FALL RIVER (September 24, 2021)  ̶  On the day marking his seventh anniversary of becoming leader of the Fall River Diocese, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., has issued a pastoral letter to area Catholics entitled, Journeying Together: With Jesus on the Path of Faith and Hope.

“Now, more than ever, God is calling us to move forward and not stand still,” the bishop writes in the letter addressed to the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese. “My hope in this pastoral letter is to offer you a vision for how we can do this and how you can join us in moving forward into the future as a Diocese.”

The pastoral letter is available on the diocesan website, fallriverdiocese.org/journeying-together, in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and will be published in the next issue of the diocesan newspaper, The Anchor. It will also be highlighted across diocesan social media channels and in parish bulletins over the next few weeks.

Bishop da Cunha’s vision for moving forward is the essence of the letter’s third part, “The Way Forward,” and focuses on three priorities: Invitational Witness, Sacramental Living, and Vocational Pathways. Within each area, Bishop da Cunha offers “mission steps” or actions that he says individuals, parish communities and the Diocese must take over the next four years to make the vision a reality.

“Just like Jesus, we need to be aware of those around us, to extend an invitation, and be a welcoming community,” he writes, urging “courageous, creative outreach.”

To support this, the bishop has created an ad hoc Revitalization Committee to define and implement best practices for being “Invitational Witnesses” as the Diocese works to move forward post-pandemic.

Offering a response to a growing lack of understanding by many on the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist is at the heart of the letter’s call for a focus on Sacramental Living.

“Therefore, we must make a priority the evangelization of Christ’s Eucharistic presence, which we encounter at Mass and then live out as Church in society by being ‘commissioned’ to go out at the end of Mass,” Bishop da Cunha writes.

Among mission steps in this area, the bishop explains that the Diocese will be participating in the upcoming 3-year Eucharistic Renewal Project sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and he invites individual parishioners to take part as well during the project’s different phases.

All baptized Catholics have a vocational role to serve in the Church’s mission to go out and make disciples, and Bishop da Cunha underscores this call in Journeying Together.

“When we live our baptismal mission with purpose, we become a mission-driven church that can inspire others to want to join us on mission,” he says.

Specifically, he encourages a renewed sense of lay service by Catholics in parish ministries, a pervasive “culture of vocations” across all diocesan parishes and entities, and the nomination of “parish ambassadors” to assist in forthcoming diocesan evangelization and revitalization efforts.

Such efforts will include diocesan participation in the Vatican Synod, “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission,” that the Pope will open in October.

“…I ask for your participation and support throughout the diocesan phase of the synodal process,” Bishop da Cunha writes. “This is an invitation to everyone…to be heard.”

Journeying Together begins with a brief look at diocesan strategic planning initiatives already underway following a 2017 pastoral letter that launched rebuilding initiatives in certain areas. The bishop recognizes that, like most institutions, the Diocese has been affected by the pandemic and has experienced loss in different ways.

In the section that follows, Bishop da Cunha asks readers to consider the future.

“As we look to the future, we must ask ourselves: what Church will we leave behind to future generations,” he writes.

He provides statistics to acknowledge the steep declines across the Fall River Diocese over the past 30 years in Mass attendance, faith formation participation, and sacramental celebrations. To reverse the decline, he urges collective action by the diocesan faithful to work toward helping other individuals experience “metanoia” – personal spiritual conversion and a change in one’s way of life.

“…Our faith needs to be shared through our daily lives and manifested in the way we live each day,” Bishop da Cunha concludes in his pastoral. “Let us move forward as an ‘Easter People,’ ever hopeful that God is at work in the world, and ever aware of our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel and build the Church as the People of God.”

Read Bishop da Cunha’s Pastoral Letter here.

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