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Bishop Christopher J. Coyne

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne

Statement of the Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne on the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida

I didn’t watch the Evening News last night. I couldn’t. The news alerts during the day had already informed me that another mass shooting at another school had occurred early in the day in Parkland, Florida. As of this morning, 17 are dead, numerous others are wounded. I didn’t need to see this tragedy unfold one more time, in one more place, as one more instance of the “latest” of mass shootings. I’ve seen it before.
 
There is so much to grieve over here: grief for the victims and their families, grief for the students and staff who were terrorized and traumatized, grief for the awful burdens of the first responders, grief for another town, another place, that will never be the same. 
 
But to this litany of tears, I also add a particular grief over the phrase the “latest of mass shootings.”  We have passed the point where these horrific acts of domestic terror are unexpected. The shootings in Parkland are just one more incident, the “latest,” of what is no longer outside of the normal, but is the new normal. The mayor of Parkland, Fla., echoed this in her own words when she said in response to the shooting, “something like this can happen anywhere.” 
 
But it shouldn’t.
 
Yet it can and yes it will happen again until we, each of us, has the will to say, “This must stop. It is not normal. It is a cancer on our society that needs to be excised. This must stop."
 
We Catholics are a people of peace, a people of good news, a people of hope. But we are also a people of action. I ask each of my Catholic brothers and sisters to not only pray for the victims of the Parkland shooting and their families, but to pray for our country and to call or write or email our government leaders and say, “This must stop. What are you going to do about it?” I am.
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Christmas message from Bishop Coyne

Whatever your relationship with the Church may be, I invite you to consider how the moment of the Incarnation – God becoming man in Jesus Christ – has graced all of creation with the saving power of God. Throughout the course of the Church’s history, great saints and poets have authored heartfelt praise to the mystery of the Incarnation in which they tried to capture what it meant that God, the Supreme Creator of all that is, became one like us. Writing in the fourth century, St. Gregory Nazianzen came close to offering a perfect blend of the poetic and the theological when he wrote:
 
“The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: He it is who comes … to take to himself all that is human, except for sin. … He who makes rich is made poor; He takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of His divinity. He who is full is made empty; He is emptied for a brief space of His glory, that I may share in His fullness.”
 
But, while St. Gregory’s words may transport us into the Mystery of the Divine Majesty of God made manifest, the greeting of the angels to the shepherds that we hear proclaimed in the Gospel of Luke lead us deeply into Christ’s humanity:

"Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
 
In this Christmas celebration, we recall the mystery of Christ, true God and true man, and offer thanksgiving that “God so loved the world, that He gave us His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.” Every time we celebrate the Mass we encounter the same Christ present among us in the Church gathered, in the Word proclaimed and in the Sacrament of the Eucharist — and what a Christmas gift that is!
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Statement of Bishop Christopher J. Coyne on the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas

My brothers and sisters, once more we stand on the fortunate periphery in absolute horror as another mass shooting occurs in our country. I say, “fortunate periphery” because this could happen here in Vermont some day. We are fortunate it has not. Last month a mass shooting happened in Las Vegas, where 59 were killed and 441 were wounded.  Yesterday, it happened during a church service, on a Sunday morning, in rural Texas. Twenty-six people are dead, 20 are wounded. The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72, and among the dead were several children, a pregnant woman and the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter. The numbers and the details are staggering.  
 
I find my horror at the actions of these murders is mixed with frustration and guilt: frustration that we as a country cannot seem to come together to do anything about this evil plague and guilt that I bear for being part of a culture that fosters such violence. I find myself praying in the words of the song, “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”
 
I invite all of us to prayer and contrition. First, prayers for our brothers and sisters who were murdered at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, prayers for those who are recovering from their wounds, and prayers for the families and friends who have lost loved ones and are caring for the wounded.
 
But also prayers for ourselves that we may as a country somehow find a way to have a meaningful dialogue about what is to be done to stop these mass shootings, with an openness to hear each other and to seriously consider new policies and laws to protect people from this horror. Each of us must search our own heart and ask, “Lord, what must I do?”
 
Finally, I ask my fellow Catholics to join me in prayer and fasting out of contrition for the collective guilt we bear for the violence that is so pervasive in our society.  May we ask the Lord to be merciful on all of us and to help us find our way more deeply into Him who is “the way, the truth, and the light.”
  • Published in Nation

Understanding our young former Catholics: Part I

The numbers are bleak. Roughly half of Catholic teenagers lose their Catholic identity by their late 20’s, and of those who still self-identify as “Catholic,” very few have any connection with the Church. While this is something I think most of us have realized or experienced for quite a while, it is rather stark to see the statistics in plain black and white. It is worrisome -- worrisome for the Church and worrisome for them. 
 
In my travels throughout Vermont over the past two and half years, when I ask people “What are some of the concerns you have?” the top two are almost always, “What is going to happen to our small parishes?” and “What can we do to keep young people and families in the Church?” Both of these are serious topics that will obviously be discussed in the upcoming preparations for and convening of next year’s Diocesan Synod. In keeping with this, during the next few months I will offer some information and statistics that will help educate us about some of the substantial issues involved with these areas of concern.

I recently received a report from Notre Dame University that summarizes an extensive survey of young people who have left the Catholic Church.* The report seeks to understand first the reasons for their leaving the Church, second who these young people are now, and, finally, some implications for forming committed Catholic youth. It does so through the use of six significant findings, the first one of which I will mention here:

They are still believers. Young adults who are former Catholics still (mostly) believe in and interact with (some version of) God. Only 19 percent no longer believe in God. While the practice of prayer is less common, “57 percent of former Catholic emerging adults still pray at least sometimes.”

Implications and opportunity: “Leaving the Catholic Church rarely means becoming an atheist. Many former Catholics still believe in God or some other divine force. ...  This is not fundamentally different from emerging adults who are raised in other faiths. It demonstrates a widespread trend in this generation of moving away from organized religion but retaining a belief in and connection with the divine. These youths (and emerging adults) may be open to discussions about the nature of God that are more sophisticated and inviting than some may imagine.”

So they are “spiritual,” but not “religious.” Perhaps there is an opportunity to convince them that both are good choices: spiritual and religious.

 
*Manglos-Weber, Nicolette and Christian Smith, “Understanding Former Young Catholics: Findings from a National Study of American Emerging Adults,” Notre Dame University, 2017. 

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This article was originally published in the Aug. 26 through Sept. 1 issue of The Inland See bulletin.
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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