Diocesan faithful express joy, optimism over newly-installed bishop

By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

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WESTPORT, Mass. — Echoing the sentiments of inclusion and a call to welcome people back to the Church that Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., highlighted in the homily during his Mass of Installation earlier in the day, UMass Dartmouth student Jillian McHenry said his appointment as the eighth bishop of the Fall River Diocese was “one of several things that brought me back and helped me come back to Church.”

Admitting she had stopped going to church after high school, the college junior and member of the UMass Dartmouth Catholic Campus Ministry beamed with joy at meeting the newly-installed bishop during a reception in his honor at White’s of Westport following the installation ceremony on September 24.

She wanted to memorialize the moment by taking a “selfie” with the bishop, who graciously obliged her.

“I heard a lot of good things about him,” McHenry told The Anchor. “He’s very nice and down-to-earth and I had heard that he really wants to bring the youth back to the Church and that’s sort of what inspired me to go back.”

McHenry and hundreds of other lay people — along with priests, deacons and religious — from across the diocese attended the post-installation reception for Bishop da Cunha to welcome him as their new shepherd.

While for most of those present this was the first encounter with the former Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., their first impressions were overwhelmingly positive and optimistic.

“I think Bishop da Cunha is wonderful,” said Sandra Vigeant, a parishioner of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet, who asked him to sign his photo card that was included with the installation Mass program. “He’s young and full of ambition and I think he’s going to do so much for the Church and the (Catholic) schools in our diocese.”

Matt Gill, a third-year student at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton and a native of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro, expressed similar excitement over meeting the new bishop and his potential future boss.

“He’s just a humble and sincere man and I think he really wants to get know everybody,” Gill said. “You can tell he has a very good pastoral heart.”

Gill and several of his seminarian classmates posed for a group photo with Bishop da Cunha, who was the one-time director of Vocations for his order, the Society of Divine Vocations.

“I know he was the vocation director for the Vocationist Fathers, so one would have high hopes for future (vocations) in our diocese,” Gill said.

In addition to faithful from the Fall River Diocese, there was also a sizeable contingent of priests and parishioners present from the Newark Archdiocese, where Bishop da Cunha had served for more than 30 years.

A group of long-time friends from St. Michael’s Parish in Newark, where Bishop da Cunha was ordained and first assigned in 1982, praised their former pastor.

“We are losing a good man, but you are gaining a good man,” said Mario Montoya, a parishioner of St. Michael’s. “We’re good friends and when he told me the news that Pope Francis was appointing him here, he said: ‘I have to go where God calls me.’ But he’ll always be in our hearts and we’ll come to visit him.”

Montoya and his fellow parishioners presented Bishop da Cunha with several gifts and tokens of their affection.

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Even before the day-long celebration began, Bishop da Cunha’s arrival was greeted with joyful songs in Spanish — one of the four languages he speaks — just outside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River.

A group of about 25 people from the Neocatechumenal Way, accompanied by two seminarians on guitars, provided the soundtrack as Bishop da Cunha processed into his new cathedral.

“We wanted to welcome him,” said Sean Gibney from Brockton, one of the volunteers with the Neocatechumenal Way. “We imagined that a bishop coming here from Newark, N.J. and being in a new city with new people, it might be nice to say ‘welcome.’”

Indeed, the large buoyant group was a stark contrast to the three advocates for clergy sex abuse victims who took the opportunity to protest Bishop da Cunha’s installation on the opposite corner.

For Gibney, who described his group’s mission as helping people to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and to help evangelize “those who have drifted from the Church,” Bishop da Cunha’s installation is certainly in line with Pope Francis’ own thinking about welcoming people back into the fold.

McHenry, who said she remained active at St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth with her family until drifting away from the Church, agreed they have been instrumental in calling people back home.

“Between (Bishop da Cunha) and Pope Francis, I think they’ve made (the Church) a lot more welcoming and they have brought it down to our level,” she said.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts