By Dave Jolivet, Editor
FALL RIVER — In the 1930s, when Jesus appeared to Polish Sister Faustina Kowalska, He brought a message of God’s great love for His people through His mercy and His Son’s ultimate sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
It is with this spirit that Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., celebrated a Mass of Atonement on Mercy Sunday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River.
The Mass was planned as part of the diocese’s observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In his opening remarks, Bishop da Cunha said, “The protection of children and youth is the responsibility of the entire Church, including the faithful.
“During this Child Abuse Prevention Month we are reminded of the call to be instruments of justice working for the common good of all, which includes the protection of children. Child Abuse Prevention Month should lead to the heightened awareness of the need to be vigilant about providing a safe environment for all within the Church and for all in our communities.”
The bishop relayed that statistics reveal that one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys have been sexually abused before they become age 18. “If those statistics are correct,” the bishop said, “every Sunday in our congregations there are people who have been abused and many still feel the pain of being abused.
“Reaching out to all survivors of abuse is critical in bringing hope and the love of Christ to them.”
In his homily, Bishop da Cunha told the faithful in attendance at the cathedral and those watching the live-stream of the Mass on the Catholic Community of Fall River Facebook page that the diocese is here to provide anyone suffering from abuse with steps toward healing. “We are all part of a larger culture of protection and healing in the Church. As members of this culture, we value the prevention of abuse and the support of those who have been abused.
“Each one of us can play an important role in strengthening this culture of protection and safety.”
He said the faithful can do this through knowing and acting on the signs of sexual abuse and reporting such occurrences. “When something doesn’t ‘seem quite right,’ it is our duty to report it through the appropriate channels.”
In addition, victim outreach, support, compassion and prayers can “go a long way to create a culture within the Church that children, youth and vulnerable adults are safe and victims and survivors find healing.” The bishop invited Carolyn Shipp, the Victims Assistance Coordinator for the Diocese of Fall River’s Office of Safe Environment and a licensed clinical social worker, to share with the in-person congregation and those watching on Facebook.
Shipp said she has long wanted to be able to help victims of sex abuse in the Church. “Like many Catholics, I have felt helpless as the waves of clergy sexual abuse scandals have crashed on our Church again and again.”
Shipp shared that a mentor of hers described working with abuse victims as “treading on Holy ground.” “I can think of no better way to describe these experiences,” Shipp said. “It is profoundly moving when someone who has been so deeply wounded by the Church is willing to let me, someone representing the Church, into their pain; that they are willing to contemplate telling their story, usually after decades of secrecy, is an act of unbelievable courage.”
Shipp shared the story of one survivor who allowed his ordeal to be told; a 57-year-old man who attended a Catholic high school in the diocese and who experienced the pain, shame and loss of faith through the actions of a priest at the school.
Shipp told how the man after decades of reaching out, finally found a sense of worth and being through the people at the Office of Safe Environment. Through them he has begun a process of healing emotionally, physically and Spiritually.
“Ask yourselves how is God calling you to be a channel of peace and healing,” Shipp told the faithful. “Whatever God is asking you, please join me in this important mission.”
The bishop concluded by saying, “I just want to say to all the survivors, we are sorry for the pain and suffering you have gone through. And to all of us, I want to say let us continue praying and supporting survivors of abuse and let us work diligently and be constantly alert so that these mistakes of the past and the horrible suffering will never happen again.”
To watch the Mass of Atonement, visit the Catholic Community of Fall River Facebook page at www.facebook.com/3CFallRiver
For information about signs of abuse and about reporting suspected abuse, visit fallriverdiocese.org