First Indian-American Bishop Speaks on Roe v. Wade: ‘A Child Is Never a Problem’
‘Changing laws does not change hearts. Only love does. And now we are calling on all of you to help us build that civilization of love.’
This past weekend, newly ordained 49-year-old Bishop Earl Fernandes spoke to 500 campers and their families about the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the overturning of Roe v. Wade at the Damascus Catholic Mission Campus in Ohio.
Bishop Fernandes is the first Indian-American bishop in the Church, ordained on May 31 in the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. After Columbus’s previous bishop, Bishop Robert Brennan, was moved to shepherd Brooklyn, New York, in September, the diocese had been eagerly awaiting a new shepherd.
Hours before the closing Mass at Catholic Youth Summer Camp at Damascus, the news of the end of Roe came out. In his homily, Bishop Fernandes addressed this monumental moment.
“I was born in September of 1972. Sadly, in January 1973, the United States Supreme Court legalized the killing of children in the womb,” Bishop Fernandes said. “I have lived every day of my life waiting to see that injustice overturned.”
Many tried to eliminate the “problem” rather than seek out hope, he continued.
“But a child is never a problem,” Bishop Fernandes said. “Jesus Christ gave himself on the cross for each and every person on the face of this earth: every child, born and unborn.”
Bishop Fernandes said that often he would be in classrooms and in seminary and wonder how many more students would be in this class if not for abortion.
“Changing laws does not change hearts,” he said. “Only love does. And now we are calling on all of you to help us build that civilization of love as a response to the love that flows from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Bishop Fernandes spoke to campers in grades six to12, charging them with the mission to restore life to our society.
“We are a people of life who cherish life, who nurture life, and who celebrate life,” he said. “Our God is the God of life, and he gave us his only-begotten Son so that we might have life and have life abundantly. So let us live always in the love of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let us be a people of life.”
The Lasting Impact of a Devout Catholic Family
The bishop and his four brothers grew up in Toledo, Ohio, after his parents left their family behind in India to seek a new life for their sons.
“We shared a room for about 18 years,” said his younger brother, Eustace Fernandes. “I think one of the things that has been striking is that nothing has changed in terms of the family dynamic. He’s still our brother, and he’s available to his nephews and nieces. He is very much the same person.”
Eustace said that he and Bishop Fernandes typically call once a week and that Bishop Fernandes tries to call each of his brothers on the weekend.
“It’s kind of interesting to think that this person that we’ve all known growing up with as a little boy — we played in the backyard, and we had our arguments and squabbles — was called out of medical school to become a priest, and then from there to be a bishop of large flocks,” Eustace said. “This is a witness to the way in which we were raised and the way my parents made a very deliberate effort to keep us grounded, regardless of our state in life. I see my brother’s ordination as an expression and a fruit of my parents’ vocation to marriage and family. It’s not so much about himself.”
Eustace said that he hopes anyone looking to his brother also recognizes the deep sacrifices his parents made to bring them to where they are now.
“The thing that’s most important to me is that people see his ministry as a witness to the Catholic family, which is in some ways under siege,” Eustace said. “[The Catholic family] is very countercultural. The truth and beauty of our faith is born out in his vocation, but it was born first out of my parents answering the call for marriage and being open to life.”
Eustace said that when his brother left medical school to become a priest, it became evident to him and his family that this was truly what God was calling him to do.
“I see him going from a young smiling boy to a young smiling man to a priest who’s always smiling and now to a bishop who very much wants to give and share with people the joy of Christ,” Eustace said. “I’m so excited for the people of Columbus to be able to have a bishop who really loves them, is really pastoral, and is going to show them the joy that can be found in our Catholic faith. My brother loves being a priest. He loves ministering the sacraments. He loves being with people of all ages and all abilities.”
Life in the Diocese
Abby Pitones, the videographer and studio manager of the Diocese of Columbus, was one of the first people to learn of Bishop Fernandes’ installation to Columbus. Pitones photographed his ordination and continued to travel with him to events around the diocese.
“He is very busy, and he’s very fast. I’m basically his shadow,” Pitones said. “It’s incredible just to see him interact like a shepherd with the sheep, and that’s something that I will never take for granted. Whenever he talks to someone, his attention is fully on them.”
Pitones added that his energy and passion for the Church is evident to all who interact with him.
“I think he is going to bring such great revival within the Catholic Church in Columbus,” Pitones said. “He is an incredible shepherd, and we’re going to experience a lot of growth.”
Bishop Fernandes immediately began visiting parishes around the diocese. One of his first stops was at St. Patrick’s parish in downtown Columbus. St. Patrick’s had 10 new Dominican friars ordained in May, and they had planned a welcome party for the new priests and new bishop.
“This welcome party was kind of in the works, and then we were like, ‘What if we invited the bishop?’” said Father Frassati, a priest at St. Patrick’s. “We were planning to have adoration at 6:00 and then food, games, and first blessings at 7:00 from the two brand-new priests.”
Father Frassati knew that Bishop Fernandes had some family and good friends at the parish, so they ended up sending a flier to his rectory in Cincinnati.
“I told him, ‘I’m sure you’re not going to be busy this day,’” joked Father Frassati. “But I told him we would love to have him.”
Right after his ordination, Bishop Fernandes had dinner at the Pontifical College Josephinum in his honor. Then, he headed for St. Patrick’s. At St. Patrick’s, a security guard approached one of the deacons and told him that Bishop Fernandes would be stopping by for 10 minutes.
“I was very surprised. But he came in with two men who were part of security and just entered the parish hall. Everybody stood up and clapped,” Father Frassati said. “It was like a pep-rally moment. He immediately knelt down for the new priests’ first blessing, and it just got quiet. Everybody was really shocked; it was like they had just seen a celebrity. He received the two first blessings from our two newly ordained priests.”
Father Frassati said many teenagers watching had their jaws drop while watching the humility of a brand-new, consecrated bishop kneeling down in front of a newly ordained priest.
“Bishop Fernandes mentioned that he wants to walk with his people, and I’m pretty sure he’s running with his people,” Father Frassati said. “I don’t think we need to fear that he’s going to burn out. I think he sees how important it is to be present to people. That’s what’s really important with spiritual fatherhood: being present and being able to spend time with people. That’s something he has been able to model from Day One.”
Partnership With Apostolates
Not only has Bishop Fernandes visited local parishes, he has also made many stops at surrounding ministries and apostolates. He has visited Damascus Catholic Mission Campus three times within his first three weeks of service, said Aaron Richards, co-founder of Damascus.
“His response [to Damascus] has been overwhelmingly positive,” Richards said. “He has an incredible appreciation for a missionary lifestyle. He sees the key to vocations being a life given away.”
Bishop Fernandes visited Damascus and insisted on celebrating the Pentecost vigil with them, even though the timing didn’t originally line up with his schedule, Richards said.
This past weekend, Bishop Fernandes celebrated the closing Mass at camp. Afterward, Richards said he gave the bishop a tour of campus.
“All of our missionaries just love to affirm him, and during his homily, both at Pentecost and this past week, the excitement in our missionary body was palpable,” Richards said. “You could just see that they were waiting on his every word.”
Richards said that he and the entire missionary community at Damascus were sad to see Bishop Brennan go, but they’ve been eager to meet Columbus’ new pastor and father and receive him with open arms.
“I am most excited for the heart that he has for vocations,” Richards said. “There’s a tremendous need for young people particularly to give their lives in service to the world and to give a complete Yes to Jesus, in response to the complete Yes that he has given to us. And that doesn’t happen without expectation and invitation.”
Richards said that Bishop Fernandes has given a precise and bold invitation to the Church to give their lives away and serve in love.
“The ministry of a bishop is so critical to the life of the Church, to give blessing and permission for apostolic works to succeed,” Richards said. “It is inspiring to see a bishop who views apostolic movements as an authentic expression of the Holy Spirit and then actively engage with them for the purpose of seeing them grow and succeed. It just can’t be overstated: how impactful the presence, permission and blessing of a bishop is to the work of an apostolic lay movement. It really is just an injection of life and grace.”
Response to Roe v. Wade
Both at the closing Mass and in a statement, Bishop Fernandes affirmed the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“We in the Diocese of Columbus are thankful for the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Healthcare Organization,” he said in a statement. “The Catholic Church affirms that each human life is a gift from God, the Author and Lord of Life. In the Gospel of St. John (13:34), Jesus Christ taught that we are to love one another and to see and treat all human life the way our Lord and Savior sees us and treats us.”
Bishop Fernandes said that the Diocese of Columbus will continue to work and nurture Ohio families, aiding mothers and their children and fighting for the right to life for every human, born and unborn.
“I invite all Catholics to show compassion and understanding,” Bishop Fernandes said. “I pray that you will truly be instruments of Our Lord’s peace. I encourage you to reflect on two passages of Scripture: the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and Jesus’ call to love one another as he loves us and that what we do for others, we do for the Lord (Matthew 25:31-45). These passages display the disposition that we as Christians are called to have in our lives. It is on the basis of our love that we will be judged, so let us ask the Lord to increase our love.”
The statement concluded with: “We are a people of life. We celebrate, nurture and protect life. This is our moment to be heralds of the gospel of life.”