women of consecrated life and the seminarians, and all the people of the diocese. In addition he addressed the Chancery staff with whom he spend much time in the future and he is “looking forward to coming to know them and work closely with them.” He continued by saying he is counting on their talents and expertise and looks forward to learning from them.
Bishop da Cunha, who speaks Portuguese and Spanish, continued: “I know I have so much to learn from all who live, work and minister to God’s people in the Diocese of Fall River. I have to learn the geography and the history of the diocese. There is much to learn about the ethnic groups that make up the faithful of the diocese, their faith, their traditions and learn from them how to celebrate all this with them. I’m willing to learn from them and to celebrate our faith together.
“I wish to let all the people of this diocese know that I come among them as a brother among brothers and sisters, with my sincere commitment to give my very best to build up the Church, to live and practice our faith together. I hope they know that you can count on me, and I am counting on their prayers, their faith, their support, gifts, talents and generosity.”
In conclusion, Bishop da Cunha again thanked the Lord for the opportunity to serve the faithful of the Diocese of Fall River once he is installed at St. Mary’s Cathedral on September 24. “I could never, in my wildest dreams, imagine myself standing here as the future bishop of this diocese. Only God’s plan, and God’s will, could make it possible. And so, I am convinced that this is all God’s plan and God’s doing. All the more reason to be glad and rejoice, to celebrate and give thanks to God for His care and fidelity to all of us. Thank you.”
Following the opening remarks, Bishop da Cunha fielded questions from a number of local media outlets on hand for the press conference. He told them that he has much to learn about the people and the area, and that it will take time for this to happen.
When asked who he is rooting for in the World Cup matches, he responded, “Who do you think? Brazil! But may the best team win.”
In a statement released by Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., the archbishop joked about Bishop da Cunha, “But for those of you who play ‘football’ (soccer), I must give you fair warning: He may not be Neymar, but watch out for his elbows!”
During his whirlwind few hours in Fall River on July 3, Bishop da Cunha, along with Bishop Coleman, met with the staffs of the Tribunal, The Anchor and the Chancery.
Later that day, before boarding a train to take him from Providence, R.I. back to Newark, Bishop da Cunha was welcomed to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River by the rector, Father John C. Ozug. Bishop da Cunha was shown the crypts where former Fall River bishops are laid to rest, and the upper cathedral, at which, on September 24, he will be formally installed as the eighth Bishop of Fall River.
A video of Bishop Coleman’s and Bishop da Cunha’s opening remarks can be seen here.