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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

Pastoral plan

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne is convening a Diocesan Synod to establish a pastoral plan for the immediate future of the Catholic Church in Vermont.
 
Work was done on the last pastoral plan for the statewide Diocese from 2003 through 2006. It was promulgated by then-Burlington Bishop Salvatore R. Matano “as a way of trying to address the reduction of the number of priests available to minister to the people of Vermont,” explained Msgr. John McDermott, vicar general for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
In addition, it attempted to address the demographic changes that had occurred and are occurring in Vermont, among them aging population, reduction in births and population shifts.
 
“An element of the synodal process will be to examine the present and future ministerial needs in Vermont,” Msgr. McDermott said. “It may be that the Diocese will need to make more pastoral changes to parishes in order to best serve the people of God.  At this time, there is no way of projecting what these changes might be. We will have to see how the synod process proceeds.”
 
Dioceses throughout the United States are engaged in pastoral planning processes to deal with similar issues as those facing the Diocese of Burlington.
 
For example, in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Mont., the three major priorities that surfaced at the Leadership Summit for pastoral planning were parish life and liturgy, evangelization and discipleship and vocations to the priesthood. In the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisc., areas of pastoral concern were identified as evangelization; youth, young adult  and family; leadership; education; Eucharist; and the dignity of human life.
 
In the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., pastoral concerns include liturgy and sacraments, catechesis, New Evangelization/youth, family life and vocations and stewardship. The pastoral plan concerns for the Archdiocese of Atlanta fall into four broad categories: Knowing Our Faith, Living Our Faith, Sharing Our Faith and Evolution of Our Parishes.
 
As the Diocese of Burlington prepares its pastoral plan, Msgr. McDermott said, “Our hope is to engage parishioners in the conversation to determine how best to strengthen Church life in Vermont.”

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This story was original published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Collection to help Harvey victims

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has called on the bishops to consider taking a special collection to support victims of Hurricane Harvey and to provide pastoral and rebuilding support to impacted Dioceses.
 
The collection will be taken in the statewide Diocese of Burlington Sept 2-3 or 9-10.
 
Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne has requested that the special collection be taken at all 73 Vermont Catholic parishes. Funds given to the collection will support the humanitarian and recovery efforts of Catholic Charities USA and will provide pastoral and rebuilding support to impacted Dioceses through the conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
“God works through us to serve the greater community, especially in times of great need,” the bishop said. “We are called to be generous to the victims of Hurricane Harvey just as so many responded to our needs in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.  Our prayers go out to the families that have lost loved ones and to all who have lost homes and businesses.”
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Statement of Bishop Christopher J. Coyne regarding the racial violence in Charlottesville, Va.

I stand with my brother Catholic bishops of the United States in decrying the blatant demonstration of racism that occurred in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend, "condemning the violence and hatred that have now led to one death and multiple injuries. ... We offer our prayers for the family and loved ones of the person who was killed and for all those who have been injured. We join our voices to all those calling for calm.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, in his remarks on this tragedy, clearly states my own feelings as well: "Racism is a poison of the soul. It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed.” You and I as citizens of this great country, and as Catholics, must be constantly vigilant against racist attitudes, words and behaviors within our community. But, this is also especially true of ourselves. To quote Archbishop Chaput once more: "If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts and an insistence on the same in others."
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Thoughts on Vacations, Virtue and 'Playfulness'

I will soon be heading off for a summer vacation. Those of you who follow me on Facebook have seen my posts over the years from Pine Point, Maine, complete with photos of sun and rain, surf and turf, and long walks at the water’s edge. I’m fortunate enough to be able to spend time with a large number of family and friends, to relax and recharge. I always make sure I use all of my vacation days. After all, that’s what they’re there for. And believe it or not, I even think I am being a bit virtuous in this.
 
“What?” you might say, “Taking a vacation is virtuous? Surely, the bishop jests.” Not at all. I am sitting-on-a-beach-chair-reading-a-good-book-drinking-a-frosty-beer serious and I offer the encouragement of the saints themselves for your consideration.
 
St. Augustine in his treatise “On music” wrote, “I pray thee, spare thyself at times: for it becomes a wise man sometimes to relax the high pressure of his attention to work." 
 
St. Thomas Aquinas draws upon the writing of Aristotle and even promotes relaxation as virtuous, “Just as man needs bodily rest for the body's refreshment, because he cannot always be at work - since his power is finite and equal to a certain fixed amount of labor - so too is it with his soul, whose power is also finite and equal to a fixed amount of work.” The remedy St. Thomas offers is the virtue of eutrapelia, the virtue of “playfulness” or “fun,” intended to refresh the person in both body and soul.  Now, Thomas does place some guidelines on this: the “play” must not be immoral or “wicked,” it must be in moderation, and it is intended toward a good end, namely to renew and refresh. But, it really is intended to be fun and playful as well.
 
So, here is my encouragement: Even if you can’t get away to the coast of Maine or the lakeshore or any place at all for a vacation right now, make sure you try and grab some downtime to relax and refresh body and soul and practice the virtue of eutrapelia, so as to be refreshed to go out and take care of all the other duties of life and faith. A good balance between work and play is good for the soul. 
 

Bishops comment on opioid crisis

By Matt Hadro
 
(CNA/EWTN News)--Amidst a growing epidemic of drug overdose and opioid addiction, Catholic bishops have been speaking out on the need for prayer and solidarity with those suffering from addiction.
 
“The closer you get to the Catholic Church, the closer you get to the wounds of Christ,” Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas said during a June 14 press conference at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ recent meeting in Indianapolis.
 
“And it’s important for us to recognize that we accompany many people who are wounded,” he added. “It’s the very essence of the Church to reach out to those who are wounded.”
 
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared that opioid abuse is an “epidemic” in the United States. Every day, 91 Americans die of an opioid-related overdose. The drugs include those used in prescription painkillers like oxycodone, codeine, and morphine, but also heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
 
Overdoses have also become the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50. Opioids are involved in over 60 percent of overdoses nationwide, the CDC noted, and opioid-related overdoses quadrupled between 1999 and 2015.
 
Many Americans have reported first using prescription drugs before they used heroin, and rates of “past month” and “past year” heroin use, as well as heroin addiction, went up among 18-25 year-olds from 2002-2013, the CDC found, as heroin has become more widely available and purer.
 
Heroin-related deaths have more than tripled between 2010 and 2015, driven in part by an increase in synthetic opioids like fentanyl being added to heroin and cocaine to increase the potency of the drugs, the CDC reported.
 
At the U.S. bishops’ annual spring meeting in Indianapolis, held June 14-15, several bishops addressed the rising opioid crisis and discussed what the Church is doing to help those addicted to opioids, and their families. “The problem is becoming just so massive,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
 
In Vermont, parishes are trying to reach out to victims on the local level but are making sure to reach the families of victims as well, Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne explained at the June 14 press conference.
 
“Oftentimes we are kind of limited in what we can do on a state level,” he acknowledged. “But at our parishes and in our agencies in our parishes we can continue to reach out to addicted families,” he noted, stressing, “not just those who are in recovery, but also their families.”
 
This also involves finding foster parents for children of addicted parents, particularly those whose parents have overdosed and those who suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
 
Ultimately, Catholics must “recognize that it’s not just the addicts; it’s the whole family that suffers,” he continued.
 
Catholic Charities in the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese is “already on to this question,” Cardinal DiNardo noted, and is providing “the kinds of charity and help and counseling for them and their families that Catholic Charities by its professional expertise brings.”
 
On June 29, Bishop Edward Malesic of Greensburg, Penn., published a pastoral letter on the opioid crisis. In his diocese in Western Pennsylvania, more than 300 opioid-related deaths had ravaged the communities in the previous year.
 
In his “Pastoral Letter on the Drug Abuse Crisis from Death and Despair to Life and Hope,” Bishop Malesic affirmed that in response to the crisis, “we can either sink down into despair or rise up in hope.”
 
“This is a plague that has come into the homes and families of every city, town, and even the rural areas of our diocese,” he acknowledged. Yet Catholics must choose hope, he added.
 
“Hope is the certain belief that God will provide what we need to overcome the struggles we are now facing. If we are not guided by hope, we will give up before the battle is won. We must have hope!” he insisted.
 
And Catholics must give hope to those mired in the despair of addiction, he said. “We accompany them with courageous faith. We offer them the comforting presence and power of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Jesus will provide.”
 
Bishop Malesic exhorted priests, religious, and deacons to “reach out” in Christ’s name to those suffering from drug addiction, and “let them know that they are not alone.”
 
“With the power of prayer, we can lift up our needs and the needs of those who are addicted to a loving God who is concerned for all of us,” he said. “We know that prayer, this heartfelt and intimate communication with God, can make a dramatic difference in the life of someone coping with an addiction crisis.”
 
The bishop also announced initiatives the diocese was taking to respond to the crisis, including educational initiatives at the parish level and developing family recovery groups.
 
Last March, Massachusetts bishops also issued a statement in response to the state’s rising drug-overdose crisis, after the rate of overdose deaths had reached record levels there.
 
“We encourage our sisters and brothers who are suffering addiction or the addiction of loved ones to turn to their faith community for support, counsel and compassion, and we pray that those most affected will receive the physical, emotional and spiritual help that they need,” the commonwealth’s bishops stated.
 
  • Published in Nation

Father Sanderson's ordination

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne ordained the Vermont Catholic community’s newest priest at a special Mass June 17 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.

The newly ordained Father Joseph J. Sanderson has been assigned to serve as parochial vicar at Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish in Burlington.
           
“The call to be a Christian is a call to a life of self-emptying sacrifice, which is deepened even further in the priestly ministry when through ordination one is configured even more deeply into the person of Christ as the great High Priest,” Bishop Coyne said during the ordination Mass.
 
Born in Middlebury in 1990, Father Sanderson is the eldest of the three children of Jennifer and John Sanderson. He grew up in Orwell and attended Fair Haven Union High School, Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Providence College and St. John's Seminary in Boston.
 
“I chose to be a priest for the Diocese of Burlington because Vermont has always been and will always be my home,” Father Sanderson said. “It will be a great honor, privilege and joy for me to serve the people of this great State of Vermont, to labor for souls in this little corner of our Lord's vineyard.”
 
Read more in an upcoming issue of The Inland See.
 
 

Bishop's Mother's Day message

I won’t be going to visit my mother today for Mother’s Day; she still lives in the family home in a suburb of Boston, and I will be on a parish visitation in Vermont. My brothers and sisters along with her grandchildren will spend time with her for Mother’s Day, and I’ll make sure she gets flowers and her regular Sunday phone call from me.

And I will go to see her next weekend.

Most women of her generation stayed at home and raised their family. She had seven children, and at one point we were all under the age of 11. She somehow managed to take care of us, handing us off to my father when he was free from work and other chores. There were a lot of other large, two-parent families in my neighborhood; we had lots of friends and lots of adult eyes keeping track of all of us.

Mother’s Day usually meant handmade cards and some flowers but not too much else – it was too expensive for all nine of us to have brunch or dinner at a restaurant.

If the weather was nice enough, it was Dad at the grill.

Such was Mother’s Day then.

Things are different now, not so much in the love and care that mothers give their children but more in the circumstances and culture of the family. There are a lot more “blended” families (children of divorced and remarried parents), more unmarried parents with children, more mothers who work a job or two outside the home, more grandparents raising their grandchildren and more single parents – mainly women. These new realities often lead to unintended difficulties and outcomes for children and parents. Even though most are doing the best they can, personal and familial circumstances are often difficult.

Such is Mothers’ Day now.

Though times have changed, what remains the same is a mother's enduring connection with her children. And as women take on not necessarily more responsibilities -- just different ones -- they continue to be mothers, a role that they alone can hold, a role worth celebrating.

So as I offer a prayer in thanksgiving for the gift that my mother has been to me and my family, I offer a prayer of intercession for all our mothers, grandmothers and surrogates that in this time and culture, they may love their children with a mother’s heart and receive the help and support that they need from all of us.

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.
 
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