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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

U.S. Bishops call for prayers, care for others after shooting in Las Vegas

On October 2, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), expressed “deep grief” after a deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas. 
 
The full text of the statement follows:
 
“We woke this morning and learned of yet another night filled with unspeakable terror, this time in the city of Las Vegas, and by all accounts, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.  My heart and my prayers, and those of my brother bishops and all the members of the Church, go out to the victims of this tragedy and to the city of Las Vegas.  At this time, we need to pray and to take care of those who are suffering.  In the end, the only response is to do good – for no matter what the darkness, it will never overcome the light.  May the Lord of all gentleness surround all those who are suffering from this evil, and for those who have been killed we pray, eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

“I join with Cardinal DiNardo in offering my prayers for the victims, their families, and for the first-responders," said Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington, "and I invite all those of the Catholic community in Vermont to do so as well.”

 
  • Published in Nation

Synod update

Preparations are underway for the first Diocesan Synod in the Diocese of Burlington in more than a half century.
 
Bishop Christopher J. Coyne is convening the synod to establish a pastoral plan for the immediate future of the Catholic Church in Vermont and to establish particular laws and policies to do so. This will be at least a yearlong project and is “a serious undertaking by the Church,” he said. “It is not a simple convening of meetings.”
 
Father Brian O’Donnell is the executive secretary for the synod, and he explained that a diocesan synod is an extraordinary gathering for the purpose of advising the diocesan bishop in his role as legislator for the diocese, especially when the bishop wants advice about major policies that affect the whole diocese.
 
“In my travels around 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,” Bishop Coyne noted.
 
The procedures for the synod are governed by a 1997 Instruction from the Holy See.  According to that instruction, there is a Preparatory Commission that has the primary responsibility for planning the synod, under the leadership of the diocesan bishop. 
 
The commission already has met and includes priests, deacons, religious, diocesan staff and lay members from the Diocesan Pastoral Council.
 
“The process of preparatory consultation will begin at the parish level, probably beginning in October, and continue at the deanery or regional level thereafter,” Father O’Donnell said.
 
The number of delegates is limited because all delegates are expected to express their views during the synod sessions. “All Vermont Catholics will be invited to participate in the synod process by taking part in the consultative sessions at the parish level during the preparatory period,” he said.
 
The bishop will set the agenda and decide the number of synod sessions. Currently Bishop Coyne is considering having three one-day sessions.
 
“It's clear that the Church in Vermont is facing significant challenges with smaller numbers of active Catholics, smaller numbers of priests and a surrounding culture that is increasingly unfriendly to faith,” he continued. “This raises big questions about how, in the face of these challenges, the Church can most effectively evangelize and carry out her primary divine mission of the salvation of souls.”
 
Topics for the synod will “likely involve some dimensions of pastoral planning with possible changes to the distribution of clergy and the configuration of parishes so that our primary focus is on the salvation of souls rather than the maintenance of buildings,” Father O’Donnell said.
 
After the work of preparation is completed, the bishop will convene the synod to meet in the necessary sessions to complete the work of discernment and planning and to then enact the policies, laws and directives to carry out that plan in the Vermont Church. “I will seek input from all. I will listen to all. And I will discern with you all,” he said.


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

Vermont Catholic staff earns press awards

The staff of Vermont Catholic earned four awards – including a coveted “Magazine of the Year” award – from the Catholic Press Association of the United States & Canada at its annual Catholic Media Conference June 21-23 in Quebec City.
 
In the “Magazine/Newsletter Of The Year” Diocesan Magazine category, Vermont Catholic staff took third place.
 
“My congratulations to the staff of Vermont Catholic magazine for being honored by the Catholic Press Association. These awards only confirm what I and the readers of Vermont Catholic already know: that the staff of the magazine are creative, faith-filled and hardworking people,” commented Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne.
 
Graphic designer Monica Koskiniemi garnered first place in the “Best Layout of an Article or Column” category for diocesan magazines for her print layout of "Sharing the Love," and Stephanie Clary, assistant editor and mission outreach and communication manager, placed second for her article “The Cry of the Earth, The Cry of the Poor” in the “Best Reporting of Social Justice Issues: Care for God’s Creation” category.
 
The staff earned a third-place award for “Best Redesign.”
 
“You are only as good as your team, and Vermont Catholic magazine is blessed with a very talented team,” said Vermont Catholic editor Ellen Kane. “Even though we are a small team of four, wearing many different hats at the Diocese, it is our strong commitment to the mission of the Catholic Church and spreading the Good News to households throughout Vermont that keeps us focused on producing a high quality magazine that connects Catholics around our common faith.”
 
The magazine’s quarterly format – introduced with the December 2016 issue -- allows the staff to take a “deeper dive into different aspects of our faith and share the rich diversity of Catholic life from every corner of the statewide Diocese of Burlington,” she added. “We are delighted that the redesign of the magazine was received so positively on the national level.”
 
In the “Magazine/Newsletter of the Year” category, judges said: “The scope of this magazine is demonstrated by its totally different cover treatment, all centered around people. They illustrate the diversity of subjects of Catholic life in Vermont from the mother with child to the family so happily posed to the young man working on a farm while on retreat. Stories are interesting and well-written.”
 
In the “Best Redesign” category, judges remarked: “The redesign results in a much more energetic and lively magazine. Feature articles are well designed and layouts are creative. Type is used to enhance the lively energetic feel. Biggest success is the redesign of the cover and the art. Logo is stronger and makes a better visual statement. Art is much larger, clearly focused and draws the reader into the magazine.”
 
Koskiniemi earned top honors for “Best Layout of an Article or Column: Diocesan Magazine” judges said, because of “great graphics, great layout, great use of type and contrast.” They continued, “The eye moves around the page and the reader is able to quickly get the sense of the story and the intensity of the project. There is also a great sense of energy.”
 
Clary’s entry in the “Best Reporting of Social Justice Issues: Care for God’s Creation” earned second place because it distilled the insights of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home." into a concise explanation of ecological justice as part of the Christian mission. “The article emphasizes that the poor are particularly harmed by climate change and that those who are privileged have a special responsibility to address its effects,” the judges wrote.
 
The Catholic Press Association has been uniting and serving the Catholic press for more than 100 years. It has nearly 250 publication members and 500 individual members. Member print publications reach 10 million households plus countless others through members’ websites and social media outlets.
 
Vermont Catholic and its predecessor, the biweekly Vermont Catholic Tribune, have won numerous CPA awards throughout the years.
 
 

Father Mattison reflects on synod

By Father Thomas Mattison, pastor of Christ our Savior Parish in Manchester Center and Arlington

Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne has convoked a diocesan synod. What? Why? And why care?
 
A diocesan synod is a legislative action by which a diocesan bishop, after broad consultation, establishes the laws that will govern his diocese. But, we thought the pope made the laws! Well, he does – for the universal Church. But it is obvious that the situation of the Church in Vermont is different from that of the Church in Africa. So, the Church in Vermont will need to have rules and procedures that it will use in applying the universal law.
 
Moreover, Vermont may well have unique needs, unforeseen by the universal law, that require unique approaches and treatment.
 
Let me list a few:
‐ Vermont is divided in two by the Green Mountains; east-west travel takes a disproportionate amount of time.
‐ Burlington is a long way from the whole of southern Vermont. (Bennington is closer to the sees of Albany, N.Y; Springfield, Mass.; Worcester, Mass.; and Manchester, N.H., than it is to Burlington.)
‐ The population of Vermont is concentrated in Burlington, as is the wealth and everything else but the scenery.
‐ The rest of the population is scattered in small towns and villages.
‐ There is little industry in Vermont and, so, few jobs for our youth.
‐ Thus, the population of Vermont is weighted to the gray end.
‐ More Vermonters describe themselves as “church-less” than in any other state.
‐ Of these, 60 percent call themselves “ex-Catholics.”
 
The Catholic Church in Vermont, since it is made up of Vermonters, reflects all of these issues. Obviously, then, the Catholic Church in Vermont faces challenges and has opportunities that must be met and seized that the universal law of the Church could not have imagined.
 
One might just decide to leave each scattered little population center to work things out for itself. The ensuing chaos is not hard to imagine, but it is very hard to imagine that this would create a meaningful Catholic presence in the state as a whole. Besides, such “congregationalism” is absolutely antithetical to the very meaning of “catholic.”
 
So a synod is necessary:
‐ to assure that every section of this “scattered” diocese is heard
‐ that the religious needs of every section are met
‐ that the pastoral priorities of the diocese as a whole are clearly laid out
‐ that lines of communication and responsibility are well defined
‐ to draw up fair and uniform policies for the allocation of assets – money, personnel, buildings
‐ to define criteria for the creation, modification or closure of any Church ministries.
 
A synod is big business. Its work will touch every single one of us. We should watch its work, support its outcome and pray for universal wisdom and charity.
 
For more information on Father Mattison’s parish, go to christoursaviorvt.com.
 
 

Bishops: Congress must consider budget's moral dimensions

The chairmen of six U.S. bishops' policy committees March 3 told members of the House and Senate that every decision they will make on the federal budget "should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity."

"A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects 'the least of these' (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, vulnerable and at risk, without work or in poverty should come first," the six chairmen said.

They pointed out that the government and other institutions have "a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times."

The letter said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits and believes the country has an obligation to address their impact on the health of the economy but that a "just framework for the federal budget cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons."

They also warned that cuts to domestic and international poverty-reducing and refugee-assisting programs would "result in millions of people being put in harm's way, denying access to life-saving and life-affirming services."

The bishops said they have devoted their efforts to addressing the "morally problematic features of health care reform while insuring that people have access to health care coverage."

They noted that the Catholic Church -- in its work across the country caring for the poor, homeless, the sick and refugees -- often partners with the government. "Our combined resources allow us to reach further and help more," they said.

The bishops urged federal lawmakers to recognize that the "moral measure of the federal budget is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless, exploited, poor, unborn or undocumented are treated."

"Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources," they said.

The letter was signed by: New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, chairman of the Committee on Communications; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration.
  • Published in Nation

Stations 'On the Path of Ecological Conversion'

Eric and Vela Bouchard of Island Pond, members of Mater Dei Parish in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, are both park rangers at Brighton State Park, so when they read in their church bulletin that there was going to be “Stations of the Cross with John Paul II: On the Path of Ecological Conversion,” they made plans to drive the 106 miles to Burlington to attend.
 
“We came because of the environmental aspect of it,” Mr. Bouchard said. “Care of the Earth is a passion [of ours].”
 
Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne led the Stations of the Cross at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception; about 50 people attended.
 
After the Stations, there was a sustainable soup supper and discussion of the Lenten practice of fasting and information on the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Lenten Fast for Climate Justice.

Seasonal soup was donated by New Moon Cafe in Burlington and sustainably sourced bread was donated by O Bread Bakery in Shelburne.
 
The Stations and the program after were part of the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation.
 
The special Stations reflect St. John Paul II’s emphasis on the gravity of the environmental crisis and the urgent need for the Church to respond to its moral and spiritual dimensions. For him, the penitential season of Lent offered “a profound lesson to respect the environment.”
 
At each of the 14 Stations, a scripture verse was read followed by a reflection from Pope John Paul II read by Bishop Coyne such as:
 
“One of the greatest injustices in the contemporary world consists precisely in this:that the ones who posses much are relatively few and those who possess almost nothing are many.  It is the injustice of the poor distribution of the goods and services originally intended for all.”
 
And
 
“There is a growing threat to the environment, to the vegetation, animals, water and air.”
 
The congregation recited a prayer after each reflection, focusing on a pertinent area of ecological justice like energy consumption, global responsibilities, injustice and violence, consumerism, environmental destruction and misguided models of progress.
 
More about “The Stations of the Cross with John Paul II: On the Path of Ecological Conversion” can be found at Year of Creation: Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.
 
“It’s time we have these awakenings” about the Christian call to care for the Earth, Mrs. Bouchard said.
 
In his presentation on fasting after the Stations, Joshua Perry, director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington, explained different practices of fasting throughout history and said “fasting is related to the call to ecological conversion.”
 
The Church’s practice of fasting has varied according to time and location, but it is not just for Lent, he continued: “Fasting is an important spiritual discipline we can practice to deepen our relationship with God.”
 
Perry explained that fasting is a reminder that people are dependent on God, it allows them to focus on their spiritual selves, it helps them “clear out the clutter” in their lives to better see the presence of God and helps them see the plight of others. Fasting also allows persons to give alms – to use savings from food to do charitable works and stand in solidarity with others.
 
Judy Contompasis of Burlington, who attends The Catholic Center at the University of Vermont, saw the Stations of the Cross promoted on Facebook. "I've always seen part of my faith as taking care of God's creation," she said. "It's beautiful to see an event that connects care for the environment and faith because they are not separate and should not be separated."

Also during the meal, Stephanie Clary, mission outreach and communication coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington, outlined the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Lenten Fast for Climate Justice in which participants fast and pray for bold action to solve the climate change crisis.
 
Fasting from certain foods, especially meat, she explained, positively affects the planet and the poor. Fifteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by meat consumption, Clary noted, and producing one pound of meat requires about 1,800 gallons of fresh water.
 
“We have to care for…the Earth God has created,” she encouraged.
 
For more information, visit mercy2earth.org/lent.
 
 
 

Bishop's statement on St. Albans shooting

On Thursday, Feb. 23, a shooting took place in the parking lot of Holy Angels Church in St. Albans. The victim remains in critical condition in a hospital, and the police have arrested at least one suspect. According to one report, the incident was connected to a drug deal gone bad. The fact that the crime occurred in one of our parking lots appears to be a coincidence.
 
Obviously, the illegal use of drugs as well as any act of violence against any person is condemned by Catholic teaching. Illegal use of drugs is never a good choice. Violent acts, whether they take place in a church parking lot or anywhere else, are rightly to be condemned.
 
Nevertheless, the shooting did take place on church property in a busy and dense neighborhood. People were out walking in the good weather. Children were making their way home from school. Normal parish and Vermont Catholic Charities business was taking place in the parish center when the six shots were fired. Luckily, none of them was struck by a bullet. But anyone in the area has been “struck” by violence, from those who tried to help and comfort the shooting victim, to the parents of the children on the street, to the neighbors whose quiet afternoon was suddenly punctuated by the sound of gunfire. For all of them, their neighborhood does not seem quite as safe as it once did.
 
I ask the Catholic community to stand resolutely against gun violence and illegal drug use and to continue to support our law enforcement officials in carrying out their work as they serve the common good. I urge us all to be watchful in our neighborhoods and families for the signs of illegal drugs while at the same time being supportive of families who are dealing with addiction as well as those who are recovering from addiction.
 
Finally, I offer my prayers for all whose lives have been impacted by the shooting, for the victim himself and for his recovery, yes, but also the other victims -- the neighbors, the workers, the parish staff, for all whose quiet day suddenly became one of turmoil and fear.
 
Mary, Queen of Angels, pray for us. 
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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