Five Catholic ministries collaborate to
‘Celebrate the Beauty of Every Child’

By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor

ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., in his vision for a stronger, more vibrant diocesan community has stressed unity as a key element; first addressing it in his first diocesan pastoral letter, “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope,” in April 2017, and reinforcing it in his “Introducing Strategic Planning,” earlier this year.

The bishop, and many others across the diocese, know more can be accomplished through teamwork and a unified effort.

It is with this process in mind that five major Catholic ministries got together to develop a plan of action to assist the very youngest members of the diocese with needed material goods and more importantly the prayers of the diocesan faithful.

The program, called “Celebrate the Beauty of Every Child, Prayer and Newborn/Toddler Campaign,” is a call for diocesan faithful to donate much-needed new clothing and items for babies and toddlers, and to gather as families to pray for those vulnerable young lives and their families, who often struggle to make simple ends meet.

The diocesan Pro-Life Apostolate, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Social Services, the Knights of Columbus, and Massachusetts Citizens for Life have joined forces to make this a reality.

“Last year Fred Ramos of the St. Vincent de Paul Society approached Mass. Citizens for Life about collaborating on an effort to collect clothing and supplies for babies and toddlers in need in the Fall River Diocese,” Barbara Wenc, chairman of the greater Fall River Chapter of MCFL, told The Anchor. “The society had already held successful drives and hoped to do more.”

“The genesis of the uniting the five ministries began in March of 2017 when the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Fall River District and the Massachusetts Citizens for Life Fall River Chapter co-sponsored the first collection drive entitled ‘Newborn Baby Product Collection Drive’ to assist new mothers” Ramos told The Anchor.

“The drive was very successful: nine out of 20 parishes in greater Fall River participated. Each of the participating parishes placed a bulletin announcement in their weekly bulletin requesting baby products such as: Onesies, PJs, diapers, wet wipes and gift cards be donated. Approximately $9,000 in baby merchandise was collected and distributed to needy families via SVDP, MCFL and Catholic Social Services.

“The question that we asked was ‘if the drive was successful in greater Fall River could it be successful in Attleboro, Taunton, New Bedford and the Cape?’ The answer was yes; and so began the effort to expand the campaign throughout the diocese.”

The two ministries approached Marian Desrosiers, director of the diocesan Pro-Life Apostolate, to join the effort. “Marian went to Bishop da Cunha for permission, and the bishop was very much in favor of the plan, seeing it was exactly the type of unified effort he has been advocating,” said Wenc. “But he wanted to include the prayer element to the project. Bishop da Cunha is always promoting prayer in the family and this could be a wonderful way to encourage some families to pray together for a wonderful cause. Instituting holy hours for children is also encouraged.

“The need for babies and toddlers is so great, even in working families. So we’re trying to do what we can by gathering supplies, and by praying for those who are struggling.”

Desrosiers was thrilled with the idea. “It has been my pleasure to work with everyone on this campaign. Such an incredible collaboration has taken place between our offices,” she told The Anchor. “Everyone involved made a 100 percent commitment to this campaign. I am so proud and grateful to all of them. Our diocese has been truly blessed.” 

The diocesan Catholic Social Services was enlisted to help because of the experience it has in delivering collected items to needy families; and the Knights of Columbus were asked to join because of their successful “Culture of Life Masses,” where prayer is the key to promoting respect for life at all stages.

Wenc told The Anchor that the five participating ministries each bring a critical expertise to the project.

The campaign will take place at participating parishes on the weekends of June 2-3 and June 9-10. The dates fall near the celebrations of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

A mailing went out to all pastors and parochial administrators explaining the program and seeking approval for the program to be held in their parishes.

“The more parishes that take part, the more people who can be helped,” said Wenc.

On the designated weekends, parishioners are encouraged to bring items to weekend Masses such as diapers, wet wipes, bibs, teething rings, receiving blankets, onesies, sleepers, and outfits for infants and toddlers (through 5T), and $5 or $10 gift cards for grocery or department stores.

Parishioners will also be asked to pray as a family for those for whom the items will be distributed. Thousands of prayer cards will be given out across the diocese as a means of being unified in prayer through this event and beyond.

“We must remember that these infants and toddlers in need are children of God,” Wenc told The Anchor. “And that we are all children of God.”

Wenc also told The Anchor that the prayer aspect of the campaign is to continue the mission of when Bishop da Cunha dedicated the Diocese of Fall River to Our Lady of Fatima at last October’s gathering at Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River celebrating the 100th anniversary of the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. The event drew students, staff and faculty from every parochial school in the diocese.

“At the celebration Bishop da Cunha encouraged the young people to pray with their families; the Rosary, prayers of intercession to St. Michael the Archangel, all tied to Our Lady’s message at Fatima — ‘Pray, pray, pray,’” said Wenc.

On the weekends of the campaign, parishioners will be given a packet which includes a sign-up sheet to pledge prayers, and also to give Faith Formation programs the opportunity to have their students become involved in the prayer element of the campaign.

To prepare for the June weekend parish campaigns, the five ministries offered training sessions to individuals who were recommend by their pastors.

The training sessions included two PowerPoint presentations; one on prayer and the other on action. The prayer presentation utilizes a wonderfully touching video of the journey of an 11-year-old boy who was born blind, at barely two pounds. The video can be viewed on YouTube, “Open the Eyes of My Heart” (Duffley).

The sessions were held in each of the five diocesan deaneries: at Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River, Holy Family Parish in East Taunton, St. John the Evangelist in Attleboro, and St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth.

The presentations were coordinated by Wenc representing MCFL; Desrosiers, Pro-Life Apostolate; Susan Mazzarella of CSS; Ramos of SVdP; and prayers and prayer cards provided by the Knights of Columbus.

“The Knights have donated 10,000 prayer cards that are being dispersed throughout our diocese during this campaign through their representative in this campaign, Paul Devin,” said Desrosiers.  “We are so grateful.”

The presentations were given by Desrosiers, Ramos and Wenc. “The presentations were very well received by those who attended,” said Wenc.

“Our children need our prayers and action more than ever,” said Desrosiers.  “Children in the womb and children of all ages are suffering not only in this country but throughout our world.  Evil has many forms and has spread.  Many children are afraid to go to school because of the recent tragedies. Our diocesan schools will be invited to join us in prayer.

“Our visits to each deanery have allowed us to greet and meet people who are excited to take part in this campaign.  They expressed and reaffirmed the urgent need for prayer and action.  Families struggle with the high cost of clothing and other needs for their children.  This campaign allows us to joyfully respond, first and foremost with our prayers and then with items that can put to good use. Everyone was happy to help us get the word out.”  

Wenc added, “In the Acts of the Apostles, it says, ‘All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the Apostles continued to testify to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the Apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.’ “That’s the idea behind this campaign. That’s the idea of a unified diocese.”

“In essence, the synergy of the five ‘Spirit-based’ organizations created a ‘Catholic Coalition’ for the purpose of helping the youngest of our diocese,” Ramos told The Anchor.

“Catholic Social Services is delighted and honored to collaborate with the four other ministries on the Celebrate the Beauty of the Child campaign,” Mazzarella told The Anchor.  “The goal of this unified effort within our diocesan family is to generate prayers and resources for the youngest members of our collective communities.” 

In a letter to pastors, a letter from the five ministries said, “Our children are our roots to the past and the hope for our future. Please join us and celebrate the beauty of every child as we continue to restore and rebuild Christ’s Church with faith, hope and love.”

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