Four close encounters of the Spiritual kind


During Pope Francis’ recent six-day visit to the United States, many faithful from the Diocese of Fall River made the journey to one of three locations the Holy Father visited: Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Philadelphia, Pa. Four of those individuals shared their experiences with The Anchor — Bishop of Fall River Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.; Bishop Emeritus George W. Coleman, former Bishop of Fall River; Father Thomas C. Lopes, a retired diocesan priest; and Deacon Ralph Guerra of St. Margaret’s Parish in Buzzards Bay. Bishop Coleman shared his thoughts in an interview with The Anchor; the others submitted their stories.

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By Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.
Bishop of Fall River

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Even though it was not the first time that I met Pope Francis, being with him and the other bishops of the United States last Wednesday in Washington, D.C., was a unique and special experience. We prayed together at St. Matthew’s Cathedral where he delivered a beautiful message of support and encouragement to all the bishops present.

He told us that he would like to embrace all the local Churches entrusted to our pastoral responsibility. He asked us to share his affection and Spiritual closeness with the people of God throughout the country.

He reminded us that “Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God, know that the pope is at your side, the pope supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace, still able to support and encourage.”

In the areas of Catholic education and service to the needy, he told us that he appreciates the efforts our dioceses are making “to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions.”

He told us further that he did not come here with a strategic plan to give to us, but only to speak to us “as a brother among brothers.” 

He continued to touch on topics of great concern to all of us, the so-called “hot button” issues like abortion, immigration, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence, drug trafficking and the environment. 

He concluded by offering two suggestions. The first one refers to our fatherhood as bishops: “Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures.” 

The second suggestion concerned the immigrant population in this country. He said, “Do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart.” 

Late in the afternoon, we concelebrated with the Holy Father the Mass of Canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra, who was officially declared saint during the Mass — the first time that a ceremony of canonization has taken place in the United States.

Washington was the first stop of the Holy Father on his pastoral journey to the United States. From there he went to New York and subsequently to Philadelphia for the celebration of the World Meeting of Families. 

What a blessing his presence brought to the Church in this country. His speeches and homilies all touched on topics of great importance. He did not come here to scold us or tell us all that is wrong with this country and with us, but rather he was here as a pastor who cares for his sheep, as a father who cares for his children. As he concluded his apostolic journey and bid farewell, he said: “I thank the Lord that I was able to witness the faith of God’s people in this country, as manifested in our moments of prayer together and evidenced in so many works of charity.” Then he concluded with these beautiful words of hope and encouragement as he was preparing to board the plane that would take him back to Rome: “Dear friends, I embrace all of you in the Lord and I entrust you to the maternal care of Mary Immaculate, patroness of the United States. I will pray for you and your families, and I ask you, please, to pray for me. May God bless you all. God bless America!”

As he thanked the Lord for his visit, for the faith, joy and enthusiasm he encountered, we thank him for being a true instrument of Christ to all of us. We thank him for his humility, for his fidelity to Christ, his abiding faith in Jesus and in humanity, for his hope that we can all work together to build a more fraternal, caring, compassionate and loving world. We thank him for supporting us in our faith and work, and for challenging us to take care of the poor, the immigrants, the refugees, and the earth, our true home.

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By Bishop George W. Coleman
via an interview with Dave Jolivet, Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bishop Coleman was one of scores of brother U.S. bishops and cardinals who gathered at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in the nation’s capital to meet and be fed by “the shepherd of shepherds,” Pope Francis.

“The whole experience was so Spiritual and uplifting,” Bishop Coleman told The Anchor. “I thank God I was able to be there and experience the joy and hope given by Pope Francis, not only through his words, but in his actions.”

The trip to Washington gave Bishop Coleman, former Bishop of the Diocese of Fall River who retired July 3, 2014, the opportunity to meet with brother bishops whom he hasn’t seen since before his retirement. 

“It was nice to see them and we had much to talk about after the wonderful events of September 23 in Washington, the meeting with Pope Francis and then concelebrating the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra outside the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception later that day,” the retired bishop said. “And it turned out that Bishop da Cunha and I were booked on the same flight to Washington, so we had a nice time chatting while waiting for the flight to arrive.”

This was Bishop Coleman’s first time seeing Pope Francis in person. “I had seen and read so much about him in the print media and on television,” he said. “It was wonderful to see him in person and notice how interested he was with whomever he greeted and spoke with.”

Bishop Coleman said he could sense the anticipation and excitement of his brother bishops before Pope Francis entered the cathedral. “When he spoke to us, his words put everyone at ease,” he said. “He spoke to us as the supreme pastor of the Universal Church. His message was so positive and uplifting for all of us.”

Bishop Coleman told The Anchor that he was so impressed that he not only put the bishops at ease, “but he uplifted and gave hope to the whole country. From what I saw watching coverage from other events on the trip, not only Catholics were buoyed by the Holy Father, but non-Catholics and even people with no faith were made to feel welcomed by Pope Francis’ words and actions.”

Besides listening to the Holy Father speak to the bishops and concelebrating the St. Junipero Serra canonization Mass, Bishop Coleman said there were so many things the pope did and said during the U.S. visit that moved him.

“The address to the joint session of Congress was exceptional,” said Bishop Coleman. “He provided all of us with a summary of what Catholic social teaching is about. The messages in each U.S. city were so appropriate for each event.

“I was also very moved by the times he stopped the entourage to bless a sick or disabled child; when he had lunch with the homeless; how he listened to immigrants; when he stopped at a school in East Harlem and spoke to the students in Spanish — you could see they were delighted to be in his presence; and the touching ceremonies at Ground Zero.

“And it was the message of family he sent to America during his stop in Philadelphia. He told the people, ‘We’ve come to pray as a family. God did not want to come to us other than in a family.’ That spoke volumes about the importance of family.”

Bishop Coleman also chuckled and said he even got to be in Time magazine in a photo spread of the pope’s address to the bishops.

“The pope taught all Americans by his actions, and people were so moved by his verbal message of caring for poor immigrants. We’re all working toward the common good.”

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By Father Thomas C. Lopes
Retired Diocesan Priest

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — My sister and I journeyed to the “City of Brotherly Love” to see Pope Francis. We “saw” much more! Early Saturday afternoon, we secured a protected spot at the barrier along the parade route on Ben Franklin Parkway, hoping to catch a view as he passed our way.

We had to wait six hours, but the moment was electrifying, and we almost were pushed through the barrier by the crowd behind us! It was only a moment, and it even appeared that he looked at us and waved (We have a picture!). We were touched by the excitement!

Due to the lateness of the day, early evening descended and provided the opportunity for us to watch an amazing display, through the windows of the cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.

Pope Francis made a stop at the cathedral in order to bless a grotto, dedicated to Our Lady Undoer of Knots, constructed in honor of Pope Francis, who has fostered devotion to her under this title. During a visit to Germany several years ago, his attraction to her under this title, prompted Pope Francis to share this devotion with everyone.

An amazing addition to the grotto is the magically-projected portrayal, through the windows in the dome of the cathedral, which became very noticeable as it grew darker. It revealed the hands of a woman tying and untying knots in a ribbon, concluding with a banner upon which her hand scrolled the words, “Mercy and Justice.”

Sister Mary Scullion and Meg Saligman are responsible not only for the grotto and the projection, but also for establishing the “Justice and Mercy Campaign” in the diocese during the past year. This devotion encourages people to leave a ribbon listing a knot in their own lives and to take another knotted ribbon and praying for the knot of another person left at the grotto. 

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This is one of many such “views” we discovered while waiting for Pope Francis. There were many special moments where we were touched by the several people we met from all over the world!

We also are very grateful to members of St. Vincent de Paul Parish and Holy Cross Parish, for their hospitality and generosity, in making our stay among them, a warm experience of brotherly and sisterly love. We will cherish this experience. 

Prayer by Pope Francis to Mary Undoer of Knots
Through your grace, your intercession, and your example, deliver us from all evil, Our Lady, and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, so that we, free from sin and error, may find Him in all things, may we have our hearts placed in Him and serve Him always in our brothers and sisters. Amen. 

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By Deacon Ralph Guerra
St. Margaret’s Parish, Buzzards Bay

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — It all started with an email that advertised the pope’s visit to Philadelphia looking for volunteers to help families welcome the Holy Father. Intrigued, my wife Sandy and I decided to join and take our grandson to experience this great event; it would be a three-day adventure. We were accepted and found lodging one hour outside the city, three months prior to the event. We would be assisting the handicapped.

An update arrived later asking for priests and deacons to volunteer to assist at Mass due to large crowds anticipated. I reregistered and obtained a letter of suitability from the first of many “angels,” the secretary of the bishop. I was given strict instructions on dress, no variances, and to bring a valid ID.

God smiled and changed our plans. The city decided to close its borders for the weekend and subway tickets were available on a lottery-based handout only, no guarantees in. An ad from another “angel,” a Sister in Springfield offered bus tickets and entry to the city for Mass. We purchased two, canceled our prior lodgings and decided on a one-day odyssey as family. Sandy’s sister then got sick, and she went to be with her. I was committed to assist, a family member volunteered to watch our grandson, and I gave my wife’s ticket to a parishioner to join me. 

A five-hour ride from Springfield placed the four buses in a parking lot next to Eagles Stadium filled with buses, not cars, for the event. It was packed by 11 in the morning. Mass was at 4 p.m., with me to be vested by 2:30 p.m. We were five miles from the altar.

The three-mile subway ride was 45 minutes. The clock was ticking. It was 11:45 a.m. and I needed to register at the Philadelphia Performing Arts Center, obtain my Mass ticket, and then vest at a museum. I walked a quarter mile to and around the building. It was closed — registrations and ticket distributions were over. I was ready to join the crowd. Another “angel” opened the door and asked, “What do you want?” I explained, then content just to enjoy this great event, I really was not needed.

As we talked another “angel” appeared. She listened and was introduced as “Sister,” a nun in charge of volunteers, yet dressed as just another worker. “You’ll need a pass just to get in,” she said. The first volunteer took her pass and said, “You may have mine,” and smiled. Sister said, “Follow me.” It was now 12:30 p.m. with two miles of crowds in front. We serpentined a quarter-mile through tight crowds to the first security point for Mass participation. It was for those standing outside. They knew Sister; she approached a policeman and explained, “He won’t make it. Look at this crowd, but let’s talk to John (or Joe, the crowd was deafening) he’s in charge.”  

The captain, a new “angel,” listened and said, “Why not? Follow me.” The captain, Sister and I made our way as the captain yelled “move” to the handicapped (those I was to help originally — I really wanted to stop, and say it’s OK, stop). 

We passed through a second security stop, a tent of Secret Service, FBI, police and some other group that had no visible IDs. It was now 1:45 p.m. A new “angel” stepped forward, whispered to a Secret Service agent, and I was then seemingly being “X-rayed” by the eyes’ of all. No one asked for my papers, and calls through headsets were made to somewhere. It was 2:05 p.m., and I was motioned forward. I followed to a golf cart. The Secret Service jumped on one seat, and I don’t know who, on the other. I was seated on the rear seat facing backward, alb on my lap. We took off, and entered the pope’s drive path. As my alb blew in the breeze, people started cheering as we went. “No, no, no. You don’t think he’ll come in backwards,” I thought to myself. I was embarrassed — not fit to tie his sandals.

We passed the altar and came to a halt. Someone said, “Get out,” and I was looking up at Rocky Balboa. “Wimp,” he seemed to say. It was then 2:20 p.m., and I was staring at bishops, cardinals, priests and deacons from all over the world, lined up — about 600 in all. An emcee stepped forward and said, “Deacon, follow me.”

I vested in five minutes, picked up the last Mass Missal, and found I stood with only 20 to 25 deacons, six with dalmatics. I noticed five deacons standing to the side in albs only and asked why they were not in line and heard sternly, “They came improperly dressed.”

We processed in. The main altar was the stairs and top landing, with the pope’s chair, with main concelebrants to his left and right. We proceeded up to the right of the main altar to a platform about six to eight feet higher than the altar and way above the main level. It was plywood on an aluminum stand that seemed to wheeze as we walked.

We sat for an hour as the pope greeted the crowd in the streets. As I looked forward I realized that I probably will not even glimpse the Holy Father — the first three rows of bishops and cardinals blocked all views as they looked down on the altar. I sat at the end of our procession. There were no screens as in the streets and all the speakers projected sound to the street. “It’s OK,” I felt, the presence of God was everywhere. One final “angel” tapped my shoulder.

An emcee said, “We are short three deacons. Will you assist and ask two more?” I responded, “Glad to.” He said, “Follow the six deacons in dalmatics when they rise.” The Mass was beautiful. The deacons rose and we followed to the extreme left of all, peering down on the street until we arrived at the front — and there he was — the Holy Father on the altar below. 

“Turn, proceed across the front of this group holding the wine in one hand and bread we will give you in the other, then face the concelebrants here with backs to the altar,” we were told. We now blocked the view to the Holy Father. The priests rose, proceeded forward in rows, picking up hundreds of ciboria, and returned to their seats.

It was the Epiclesis and as the Holy Father spoke, hands were extended. The wine and bread we held became Christ’s Body and Blood. Time stood still and God was present. 

 We stood as bishops, cardinals, deacons and returning priests came forward to receive. We were instructed, “Don’t let the Blood leave your hands,” Intinction instructs. “They will dip and receive.” There were some raised eyebrows including mine — tell a cardinal no? “When complete I will give you the Eucharist and you will consume the Blood,” we were told.

I returned to my seat and a Boston deacon leaned over to me and said, “Remember you are a servant and to serve and as last you will feed those who are the first.” 

I will forever remember that day.

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