By Christine M. Williams
FALL RIVER, Mass. — The lack of peace in our world stems from a lack of faith, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., told hundreds gathered for this year’s recent Procession and Mass for Peace.
“Let us pray for conversion to Jesus because that’s the only way peace is going to come about,” he said during the homily. He then urged everyone to pray for peace and to live in accordance with Jesus’ teaching.
This year, the annual Procession and Mass for Peace celebrated its 40th anniversary. At the first Mass, held on Columbus Day in 1975, an estimated 30,000 people prayed for peace in Portugal through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, also known as Our Lady of Peace. At the time, communists were attempting to take control of the government, which had been ruled by a military junta for more than a year. Ultimately, democracy prevailed.
While retaining traditions from the first march, which are rooted in Portuguese customs, the event’s scope has broadened to peace throughout the world. Each year, the event starts with a procession from Fall River’s Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption to St. Anne Parish, a little more than half a mile away. This year, the route was reversed due to construction projects at St. Anne’s.
At sunset, they stepped off. Many of the faithful held candles and several bore a carrier with the same statue of Our Lady of Fatima used every year. They sang Ave Maria and other hymns. When they reached the cathedral, they filed into pews, filling them all. Dozens of people were left standing at the back of the church. Before Mass began, they prayed the Rosary with each decade in a different language — Portuguese, English, Spanish, French and Polish.
During the homily, the bishop spoke in Portuguese, English and Spanish. He thanked those gathered for attending, which showed their desire for peace, and then he challenged them to do more to bring peace to the world.
“Peace doesn’t rain from the sky, like the rain and the snow, unless we do our part. Peace comes when people believe, accept, live their lives guided by the teachings of Jesus. Peace comes when we convert ourselves — all of us, when we accept the work of Jesus in our lives and in our hearts. The lack of peace comes from the lack of faith, which leads to selfishness, which leads to violence, destruction, all this comes from the lack of faith from not accepting what God has planned for us, what God has asked of us,” he said.
He said that every day people are suffering in our own communities and throughout the world. They have no peaceful place to spend the night or to raise their children. They live in war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They are refugees. They are intimidated by terrorists, thieves or drug dealers — people who are looking out for their personal gain without regard for the wellbeing of others.
To counteract that, people of faith must follow the example of Mary who at the Annunciation said “yes” to Jesus and “Let it be done according to Your Word.” She was not worried about herself, power, prestige or fame. Through her cooperation with God’s plan, she brought us the Prince of Peace, he said.
“If we want peace in this world, all of us can do something about this. All of us can pray for it,” the bishop added. “Never give up hope. We can make a difference with our lives and our prayers.”
Maria Isabel Bento, from Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New Bedford, said Bishop da Cunha, had a beautiful way of speaking about peace. She agreed with him that “everyone has to have peace in their hearts to transmit to the other ones.”
Tonya Fernandez, a leader of the youth group at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Attleboro, said the Spirit of the event reminded her of her recent trip to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia.
“There is a holiness in the air. You can feel it,” she said.