By Dave Jolivet
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Nestled behind several large shrubs on the grounds of his home in Fall River, lies Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.’s small oasis where he is cultivating a number of vegetable plants in a garden he created this spring.
Taking Pope Francis’ May 2015 encyclical letter, Laudato, Sí (On the Care of Our Common Home) to heart, Bishop da Cunha took a barren parcel on the grounds of his home and transformed it into a fertile plot where an abundance of summer produce has sprung and continues to spring forth.
In the bishop’s garden one can find corn, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, and string beans. Also included in his garden is a vegetable with which the bishop is very familiar from his native Brazil, maxime.
Maxime is like a cucumber that is similar in size and shape to a chicken egg. It can be eaten raw, be pickled, boiled or fried. “Maxime makes a wonderful refreshing summer salad,” Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor.
And in the center of the garden is a small burgeoning fig tree. “A neighbor taught me how to protect the tree in the winter,” said the bishop. Since fig trees are a semi-tropical plant, they must be protected from frost. “He told me that he has fig trees in his yard, and buries them and covers them with leaves to insulate them from the cold,” he continued.
Since the bishop is a bit more settled into his Fall River home this year, he felt the urge to convert the area on the southwest corner of the property from a benign parcel of land into a productive parcel where he can relax and tend to his beloved crops.
“It’s very nice to come out here and get away for a little while,” he said. “I find it very calming and peaceful.”
The bishop went on to say, “To my knowledge, this is the first garden in this area of the property. There was a tree on the north side of the area, but it was taken down. The ground is very fertile here, and a friend helped me till the soil and I’ve added nutrients, so the plants are doing very well.”
The area of the bishop’s home does have its share of animals that would love such a garden. In order to keep the animals out and the vegetables in, the bishop put up a chicken wire fence around the garden.
He also made his own green bean trellis from limbs pruned from some plants on diocesan property on the Cape.
Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor that his love of gardening came from the time of his youth in his native Brazil. “My family planted and harvested each year,’ he said. “I guess, that is why I enjoy planting, taking care and harvesting the fruits of the garden.”
When Jesus spoke to the people to whom He was evangelizing, He would speak to them in terms they understood, often in parables, and often using occupations of the common individuals of His time. And farmers were one of those groups.
Farming and gardening have been yielding life-sustaining harvests since the beginning of time.
In Laudato Sí Pope Francis references farm-related terminology more than 30 times. Raising foods to eat is a crucial part of man’s existence.
In Laudato Sí (No. 67), the pope writes, “Nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The Biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to ‘till and keep’ the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15).
“‘Tilling’ refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while ‘keeping’ means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. ‘The earth is the Lord’s’ (Ps 24:1); to Him belongs ‘the earth with all that is within it’”(Dt 10:14).
In a small, bountiful parcel in the center of Fall River, Bishop da Cunha is indeed caring, protecting and overseeing the Lord’s bountiful earth in his own modest way.