Bishop da Cunha to cook up ethnic dish to bring diocese 
into solidarity with global refugees, immigrants, poor

By Dave Jolivet

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — In August of 2016, an Anchor cover story featured a garden that sprung up on the grounds of Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha’s home in Fall River. The bishop created the garden, which contained corn, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, string beans and maxime, a cucumber-like vegetable from his native Brazil.

The bishop told The Anchor that his love of gardening came from the time of his youth in Brazil where he helped his family plant and harvest each year.

On March 21 Bishop da Cunha is going to take that love of fresh foods to another level when he will be cooking a dinner at Sister Rose’s House in New Bedford for those at the emergency shelter for men. The event is part of Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl, which every year assists Catholics to remember the poor and those chased from their homes by poverty, war and oppression.

Catholic Relief Services, the official international Catholic relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, had its beginnings during World War II when the newly-established agency “answered the call to serve migrants and refugees … with compassion and care.”

According to its website its “mission is to serve the most vulnerable continues. We feed the hungry, act as instruments of peace, empower communities and are a voice for the voiceless.

“Each Lent, CRS features its Operation Rice Bowl, a staple on the table of Catholic families across the country during Lent, is a simple cardboard box, a tool for collecting Lenten alms — and comes with a Lenten calendar that guides families through the 40 days of Lent with activities, reflections and stories.”

Part of the program offers Catholics simple recipes from countries across the world and encourages them to cook these dishes in solidarity with the people from where the recipes originated.

“Bishop da Cunha has graciously accepted an offer to cook a meal using one of the Rice Bowl recipes at the Sister Rose Home,” explained Claire McManus, diocesan CRS director. “He was right on board with this when first asked. He will feed the residents and anyone who chooses to attend. He will be assisted by Luke Almeida, a cook at the home.”

It’s not yet known which recipe the bishop will delve into, but some of CRS’s recommendations are: bamia (orka stew) from Uganda; coconut dahl from Sri Lanka; ground nut stew from Sierra Leone; shakshauka from Gaza; and black bean soup from Guatemala.

“The concept of cooking these simple meals is that families can do this at home and by using inexpensive, simple ingredients, they can put the money they saved into the Rice Bowl,” said McManus. “And, they can get a sense of what people across the world have for meals, which compared with our way of life, is very simple. They can feel a connect with their brothers and sisters who have much less than we do.”

McManus said the plans are to air the event of March 21 live on the diocesan CRS Facebook page, and hopefully have it there so others can watch when their schedules allow. It promises to be an inspirational event and will hopefully bring more people into solidarity with their poorer brothers and sisters across the world.

“By doing this, Bishop da Cunha is showing how fully engaged (he is) in social justice,” McManus told The Anchor. “This year CRS is focusing on migrants and refugees of whom there are many all across the world because of wars and terrorism and oppression. The plight of the immigrant is personal to Bishop da Cunha. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make this a successful Rice Bowl campaign this Lent.”

“I admire Bishop da Cunha’s courage and willingness to be open to this unique experience,” said Martha Reed, Grants and Quality Coordinator of the diocese’s Catholic Social Services. “I think it allows the bishop to show that the mantle of leadership isn’t all business and Church process; it’s putting the Gospel and faith into action. It is also an opportunity for the community to experience Bishop da Cunha’s gentle giving spirit as well.

“My hope for the event is that the guests from both Sister Rose House and Grace House, feel included and cared for as valuable members of the community. That shelter is more than a safe place to sleep and a hot meal. I want the guests to feel hope and comfort and because the soup kitchen also serves the Greater New Bedford community, it is an opportunity for them to feel included and part of the experience as well.” 

McManus told The Anchor that Operation Rice Bowl has been very well-received in the Fall River Diocese since CRS introduced the campaign in 1975. “Last year parishes across the diocese collected $59,145,” she said, “and not only does that help migrants, refugees and the poor around the world, but 25 percent of the donations collected stays within the diocese.”

McManus explained that once parishes send in the monies collected locally, they send it to the diocese and it’s given to the Fall River Diocese’s Catholic Social Services to use for those in need in our area.

“Any funds that CSS receives as part of Operation Rice Bowl goes directly back to the communities we serve at our food pantry, soup kitchen and anyone facing food insecurity across the diocese, including the Cape and Islands,” Reed told The Anchor. “The bulk of the funds are used to purchase food from the Greater Boston Food Bank, which offers a significant discount to partner agencies. The total discount by purchasing from the Greater Boston Food Bank works out to about 75 percent. This significant savings allows us to increase the impact of the Operation Rice Bowl funds significantly across the diocese.

“It is important that donors can see that their dollars are truly making a difference in the lives of people right in their own diocese, as well as through the international good works of Catholic Relief Services.”

“Our hope is that Bishop da Cunha’s gesture will be watched and will inspire others to ‘pay it forward,’” said McManus.


As part of CRS’ Lenten efforts in the diocese, a noted speaker from the agency will be speaking at Santo Christo Parish in Fall River during Lent, Thomas Awiapo. According to the CRS Rice Bowl website, Awiapo grew up “in a small African village in Ghana, Thomas was orphaned before the age of 10 and left on his own to struggle for survival.  He was the second of four brothers; his youngest two brothers died of malnutrition and lack of care.

“His search for food led him to an elementary school, where he was fed a small meal every day. He survived, studied, and eventually won scholarships to attend college.  He later earned a master’s degree from California State University.

“Today, Awiapo works with Catholic Relief Services as a consultant and integral part in bringing global solidarity. He lives in Ghana with his wife and four children. His story of initiative and his joyful presence has brought inspiration to thousands of people in the U.S.”

Awiapo will also be speaking at the upcoming diocesan Youth Convention on March 31.

“It’s important to make people aware of the plight of our brothers and sisters around the world,” said McManus. “Most people who are refugees and immigrants don’t choose to leave their homes and go somewhere else to take other people’s jobs and such. They leave because of some type of violence; physical, emotional. They’re trying to stay alive and take care of their families. Some people don’t understand that.

“We’re trying to stress that in Religious Education classes with Operation Rice Bowl. We want the students to realize that not everyone in the world has what they have. Some have nothing, globally and locally, and we can help.”

CRS has created a new Rice Bowl app for iPhones and Androids that can be downloaded from the Apple Store and Google Play. The easy to use app provides daily reflections during Lent; offers simple ethnic recipes; offers integrated social sharing; and it is a new way to track one’s Lenten sharing. It is available in English and Spanish.

Despite Lent having started a few days ago, McManus said it’s not too late to take part in Operation Rice Bowl. She has about 100 of the cardboard boxes at the Faith Formation Office in Fall River at 508-678-2828, and they can be ordered on the CRS website at

Reed told The Anchor those “who may need food resources or help applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are encouraged to contact the Diocese of Fall River’s Catholic Social Services at 508-674-4681.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts