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Mass for peace in Democratic Republic of Congo

Members of the French-speaking, African Catholic community in the Burlington area gathered March 11 to pray for peace in the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo, a central African nation from which many came to Vermont.
“We cannot forget our first country,” said Jules Wetchi, president of the French African Catholic community and the Congolese Catholic community in Burlington.
Earlier this year, Congolese Church leaders, including the nation's cardinal, condemned security forces' attacks on Catholic protesters that left at least five dead and 120 people detained.
The Vatican Embassy in Kinshasa backed local Church officials, saying that the promotion of social justice and the defense of political and civil rights of citizens are an integral part of the social doctrine of the Church.
The bishops’ statement said they were "profoundly shocked by such ignoble acts" and would demand a "serious and objective inquiry" into who was responsible.
Police used tear gas and batons against Massgoers in some of the capital's parishes and violently broke up attempted marches in which protesters demanded fresh elections in the country. The nunciature said 134 churches were surrounded by police, and at least two parishes were not permitted to celebrate Mass Dec. 31. In five parishes, Mass was interrupted by security forces.
In a statement, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa called the response "nothing short of barbaric." He said people at Mass, armed only with Bibles and rosaries, were attacked with tear gas.
A Catholic Church-mediated agreement signed at the end of 2016 included a commitment that presidential elections would be held before the end of 2017; they were not.
During the Mass for peace at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington, Father Lance Harlow, rector, said the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo are undergoing a “long Lent,” referring to a period of suffering and purification because of “murders, hunger, persecution of the Church, displacement of people and refugees leaving the country.”
Local immigrants are “rightfully upset,” he said, saying they cannot “go back to this darkness” to see family and friends.
He urged them to unite their prayers with Jesus on the cross because He is the only one who can go into the darkness there and come out of it unscathed: “We can’t enter into a world of sin and become a sinner in order to save sinners. Only Jesus can save sinners.”
Father Harlow celebrated the Mass in French and delivered his homily in French.
Lyliane Nzili and her mother, Marie Mbambu, members of the congregation, are both from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They expressed concern about the lack of elections and violence there.
Nzili’s 25-year-old son and extended family still live there, and she is worried for their safety. Mbambu prays for the Holy Spirit to fortify her family there.
Wetchi, who wore a colorful scarf with the name of his homeland printed on it, has four brothers, four of five sisters and his mother living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I’m worried because they don’t know if they can survive,” he said. “There is a lot of insecurity now.”
Father Harlow told the congregation, which also included people who were not from Africa, that he prayed with the African people for their country with hope. “Peace in your country,” he said, and was greeted with “amens” and applause.
--Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

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Catholic Schools Week Mass

More than 500 members of Catholic school communities in Vermont attended a special Catholic Schools Week Mass Jan. 31 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.
They came in school uniforms by bus or car or walked to the special celebration at which students served as altar servers, readers and gift bearers. Some students carried their school banner in the entrance procession; others brought baskets or boxes of donations for charities in their school’s area to the front of the church during the offertory. 
Students from Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington made up the choir, accompanied by Rice teacher Brian Lynam with cantor Ashlee O'Brien from the University of Vermont Catholic Center.
The theme of the Mass and of Catholic Schools Week was "Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed." The focus was on the important spiritual, academic and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education.
In his homily, Msgr. John McDermott, vicar general for the Diocese, spoke about the importance of choices and encouraged the students to make choices for God, for life and for eternal life.
“What we are trying to teach you” in Catholic schools “is God loves you, called you, redeemed you and calls you to Himself,” said Msgr. McDermott, pastor of Christ the King St. Anthony Parish in Burlington that includes Christ the King School.
Catholic schools help students make important life choices about vocations and avocations, but most importantly help them make choices that will help them become saints. “It’s easier to make choices that lead us further from God,” he said, “but we weren’t made to live an easy life. We were meant to live an eternal life with God in Heaven.”
About a dozen members of the clergy participated in the Mass.
During her remarks, Lisa Lorenz, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Burlington, said the “beauty of Catholic schools” is that they are witnesses of hope as students there grow in grace and the love of the Lord.
Each school represented at the Mass collected donations for charitable organizations in their area including Vermont Catholic Charities Inc., Central Vermont Humane Society, Lamoille County Food Share, Joseph’s House and Chittenden County Food Shelf.
Many of the students who attended the Mass appreciated being a part of the celebration with other Catholic school students. “It was cool to see all the schools in Vermont,” said Henry Sipples, an eighth grader at Good Shepard Catholic School in St. Johnsbury, admitting the attendance was more than he expected.
“It’s good to come together to celebrate our schools,” added classmate Madison Wilson.
PJ Letourneau and Alexis Limlaw-Sicard, eighth graders at St. Paul School in Barton, liked the music, and classmate Marina Rockwell — though she likes her small town — enjoyed visiting the City of Burlington.
But more importantly, she said, she appreciated the feeling of the Church as universal. “Being in Barton, you don’t see other Catholic schools [because St. Paul’s is the only one in the nearby area] so you feel kind of like isolated,” she said. “Coming here with all the other kids who do the things you do [in Catholic school] makes you feel like you’re a big family.”

  • Published in Schools

Mass for African immigrants

As New Americans continue to resettle in Vermont, members of the Catholic community embrace them and help them to make the Green Mountain State their home.
This, they do in myriad ways including helping the immigrants find and set up homes, access social services and jobs, maintain their culture and practice their faith in meaningful ways.
For example, in Burlington, St. Joseph Co-Cathedral hosts Mass in French for members of the Francophile African community.
Father Lance Harlow, rector, celebrates the special Sunday evening Mass about once a month to help the participants preserve their Catholic faith and their culture. “They have a purity of Catholic faith through their culture but not affected by the Puritanism that affects most of Northeast America,” he said.
At a recent Mass, about 50 people — children, teens, working adults and the elderly — gathered in the front left section of the co-cathedral, many wearing clothing made of traditional African cloth and featuring designs of the Blessed Mother. They sang and clapped; some played instruments like drums and shakers, others made a “sound of joy” like a trill they called “bikelekele” or waved a scarf.
“It’s great. You get to get back to the same experience as back home. It kind of recreates that,” said Rachel Miyalu who left the Democratic Republic of Congo and came to the United States seven years ago, three years ago to Vermont.
“I like Mass in French,” said Gertrude Maboueta who came to Vermont six years ago from the Congolese capital of Brazzaville. “Father Lance teaches us in French because the French is our language.”
Father Harlow took French classes in high school and college and continues to take private lessons through the Alliance Francais.
He celebrates Mass in French and preaches in French, to the delight of the congregation.
“I am very, very happy,” said Claudine Nzanzu who came to Vermont five years ago from Democratic Republic of Congo. “This is a lovely Father, a good Father, who celebrates the Mass for us in French. He’s an angel to us.”
Most of the members of this congregation are from Democratic Republic of Congo, and their English proficiency varies, but they all appreciate Mass in French and its liveliness. “English Mass is not active. We don’t dance,” said Nzanzu who shook the rattle-like instrument and waved her arms in joy and praise during the Mass.
Ophthalmologist Jules Wetchi, 39, left Democratic Republic of Congo and came to Burlington in 2013; he works as a medical technician and is studying for a master’s degree in public health from the University of Vermont. He was active in his church in the Archdiocese of Kinshasa and formed the French-speaking Catholic community in Burlington.
A language barrier is often the first challenge New Americans face when they come to Vermont, he said, and that is especially difficult at Mass. So his goal was to create a community to help people maintain their Catholic faith and to be engaged in the Mass; the French Mass began in 2016.
The co-cathedral was the perfect place for the community to form, not just because Father Harlow speaks French — and can hear their confessions in their native language — but also because of its central location for Mass and other religious gatherings like the recitation of the rosary and Gospel study and social gatherings like post-Mass potluck dinners.
Wetchi, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion who speaks four languages, said finding a home in an historically French national parish, is especially meaningful for the French-speaking African community there which now numbers nearly 50.
“When you come for God, you need to be happy because God loves us and nobody loves us like God,” Nzanzo said. “This Mass is a blessing.”
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

Warming shelter at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral

St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish in Burlington is believed to be the first parish in the Diocese of Burlington to make space available for an overnight warming shelter.
The parish is working with Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington to provide space for 10 cots for homeless young persons from Nov. 6 until the end of March. The space in the parish hall is open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week.
“Each of us is committed to serving the homeless population during the cold Vermont winters, and I am hoping that our first year in partnership will help to save the lives of young adults who would otherwise find themselves in jeopardy,” said Father Lance Harlow, rector of the co-cathedral and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception parishes.
According to Mark Redmond, Spectrum’s executive director, the agency had 25 beds available to this young population of homeless persons, but that became insufficient to meet the needs. “We had a wait list, which is terrible,” he said, because that meant some youth had no place to get shelter.
It was his idea to approach the Catholic Church for help, an idea he said Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne met with a “green light” and referral to Father Harlow.
The co-cathedral space is being used for 17- to 22-year-old homeless persons who can access dinners at other sites and then sleep at the co-cathedral hall. Snacks and a light morning breakfast are provided there, but shower and laundry facilities are accessed at a nearby drop-in center.
“The beauty of it is we’ve got everything nearby, except the beds. The parish hall [has] that,” Redmond said.
Two Spectrum staff members are on duty until 1 a.m. at the parish hall, and one staff member stays awake there from 1 to 8 a.m.
“Those overnight hours will have a minimum impact on the church's schedule, and if there is a conflict with evening Masses, Spectrum personnel will come in at a later time,” Father Harlow said.
“I am happy to be able to collaborate with Mark Redmond at Spectrum and his staff who are doing excellent work with this [young homeless] population,” Father Harlow said. “It is very much a cooperative ministry. The church has the space and Spectrum has the personnel.”
Asked what the collaboration says about the bishop, rector and co-cathedral parishioners, Redmond responded, “It says they’re awesome.”
Many of the young persons the shelter will serve have lived in poverty or numerous foster care homes. “Most have lived chaotic lives,” are behind in their education, lack job skills and have low self-esteem, Redmond said.
Spectrum offers a variety of programs to help them improve their lives.
“I see great potential in each one of them,” said Redmond, a parishioner of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction.
“The Catholic Church is doing the right thing here,” he said. “It is in line with the corporal works of mercy” to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry.

This story was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
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St. Joseph Co-Cathedral steeple

The unique steeple atop St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington has been removed, and a team of engineers and architects is studying the necessary work and cost involved in replacing it.
In 2010 the steeple was removed for safety reasons after church officials realized it was rotting and there was a risk that the 800-pound cross atop it could fall.
“Parishioners have contributed faithfully to this project for many years, and it will be a great source of local pride to have this very visible monument restored to the downtown Burlington skyline,” said Father Lance Harlow, rector of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception parishes.
Proceeds from the sale of St. Joseph School also will be devoted to the construction and erection of the steeple.
The Champlain Housing Trust purchased the former Catholic elementary school on Allen Street for $2.15 million.
The steeple on St. Joseph Church was completed in 1887, constructed by Joseph Cartier, a local blacksmith whose shop was on North Street in Burlington. 
The steeple had a large copper ball in the middle and at the very top of the cross a cock, a scriptural reference to the cock that crowed at Peter's denial of Jesus. “This unique French-Canadian religious symbol is the only one of its kind on any church steeple in the Diocese of Burlington,” Father Harlow said.
The steeple was removed when it began to list to the side because of rot. “Because of the extensive age and weathering of the original steeple, a new one will be constructed to resemble the former,” Father Harlow said.
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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.

Scout Mass

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne celebrated a special Scout Mass Feb. 26.
The scouts received awards in a ceremony after the Mass, and the bishop reminded them about the importance of reverence in scouting.
The Catholic Committee on Scouting hosted the celebration at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral.
Eight Boys Scouts earned their Ad Altari Dei award:
*Frankie Ellis-Monaghan and Isaiah Ellis-Monaghan from St. Rose of Lima Church in Grande Isle;
*Andrew Koval and Dylan Koval from Holy Angels Church in St. Albans:
*Jeremy Little from Ascension Church in Georgia;
*Richard Cosgrove, Zachary Botala and Andrew Cashmar from St. Peter Church in Vergennes.
Also, three adults earned medals:
*David Ely II from St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and Bernie Byrne from St. John the Evangelist Church in Northfield earned their Bronze Pelican;
*Norbert Vogl from Holy Cross Church in Colchester earned his St. George Award.

Service trip to Honduras

Fran and Dave Mount, parishioners of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish in Burlington, always have been people of faith. There are many ways in which they live and spread that faith. One of the most meaningful ways is their volunteer service in Tela, Honduras.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Mount said. “And it is so rewarding,” his wife added.
In February he made his 10th service trip to Honduras; it was her ninth.
They travel at their own expense with a Rotary Club of Charlotte-Shelburne group called Hands to Honduras – Tela to work with local tradespeople on various projects like building a dormitory to house 10 pregnant women when they arrive in the city from outlying areas as they near their due date but have no place to stay until they are admitted to the hospital.
The Vermont group also has built and equipped a neonatal intensive care unit, created a new-mother training center at the hospital and remodeled the pediatric ward.
Most of the building projects are done in four weeks over two years; they are funded through donations, grants and fundraisers
This year’s trip took place from Feb. 11-25 and included 47 volunteers, mostly from Vermont, including some medical personnel.
The Mounts – retired from the temporary staffing agency they owned – enjoy the service trips. “It’s fun to get my hands dirty,” Mrs. Mount said with a smile.
“The local people get involved and do work we don’t know how to do,” Mr. Mount explained.
But the couple has come home with new skills over the years. Mrs. Mount has learned about masonry, and her husband can make rebar. “A lot of it is just sheer determination,” she said, noting that sometimes there is no easy access to water, which must be “lugged” to work sites.
“We are helping our brothers and sisters in faith,” Mr. Mount said.
Through the years the Mounts have taken some family members to Tela with them to help. (They have five children, 16 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.) “It’s important for the kids to see what people can live without and spend two weeks not on their computer or technology,” Mrs. Mount said.
In addition to their hands-on work in Tela, the Mounts have established a scholarship fund for high school students there to pay for uniforms, books, supplies and even lunches. The scholarship is for about $250 for each of the 10 students currently receiving the scholarship. “These kids can’t do anything without an education. The country is so poor,” Mrs. Mount said.
The scholarships are funded though donations.
Mr. and Mrs. Mount are chairs of the Pre-Cana program for the Burlington Deanery; when they give the talk on finances at Pre-Cana programs they emphasize that “money is not everything” and cannot buy happiness, Mr. Mount said.
The Mounts spoke of people in Tela, some of whom still use horses and buggies for transportation: “People don’t have much, yet they are very happy people.”
“We [Americans] have a really hard time understanding what poverty is about,” he said. “Even ‘poor’ Americans have more [things and comforts] than the middle class in Honduras. And some of that is important to have, like clean water.”
In addition to Pre-Cana, the Mounts are involved in Worldwide Marriage Encounter. He is a board member for St. Anne’s Shrine in Isla LaMotte, a member of the finance council at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and a member of the board for the Vermont Catholic Community Foundation. He is also a mentor for SCORE, previously known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
Mr. and Mrs. Mount sing in the folk choir at the co-cathedral and are extraordinary ministers of holy communion at the shrine.
They support the poor in their local area through their tithing, and when they owned their business, the business supported local charities. “We’ve always been aware of the poor here and sensitive to them,” Mrs. Mount said.
“Honduras made us more aware of the basic needs of people,” Mr. Mount added.
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