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350th anniversary of first Mass in Vermont celebrated at St. Anne's Shrine

The wind was blowing and white caps on Lake Champlain were racing toward shore as scores of worshippers gathered under the shelter of the outdoor chapel at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte Sept. 11 for a Mass commemorating the 350th anniversary of the celebration of the first Mass in Vermont on that same island.
 
Just across the road from the chapel, not far from the beach, a sign acknowledges the importance of the site in Vermont history: “Site of French Fort Sainte Anne Vermont’s oldest settlement.”
 
On that shore was the site of the fort, built in 1666 by Captain Pierre LaMotte for defense against the Mohawks. The Jesuits celebrated the first Mass and erected the first chapel in Vermont on the site.
 
From that day to today, the celebration of the Eucharist “has been part of our lives in this great state” of Vermont, Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne said at the opening of the Mass.
 
He acknowledged also the significance of the date on which he was the main celebrant of the Mass: Sept. 11. He asked members of the congregation to remember victims of all war and terrorism as the nation remembered and mourned the terror attacks on the United States 15 years earlier.
 
The Mass was a special votive Mass for peace.
 
Jesuit Father Michael Knox, director of Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario, has said that the foundation of Fort Sainte Anne at Isle LaMotte occurred during a moment of the history of the Jesuits in Nouvelle-France that could be declared a proverbial renaissance for the mission:  “Inspired by the still- recent deaths of St. Jean de Brébeuf and his companions, welcoming an ever- increasing number of French to the region and set to ever-expand their apostolic efforts among the Iroquois people, it is no surprise that one of the Fathers would accompany Pierre de St. Paul, Sieur de la Motte, in its establishment.”
 
During his homily at the special Mass, Father Knox said the French explorers who brought Jesuit missionaries with them as they landed on the island saw not only new land but new hope, a new source of prosperity and a new opportunity to live out the Gospel message.
 
The French built the fort to “protect their vision,” said Father Knox, a lecturer at Regis College, University of Toronto, who wrote his doctoral thesis on “The Rhetoric of Martyrdom in the Jesuit Relations, 1632-1650.”
 
That first Mass, he said, was an acknowledgement of God’s presence in all things and everywhere.
 
“Today we share in the same Mass that was said here 350 years ago,” Father Knox said. “We now share in an event they shared in then, and we share their hopes.”
 
Today’s St. Anne’s Shrine is a place where visitors can walk on sacred ground amidst images of Jesus and the saints, a place to be renewed by the Eucharist and in the sacrament of Reconciliation, he continued. “What a gift it was 350 years ago to have Christ come to us in this holy place.”
 
Anniversaries are reminders of history, and “we should pause to reflect from where we have come and to where we have arrived,” commented Edmundite Father Brian J. Cummings, the shrine’s spiritual director. “The shrine is one of the most important religious and historical sites in Vermont, and it is good for our Catholic community to remind ourselves of the role faith played in the settlement of our country.”
 
Sitting in her red Ford Fiesta parked just off the road next to the pews was Leona LaPiere of Chazy, N.Y. The 83-year-old has problems with her legs and finds it easier to sit in her car and listen to the outdoor Mass. A lifelong Catholic, she emphasized the importance of the Mass and said the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first Mass in Vermont was “beautiful.”
 
Nancy and David Dulude of St. Albans and Isle LaMotte also attended. The thought of Mass being said in the state for 350 years is humbling, she said, adding that the French had the vision to bring their faith to New France and to Vermont where the site of the first Mass is now “a place of love and peace” in the midst of a troubled world.
 
The shrine, she said, is a “treasure and a legacy too, and we need to take care of it to pass it on and have younger folks feel vested in it and pass it on for another 350 years.”
 
Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic content editor and staff writer.
  • Published in Diocesan

‘Prayer: The Faith Prayed’ Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 18

Each year in the month of September, the Catholic Church  in the United States celebrates Catechetical Sunday, a day on which we commission the various teachers and catechists who will be serving in our parishes. The work of these professionals and volunteers is so important in fostering the life of faith in our diocese, especially as we encounter a culture that is more and more non-religious, even atheistic in its foundation.

This year’s theme, “Prayer: The Faith Prayed” is one that touches the very roots of faith in Jesus Christ, that communion that we know in Him through our communal and individual prayer. Through prayer and the sacraments, we build up that relationship with Jesus that helps us to “know Him, to love Him and to serve Him.”  Many of us desire to add more prayer to our lives because we sense it to be the deep well that quenches our thirst for God. Yet, in our busy lives we often set aside prayer as something we will get to “later in the day” but then, sadly, never do.  And that’s a shame. Because once we do take the time to really pray and listen, we, like the prophet Elijah, are able to hear the voice of God as a whisper passing by the door of our souls and we are consoled and strengthened.

                                                
 
‘Once we do take the time to really pray and listen, we, like the prophet Elijah, are able to hear the voice of God as a whisper passing by the door of our souls.’
                                                  

I recently returned to one of my favorite books on prayer, Emilie Griffin’s “Clinging: The Experience of Prayer.” I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but it never fails to draw me in, especially with the words of the first few sentences:

“There is a moment between intending to pray and actually praying that is as dark and silent as any moment in our lives. It is the split second between thinking about prayer and really praying…. It seems, then, that the greatest obstacle to prayer is the simple matter of beginning, the simple exercise of the will, the starting, the acting, the doing.”*

 Heavenly Father, please help me to pray.

Yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne            

Bishop of Burlington


*Griffin, Emilie.  “Clinging: The Experience of Prayer.” 1983: McCracken Press, N.Y.

Digital Culture and the Missionary Activity of the Church

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne was in Atlanta in June to speak at the Diocesan Information Systems Conference (DISC) and he said the missionary work of the Church is in American culture.

In this presentation, Bishop Coyne explored how digital culture is both an object of evangelization — “Digital culture itself needs to be evangelized, needs to be changed by the message of Jesus Christ” — and a vehicle for evangelization — “Digital culture can in so many dynamic and creative ways be a means of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and evangelizing people.”

The missionary work of the Church is no longer “out there,” he said. “It’s right here in our own culture…We are now missionaries.”

Many countries and many places in the First World or West that were Christian are no longer so, he pointed out. For example, in the last major census in France, 50 percent of the people self-identified as Catholic. “That may sound like a pretty good number — 50 percent — not bad. But when you begin to mine what that means, of that 50 percent less than 10 percent had anything to do with the Church let alone attend Mass. Even more, of the 50 percent who self-identified as Catholic, 19 percent said they didn’t believe in God.”

And while there has been an increase in the total number of Roman Catholics in the United States, most of the growth numbers have been within the Hispanic community. “We have lost many members of the faith within the older enclaves of Catholicism,” the bishop said.

Using digital media, he noted, one must understand it is morally neutral. “It is a means to an end, a way by which information is conveyed. It is neither good nor bad. What makes it good or bad is what we do with it.”

Bishop Coyne encourages people engaged digitally to “always do onto others as you would have them do onto you.”

He also suggested in work and play people sow the seeds of righteousness, goodness and Christ: “Be someone who scatters seeds of goodness on the road. Lift up the good examples of humanity and charity and grace. And, if you can, engage in some form of active ministry to others: feeding, housing, counseling, visiting, praying with and for, whatever it may be.”

For more than 30 years DISC has assisted the Church in maximizing investment in information systems. 

Membership in the Diocesan Information Systems Conference is open to all Catholic arch/dioceses and related entities. The membership roster includes people from computer services, financial services, communications and chanceries.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban,  Vermont Catholic staff writer.

In Defense of a Good Vacation

It seems the summer has just begun and already we are saying “hello” to August and the later return to school and fall registrations for sports and other activities.  I don’t know about you, but I could stand a bit more summer time in my life. Things seem to slow down, there are less meetings to attend, and my desk seems to get a lot cleaner.  Stuff that I’ve put in the “get-to-later” pile is finally gotten to.  And then there are those vacation days... .

Do you know that in a recent report, 41 percent of American workers let paid vacation days go to waste? Now although I have many faults, that kind of waste is not one of them.  Those who work with me at the chancery will tell you that I’m always pushing them to make sure they take their days off.  I know that some bosses may not be so “enlightened.” I also know there are many reasons that folks give for not using all their vacation days, and I’m not about to debate what is a good reason or a bad one. But I also know that when one gets to the end of life, no one looks back and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work.”  When someone offers us an opportunity for rest and relaxation, I think we should take it.

This is good not only for the body, but also for the soul. This is not new ground for us Christians. St. Augustine in his treatise on music opined that, “… it becomes a wise man sometimes to relax the high pressure of his attention to work.” St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa offered this advice regarding the need for relaxation: “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 fixed amount of labor, so too is it with his soul, whose power is also finite and equal to a fixed amount of work.” Good advice from the sainted doctor. 
 
                                                           

It is not simply enough for us to
go out and rest the body.
It is also important for us to
refresh the soul.


                                                           


Notice that Aquinas is pointing us toward the unity of body and soul in refreshing and renewing ourselves. It is not simply enough for us to go out and rest the body. It is also important for us to refresh the soul. I always encourage people, as I do myself, to make time during my vacation for spiritual refreshment: prayer, meditation, a quiet walk and the reading of Scripture or a good spiritual book. It is amazing how easy it is to schedule these kinds of things into your vacation plans once you set your mind to it. And it is also amazing what good things come from it as well. 

So perhaps you’ve already had your vacation or moved into that headlong rush into a busy fall, and my advice might be a bit late for this year. But there are always the vacations to come and the long weekends ahead.  With a little thought and a little planning, they can serve to renew us body and soul to be bearers of the good news of Christ. Just remember to use those all those vacation days.

Yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne
Bishop of Burlington

Joint statement on violence in our land

We write as two of Vermont’s faith leaders whose hearts are aching in response to the recent acts of violence filling news reports and social media networks this week.

We are grieved by the tragic deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota killed by police officers earlier this week and the deadly assault in Dallas last evening in which five Dallas police officers were killed and seven others wounded. Certainly, our hearts and prayers go out to those killed and injured in these violent incidents and to their families and the communities most directly involved.

We value the hard work and faithful commitment of those entrusted with public safety in communities throughout Vermont and beyond. Those who serve the public in dangerous situations are to be commended for their service. Violence directed against police officers in the line of duty has no place in our society.

At the same time, we deplore the sin of racism that so often manifests itself in acts of prejudice, discrimination and violence toward people of color in our country. This too has no place in our society. The disproportionate number of young black men incarcerated in our prisons, the often unevenly enforced laws that contribute to that reality and the all-too-numerous acts of verbal and physical violence directed toward persons of color disturb us greatly.

Respecting the dignity of every human being and understanding that we are part of one human family are foundational tenets of faith for us, and we lament the varied ways in which so many people fail to embrace those basic values and beliefs. Expressions of hatred and violence are too common in our world today, and the results are always damaging.

Clearly, there is investigative work to do in regard to these most recent events, and it is our hope that justice is swift, full and fair with respect to each. As Christians, we know that prayer is essential, and so we call upon our respective communities of faith and all people throughout Vermont to offer prayers this weekend for all who have died violent deaths this week, their families, friends and the communities where they live. Pray for an end to violence and for the courage to love without prejudice.

Prayer must also move us to action, and so we invite you to join with us in taking concrete action that might renew our covenant to honor and respect one another as members of one human family. We invite you to take steps that work to build a culture of peace to replace the culture of violence that has us firmly in its grasp. We are deeply concerned and yet ever hopeful.




Bishop Christopher Coyne, Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington
Bishop Thomas Ely, Episcopal Diocese of Vermont

Our #10 celebrates first year anniversary as Bishop of Burlington, looks to future

When Bishop Christopher J. Coyne became bishop of the Vermontwide Diocese of Burlington nearly one year ago, he set out to be a positive, faithful presence both within the Catholic and wider civic communities.

To that end, he has visited all 10 deaneries and met with priests, religious, parishioners, interfaith and ecumenical leaders, the governor, the mayor of Burlington, the president of St. Michael's College in Colchester, persons involved with social service agencies and Catholic school students and teachers. From the middle of February to the end of November, he put more than 15,000 miles on his black Jeep Grand Cherokee.

"I have tried to reach out to not only the Catholic community but also to men and women of goodwill throughout the state," he said during a Dec. 1 interview at his chancery office in South Burlington. "I have tried to establish that the Catholic community has a positive place within the larger community of the state and that we are not a marginalized people but we are in fact a people of goodwill who want to work with other people of goodwill to foster the common good of all."

His first 11 months as 10th bishop of Burlington have been recorded on his blog, Facebook, Twitter and other media accounts. During this time through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops he has coordinated media relations for Pope Francis' first-ever visit to the United States, promoted the establishment of the first virtual Vermont Catholic high school and maintained lines of communication with all people.

"I'm trying to be a person of good faith, goodwill and good news," he said.

He's also a good sport, throwing out the first pitch at a Vermont Lake Monsters baseball game.

But one of his funniest memories is of going to Troy on Good Friday to celebrate the 3 p.m. liturgy because his schedule had listed "Sacred Heart Parish."

"They were not sure why I was there but were glad to have me," he said. "I couldn't figure out why I was scheduled for Troy instead of the cathedral. Finally, it occurred to me that it was an old event from Indiana (where he had served as an auxiliary bishop) where I was supposed to celebrate the 3 p.m. service at Sacred Heart Parish in Jeffersonville, Ind. I thought I had cleared my calendar of all Indiana events when I came to Vermont, but I missed that one."

Bishop Coyne was installed as the shepherd of Vermont Catholics during a packed – and televised – Mass Jan. 29 at St. Joseph Co- Cathedral in Burlington.

In his homily, he addressed decreasing church attendance, saying, "Now more than ever, our community needs to hear the call of the good news, proclaimed to a culture that seems to hear so many other voices." He addressed the challenge faced in Vermont and elsewhere of declining membership and a cultural trend away from a revealed religion to a personal spirituality at best or no belief at worst.

By visiting parishes throughout the state, Bishop Coyne has seen declining church attendance and witnessed the effects of both lapsed Catholics and changing demographics. "It's not simply a matter of a lack of priests oftentimes it's a lack of Catholics" that has created the need for parish reconfigurations such as those that have taken place during the past several years, he said.

He has celebrated Masses for hundreds of people and for tens of people, prompting the question of sustainability over the years for some Catholic parishes with declining populations. "We have priests, and we have enough priests to take care of our Catholic community, but our priests need to be assigned to places where people can be found," he said.

To foster more vocations from within the Diocese of Burlington the diocesan director of vocations will be full time rather than part time as of July 1 with the help of an assistant vocation director and the reestablishment of a vocation board.

With nine current seminarians and at least five more serious candidates, he is hopeful for an increase in vocations to the priesthood.

In addition, when a call was issued in October to parishes, Catholic agencies and Catholic schools for the names of young men and women who might be possible candidates for priesthood or religious life, more than 600 names were submitted. "There is a lot of possibility of vocations within this state," he said; those individuals were invited to a vocations awareness program.

Asked about Pope Francis and his influence on his first year as bishop of Burlington, Bishop Coyne said not only does he owe him respect and obedience as the supreme pontiff, he respects the way Pope Francis has changed the conversation between the Church and the culture of the world.

"Now more and more we are being defined by what we are for rather than by what we are against," the bishop said. "We had allowed ourselves to be defined as a church that's against gay people, a church that's against women, a church that is against freedom of expression – all those things of the culture war."

But Pope Francis has "turned that around" and the Church is better known as the Church for the marginalized, the needy and the struggling, he said. "The arms of the Church are very wide."

The pope has visited prisons, met with the poor and shown kindness to the needy. "He challenges me all the time," Bishop Coyne said.

In calling for a special Year of Mercy – which began Dec. 8 – Pope Francis is emphasizing God's great mercy. "With God's mercy, there are no ifs, ands or buts," the bishop said. "We human beings want to put restrictions on God's mercy" and say it is available only if certain conditions are met.

"God's mercy is a very abundant mercy. It's a wide mercy that calls each of us to His love," he said, stressing that everyone needs that mercy and must be an instrument of it for others, moving out of the selves and their churches to be instruments of mercy to others. "Mercy means I see a need and I act out of compassion to help."

Considering the Syrian refugee situation, the bishop said he hopes to address it "in a substantive way in the very near future," and in the meantime encouraged Vermont Catholics to support the work of Catholic Relief Services and the local work of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program and to pray.

Bishop Coyne expressed gratitude for the multitude of ways Vermont parishes and Catholic schools and social service agencies reach out in their communities and beyond. "Our Catholic community is invested in good works," he said, giving as examples the efforts of the two Vermont Catholic high schools that are involved in such activities as providing food for the needy at holiday times and Vermont Catholic Charities Inc., the work of which includes providing emergency assistance and supporting programs that feed and shelter the poor.

During the chancery interview, Bishop Coyne spoke of his support for life issues including an end to abortion and opposition to physician-assisted suicide. But because both are legal, he said the efforts of the Church "should be to make sure that people don't get so desperate that they have to" access them.

He wants the Church to seek to enact just laws to protect all human life and also to "create and maintain" housing for elderly, sick and needy persons so they don't ever feel alone and "do everything we can" to help women and families "not have to make the unfortunate choice for abortion."

As he looks to the future, the bishop sees an essential good work in which he wants members of the Catholic community to be of assistance: the fight against heroin addiction. He hopes they will commit themselves to work with the wider community to "stamp out the scourge of heroin addiction" that takes a toll on people of all ages, ethnicities, social classes and places of residence.

They can help educate others about the epidemic, listen with compassion to those affected by it, make appropriate referrals, support groups working with addicts, lessen the shame of the addiction and educate people about the signs of addiction and drug dealing.

Bishop Coyne is energized by the hiring of new diocesan staff including a director of youth and young adult ministry, director of evangelization and catechesis, executive director of development and coordinator of pro-life ministries. "We're getting the team in place" to minister and spread the good news throughout Vermont, he said. "I'm happy with where we're going."

Jubilee Year of Mercy officially begins as hundreds pass through Holy Door

To officially begin the special Jubilee Year of Mercy in Vermont, Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne called for the Holy Door at St. Joseph Co- Cathedral in Burlington to be opened during a Dec. 13 vesper service, saying, "Open the gates of justice; we shall enter and give thanks to the Lord."

He said he was overjoyed to see the cathedral filled with hundreds of the people of God as they began the Jubilee of Mercy. "It is a sign of our faith and how we want to be bearers of that mercy to others."

The celebration, he said, marked the solemn beginning of the Holy Year in the diocesan Church, "a prelude to the profound experience of grace and reconciliation that awaits us this year."

And as the symbolic yellow and white door in the main aisle of the Old North End church opened, he proclaimed, "This is the Lord's gate: Let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness."

Carrying the Book of the Gospels, he then lead clergy and laity – some making the sign of the cross before passing through the door – in two columns through the doors to continue the afternoon service for the opening of the "Porta Sancta" (Holy Door) for the Year of Mercy that began on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, and will end on Nov. 20, 2016.

Walking through the Holy Door – for the first time in her life – was a "monumental experience" for Marie Moore of Ascension Church in Georgia. "It may be the only time in my life," she said. "It's a time to recognize that it's a new beginning."

During the service, Msgr. Peter Routhier, rector of the co-cathedral and of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington, read from the papal Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy announcing the Holy Year. He said, in part: "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy . . . . Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father. Jesus of Nazareth, by His words, His actions and His entire person reveals the mercy of God."

He continued, "We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on it."

During the course of the year, Catholics are invited to make a pilgrimage to the co-cathedral to pass through the Holy Door and ponder God's love and mercy in their lives and how they, too, can be vehicles of that mercy to others.

According to Catholic teaching, walking through special Holy Doors results in a remission from sin – an indulgence – when accompanied by prayer and repentance. The act of walking through the doors symbolizes spiritual renewal and the passage from sin to grace.

Moore is fulfilling the requirements for the indulgence. "It shows I have faith and I am praying for faith and peace around the world," she said.

St. John Paul II said that the Holy Door " . . . evokes the passage from sin to grace which every Christian is called to accomplish. Jesus said, 'I am the door' in order to make it clear that no one can come to the Father except through Him."

Also when the door opens, the obstacles of passage to the Lord are removed.

The doors of the Church "are wide open so that all those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness," Pope Francis said. "God never ceases to demonstrate the richness of His mercy over the course of centuries."

God touches people's hearts with His grace, filling them with repentance and a desire to experience His love, he added. "The greater the sin, the greater the love, which the Church must express toward those who convert."

God's mercy is wider than the sea, and "there are no ifs, ands or buts about God's mercy," Bishop Coyne emphasized in his homily at the vesper service. "That is not poetic hyperbole; it's the Gospel truth."

He spoke about those to whom Jesus was merciful, including Zachaeus the tax collector and Mary Magdalene, the woman caught in adultery.

His mercy was not merited, and He showed mercy without conditions. But He sought a response: that those who received mercy, healing and forgiveness would respond in mercy, conversion and faith.

"There is a wideness to God's mercy that is incomprehensible to us because we want to place conditions on mercy" when showing it, Bishop Coyne said.

"We seek it. It is there. If we desire it, we will know it," he said.

The biblical theme of the year is "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

Traditionally, every 25 years the popes proclaim a holy year, which features special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance and the offer of special opportunities to experience God's grace through the sacraments, especially confession.

Extraordinary holy years, like the Holy Year of Mercy, are less frequent, but offer the same opportunities for spiritual growth.

The Year of Mercy will be devoted to personal conversion, prayer and apostolic works.

Gerry Couture of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish attended the vesper service and said it is comforting to know God's mercy and forgiveness are limitless. "The world needs that message more than ever now with all the violence," he said. "I think it is import to forgive, and it is important for people to know it's important to forgive. Forgiveness is something that is underrated."

The service at the co-cathedral to begin the Holy Year was months in planning and coincided with a Burlington inter-faith service against gun violence with a particular focus on the forgiveness of sin, prayers for the prevention of gun violence and sincere spiritual renewal.

Pro-life Vermonters mark anniversary of abortion legalization with Mass, rally

Supporters of the sanctity of all human life endured snow and freezing temperatures to march from Montpelier's City Hall to the Vermont Statehouse Jan. 16 for the annual right to life rally, this year commemorating the 43rd anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing abortion.

About 100 people began the day's activities with Mass at St. Augustine Church, a short distance from the city hall in downtown Montpelier. Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne was the main celebrant and homilist.

Those who support life are misunderstood in a culture of waste and death, he said, adding that more and more people are coming to understand that abortion is the killing of a human life. "And more young people are pro-life," he said.

Among those attending the Mass was Corine Carpenter, 11, a parishioner of Mater Dei Parish in Newport. This was her first right to life rally, and she said she wanted to be part of it because it is a good cause. "We are the next generation, and I hope more people will be pro-life," she said. "I hope laws are passed soon to protect (all) life."

Maeve Bathalon, 12, a seventh-grader at St. Paul School in Barton and parishioner of Mater Dei Parish, said every child has the right to be born, a right given by Jesus.

The two girls are members of Teens for Life.

Another member, Chrisana Morris, 18, of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Barton, has five sisters also involved in the pro-life teen organization. She said it's important for teens to be involved in the movement because "people listen to them … people are attracted to our energy."

The message she wants to impart is that all life in precious, "no matter how strong or weak, young or old."

The emcee of the Statehouse meeting was Joanna Turner Bisceglio of Blessed Sacrament Church in Stowe. "This is the prolife generation. Amen!" she said.

She offered statistics that pro-life Vermonters found encouraging: 85 percent of Americans oppose abortion after three months, and 58 percent think abortion should be illegal in most circumstances.

Yet more than 58 million abortions have taken place in the United States since Roe v. Wade.

Following a personal testimony from a woman who had two abortions, keynote speaker Sarah Mary Toce of Louisiana gave the keynote address for the Rally for Life in the House Chambers. She was instrumental as the leader of numerous successful outreach seminars for young people in her home state.

The New England Life and Leadership project director, she is collaborating with various national Right to Life affiliates in the New England area to foster more youth education and training initiatives in this area of the country.

While in Vermont she met with students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington and with priests of the diocese.

"We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to bring her here to speak to Catholic teens. She made a very positive impression on the priests at our in-service, and we've already received several requests for her to speak as a result," noted Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

"I also was encouraged by Sarah Mary Toce's presentation on pro-life education for our youth. Youth had a big impact on the Civil Rights marches in the South during the '60s, youth can have a big impact on the protecting unborn life," said Father Luke Austin, pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary-St. Louis Parish in Swanton and Highgate Center.

In her talk at the Statehouse, Toce emphasized that the pro-life movement is a "logical and a reasonable one," and said that while abortion provider Planned Parenthood presents itself as giving hope to women with unwanted pregnancies, "they are actually soliciting murder."

Throughout the 43 years since abortion has been legal, respect life proponents have "gotten angry and rightfully so," but she emphasized that such anger not be directed at women and abortion providers.

She called for members of the pro-life movement to work to alleviate suffering and poverty, two reasons some women feel trapped into having an abortion. "We go the long haul" with women, she said. "Planned Parenthood is not in it for the long haul but we are."

Toce said that to resolve suffering, "don't get rid of the suffering (people)" but learn to listen to their needs and try to address them.

She said that abortion supporters have claimed that legalized abortion would make life better for women, but after 43 years women are still being raped, still feeling ashamed when pregnant out of wedlock and still going hungry. "It has not worked" to improve the lives of women. "We can do better than abortion."

Calling abortion "nothing short of a human rights issue," she said she believes that one day children will ask their parents and grandparents, "How did America allow abortion to be legal?"

Her confidence in the current generation of young people is so great, she said it will be their generation that will overturn Roe v. Wade. "We're going to make it happen," she declared.

Paul Niekrewicz, a Knight of Columbus from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Williston, attended the pro-life Mass with two of his six children. He said it is important that they "know the truth about the disrespect for human life in our culture," and he hopes that with that knowledge they will be involved in witnessing to the truth and stand up for life.

Some people have been participating in the Rally for Life for years, and Father Michael Augustinowitz, pastor of St. Augustine Church, said it's important to keep rallying to make people aware of the need to change the current culture of death.

"That's what we still hope to do, and it's not just the unborn … certainly we are concerned about everybody," he said, encouraging an emphasis on the "importance of life over death."
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