Bishop celebrates 40th Portuguese Pilgrimage Day at La Salette Shrine

By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

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ATTLEBORO, Mass. — An estimated 1,400 pilgrims filled the outdoor chapel at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro on September 28 to celebrate not only the 40th anniversary of the shrine’s annual Portuguese Pilgrimage Day, but also to catch a glimpse of newly-installed Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., who officially became the eighth bishop of the Fall River Diocese just days earlier.

Born in Nova Fatima, Bahia, Brazil and fluent in several languages, Bishop da Cunha’s native vernacular is Portuguese, so it was appropriate that one of his first public appearances was a celebration among one of the most predominant ethnic groups in the diocese at its largest shrine.

“We are so blessed to have Bishop da Cunha here just a few days after his installation,” Father Cyriac Mattathilanickal, M.S., director at La Salette Shrine, told The Anchor. “I was totally surprised when he responded to our invitation saying he would be happy to come and join our celebration. I thought he would want more time to settle in, but he was so gracious to accept the invitation and it means a lot to the Portuguese community because this is our 40th anniversary of having the pilgrimage here at the shrine and with the bishop coming, it makes for an extra special celebration.”

According to Father Manuel C. Pereira, M.S., Portuguese Ministries Coordinator for La Salette Shrine and the organizer of the annual Portuguese Pilgrimage Day for the past 19 years, having the new bishop as the principal celebrant certainly elevated an already-special occasion.

“I certainly had every intention to invite him or our previous bishop, Bishop George W. Coleman, for this occasion,” Father Pereira said. “But I was wondering if Bishop da Cunha would accept because he was just installed a few days before. But it was so nice of him and we were thrilled to have him here.”

The day-long celebration began with an English Mass at noon in the main chapel, while Portuguese snacks such as malassadas and biscoitos were served in the shrine cafeteria. Confessions were available throughout the day.

A procession from the main chapel to the outdoor chapel area behind a statue of Our Lady of La Salette began at 1:30 p.m., where the gathered pilgrims prayed the Rosary in Portuguese before the 3 p.m. Mass.

As the main celebrant of the outdoor Mass that was concelebrated by priests from the dioceses of Fall River and Providence, R.I., Bishop da Cunha spoke only Portuguese, including his entire homily, which stressed the importance of a devotion to our Blessed Mother and how we are all called to transmit the faith onto future generations.

Noting how the youth today are greatly influenced by modern technology — telecommunication, the Internet, TV and social media — he said they sometimes forget the values that have been handed down from generation to generation by their parents and grandparents.

“Today it is sometimes more difficult to (transmit the faith),” Bishop da Cunha said. “When we were small perhaps we prayed more with the family. There weren’t as many televisions, the Internet, smartphones, email, texting, Facebook and Twitter, right? Today the youth are so involved in this that they sometimes forget to pray, to turn to God, to recognize the importance and the value of our faith.”

And Bishop da Cunha said we need only to look to Our Lady for an example of how to be “apostles for the transformation of the world.”

“We must always remember that the mission of Mary is our mission; that the mission of Mary is the mission of the Church, and the mission of us all,” he said. “It is not only mine as bishop, or of the priests who are here with us, but also all of us — in your proper way, in your own work, in your own home, in your family, in your parish, in your community. We are all responsible, because the bishops alone, or the priests alone, cannot get people who don’t maybe come to church on Sundays, who could be your relatives, or your friends, or your neighbors, or your coworkers.”

By emulating Mary, who accepted and embraced God’s will for her, Bishop da Cunha said that we, too, can help bring Jesus to the whole world.

“Because as God had a plan for the Blessed Mother, He has a plan for each one of us, and each one should discover and carry out the realization of this plan of God in his or her own life,” he said.

“(Bishop da Cunha’s) words and his message were wonderful,” Father Pereira said. “He has a humble presence about him and he received a lot of applause from the people who were here.”

After Mass, while processing from the outdoor chapel to the shrine’s visitor’s center, Bishop da Cunha stopped several times along the way to shake hands with the faithful, greet some of the pilgrims, and offer them his blessings.

“I’ve been impressed with Bishop da Cunha’s approachability,” Father Mattathilanickal said. “He’s down-to-earth and outgoing and I think his being here will help people to relate more with the local shepherd of the Church.”

After Mass, Bishop da Cunha dined with the guest priests and La Salette Missionaries who staff the shrine.

“He told me this was only the second Mass he celebrated after becoming bishop of the Fall River Diocese,” Father Pereira said. “For us, it was a blessing for him to do that.”

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