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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.
 
 
 

The future of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

The last Sunday Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington was on Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, but there continues to be five daily Masses, confessions, First Friday Eucharistic Adoration with the Divine Mercy Chaplet and daily rosary there as well as ministry to the poor, the homeless and the addicted.
 
“At some point the cathedral will be merged” with St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish, said Father Lance W. Harlow, rector of both, noting that there has not been religious education at the cathedral since the 2010-2011 academic year, and there are no young families with children in the parish.
 
“The two parishes are not merged in a canonical sense. This is the process towards which we are working now,” Father Harlow said.
 
Parishioners of both parishes have been working cooperatively since the unexpected 2011 death of Msgr. Thomas Ball, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, when due to the shortage of priests, one rector had to take responsibility for both the cathedral and St. Joseph Co-Cathedral.
 
“We knew this was coming after Msgr. Ball’s death,” said Bill LaCroix, a member of the finance and parish councils at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “People are sad to see it go.”
 
The cathedral has been the “seat of the diocese, the bishop’s church, and there has been a lot of pride in that,” he said after a Jan. 22 regular Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne.
 
Father Harlow outlined three factors that contribute to the immanent merger.
 
The most critical factor is insufficient income from collections to pay bills. “We are running at almost $3,000 below what we need to collect every week. This is forcing us to take out money from our investment account to pay operating expenses resulting in a deficit, which increases about every three months,” he said. “It is like a snowball getting larger and larger as it rolls downhill. Because our attendance is so low, there is no way we can generate enough income to pay our bills. By merging with St. Joseph, we will be able to share resources.”
 
The low attendance reflects the situation of downtown Burlington. The area in which the cathedral is located is no longer a residential area; it has become more commercial. As a result, the family neighborhoods that were there in the 19th Century no longer exist.
 
Over the past 30 years Mass attendance has dropped by more than 1,000 parishioners, which is similarly reflected in other churches, Father Harlow said. In the past 10 years, there were many years in which there were no marriages or baptisms; even the number of funerals has declined.
 
The third contributing factor the rector noted is that when Mass schedules had to be altered six years ago because there were not enough priests to maintain the old schedule, parishioners would not make the changes and went to other churches or stopped attending. “We now live in an era where one is attached more to his or her Mass time than to his or her parish,” he said.
 
LaCroix, a lifelong parishioner of the cathedral parish, lamented that many cathedral parishioners attend Masses at other area churches.
 
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has 275 registered parishioners. “It has been very difficult to provide altar servers, lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion because of the ‘personnel’ shortage,” Father Harlow explained.
 
According to him, parishioners have reacted to the changes that have occurred and those to take place in a variety of ways: Some have related that they knew there were financial problems for many years, but were in denial about it. Others have said that they should not have built the current cathedral after the previous one burned down in 1972. Others would like to see it stay open, but have no viable means of providing income for it. Others for sentimental purposes would like to see it stay open, but do not attend any Masses there and have “no meaningful connection with the Church,” he said.
 
The plan for the future is to ask authorities in Rome for permission to merge Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with St. Joseph Co-Cathedral. “If that is accepted, then St. Joseph Co-Cathedral would be designated as the cathedral for the diocese,” Father Harlow said. “There is no current plan for the present [cathedral] building as we do not know how long the merger process will take.”
 
Any plan for keeping the building open must take into consideration that the bare minimum need just to pay insurance and utility bills is $85,000 a year—with no viable source of revenue, he continued. “In the meantime, we continue with our schedule with the knowledge that we cannot sustain it for much longer. It will close eventually, but there is no plan for the property as of yet until we have more information.”
  • Published in Diocesan

A community that CARES

This is a faith community that CARES.
 
CARES Catholic Network, a cooperative health and wellness ministry of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski and the Burlington parishes of St. Mark, St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, is all about Compassion, Advocacy, Respite, Education and Service.
 
Housed at the former convent at St. Mark’s on North Avenue in Burlington, CARES Catholic Network is a Christ-centered, parish-based ministry dedicated to the holistic health and wellness of the community. Through assessment of people’s needs, planning and implementing health and wellness activities and reflecting on the Gospel mission of health and wholeness, CARES promotes the integration of body, mind and spirit both in volunteers and in those they serve.
 
Services and activities include transportation, home visits, a durable medical goods exchange (canes, shower chairs, commodes etc.), advocacy for immigrants, handyman services, right-to-life advocacy, blood pressure screenings and a caregiver support group.
 
CARES has a full-time parish nurse, Sharon Brown, who makes home and hospital visits, coordinates CARES services and is a liaison with other service providers.
 
The Francis Center at St. Mark Parish provides physical space and is the hub of the CARES Catholic Network. It consists of a chapel, two medium-sized multi-purpose rooms, two smaller conference rooms and a residential kitchen.
 
It is a place for community, serving others and spiritual growth.
 
At the center there is space for meetings, trainings and spiritual formation for volunteers; community prayer groups and faith formation activities; cultural/educational activities; education/support group meetings; and storage/collection space for durable medical and household goods.
 
“We are excited we can use this space to reach out to minister to the community, following our faith and doing works of mercy,” said Father Dallas St. Peter, administrator of St. Mark Parish. “The reason [for the center] is to extend the Church’s mission of mercy in this area.”
 
Services are available to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.
 
Two of the approximately 60 people who volunteer in the CARES ministry as their time allows are Claudine Nkurunziza and her mother, Merida Ntirampeba, natives of Burundi now living in Winooski and attending St. Francis Xavier Church. “My life is to help somebody,” Ntirampeba said.
 
She and her daughter escaped the genocide in their homeland and thank God for the help they received to do so. “They were doing it [helping the mother and child] for the love of God, and I want to repay God,” she said.
 
“Many people would have just saved themselves,” Nkurunziza added.
 
St. Francis CARES – which began three years ago -- brought the family food and clothing when needed and provided transportation and nursing assistance. “Without them, I don’t know where we’d be. They really have helped,” Ntirampeba said.
 
St. Mark Parish joined the CARES Catholic Network in 2015, and the cathedral and co-cathedral parishes joined in September. “We have absolute support from the pastors and administrative assistants,” Brown said.
 
Volunteers will spend the winter identifying programs needed for the spring and summer. Already fabric and sewing machines have been donated for a spring sewing class for refugee women.
 
Marie Forcier of St. Mark’s plans to be an instructor. “I love helping out,” she said.
 
“Pope Francis tells us to take care of each other,” Brown said. “By caring for others, we show the heart of Jesus.”
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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