Bishop da Cunha encourages area religious at meeting,
day of prayer

By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor

NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. — Being a member of a religious order himself, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., knows full well the missions, challenges and charisms of his brother and sister religious.

At an earlier get-together with area religious leaders and their delegates at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Taunton, the bishop and attendees participated in a listening session on the part of both parties.

According to Dominican Sister Paulina Hurtado, diocesan Episcopal Representative for Religious and assistant director of Vocations, and a representative for the Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Hope at the meeting, “The format of the meeting was three-fold.

“First, using Church documents on religious life the bishop spoke about religious life as a gift and vocation in the Church and recounted the gifts of religious to education and health care in general and this country in particular.

“Second, the bishop provided an overview of the process of revamping the administration of the diocese covering support for Catholic schools, a diocesan school board, assessment of parish viability, finances, and the formation of a diocesan foundation. He stressed how the gifts of lay people in all of these under takings were being utilized.

“Third, there was a dialogue around how religious can still be participants in the life and mission of the Church. Since many of the religious in the diocese are retired or physically unable to be actively engaged in ministry an alternative was presented stressing the power of praying presence. Another area centered on educating the young in the faith.”

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At the meeting Bishop da Cunha expanded on the shortage of vocations in the Diocese of Fall River and throughout the Church. The bishop told the assembly that he receives comments from places he visits in the diocese such as, “We need Catholic schools and more nuns in them, so that Catholic formation and education can be transmitted and give fruition in vocations for the priesthood and religious life.”

“It’s that easy,” the bishop lightheartedly told the group. Bishop da Cunha did tell the gathered religious that there has in fact been an increase in the number of seminarians over the last three years and that there is a common link between efforts for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Sister Hurtado told The Anchor, “At this time efforts are being made to provide discernment programs offered for boys and girls, to parishes and families around the diocese so that they are becoming more involved in the work for vocations. The link or connection between the work for vocations to those in formation to the priesthood and to those in formation to consecrated religious life must be kept. 

“So, if we do our share of the work, God will do the rest.”

Bishop da Cunha said, “The consecrated life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to His Church through the Holy Spirit. That charism, to all religious congregations is given to carry on the mission of the Church. 

“The consecrated persons are called to be a leaven of communion at the service of the mission of the Church. By the very fact that charism of their respective institutions is granted by the Holy Spirit for the good of the entire body of the Church. In fact, their vocation is for the Church. In fact, consecrated life is in the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling.”

The bishop went on to remind those there that, “Religious, as you well know, don’t become religious for themselves.”

The bishop continued saying that religious are at the service of cooperation of the Church.

Sister Hurtado said, the religious vocation is not for themselves but the mission of the Church as witnesses to the Gospel. “The bishop stressed the need for contact and dialogue between those in formation for the priesthood and religious life,” she continued. Our vocation is for the mission of the Church, to be witnesses for the Church.”

Sacred Hearts Father David Lupo, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Fairhaven was at the meeting. “In his presentation, the bishop had some interesting things to say. One statement, was that seminarians and younger priests do not know much about religious life. 

“He also reiterated something we have heard much in modern times: religious do not become religious for themselves, or even for their community.”

Father Lupo said that the world today is filled with distractions, not only for young people and lay people, but at times for those in consecrated life. “Too often they draw our attention away from our common life and mission,” he added. “We have been domesticated at times by the leisurely, convenient, informative culture we live in today.”

Expanding on that theme, he said, “In 21st-century America people (not only young people) have a hard time making a commitment. From this flows an attractive, yet false sense of ‘freedom,’ of going here and there, doing this and that, without having to answer to anyone. Simply having fun. Having the means to do all this is attractive as well. 

“By contrast, religious life and mission, and community, and obligations, all seem (for want of a better word) boring. We can see why the young may not be attracted to us.”

But he did say for most there is a tugging at the heartstrings from God. “Sooner or later the realization comes that you’re going to have to serve somebody,” he said. “That unattached freedom becomes a burden as a voice inside asks about the meaning of life, and the purpose of my life. These questions do not always wait for a mid-life crisis to occur. They could come sooner, especially for those who have eyes to see beyond the veil of our shallow cultural values.”

On February 2 the bishop again met with a group of religious men and women to celebrate World Day for Consecrated Life, with prayer, a presentation by La Salette Father Flavio Gillio speaking about finding purpose, meaning and goals in today’s religious life, a Mass, and a lunch.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website: “In 1997, Pope St. John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2. This feast is also known as Candlemas Day; the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ Who is the Light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples. The celebration of World Day for Consecrated Life is transferred to the following Sunday in order to highlight the gift of consecrated persons for the whole Church.”

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