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Parish walking pilgrimage

Wearing bright orange T-shirts with the word “pilgrim” lettered in black across the front, a dozen people from Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Springfield embarked on a two-day pilgrimage to pray, listen to God and build community.
They began with a July 1 Mass at St. Joseph Church in Chester, celebrated by their pastor, Father Peter Y. Williams, who on July 6 will become administrator of that parish as well. Father James E. Zuccaro, current pastor, concelebrated.
The Springfield parish has dedicated this year to Our Lady, so the selected destination of the 24-mile walking pilgrimage is the replica of Mary’s House at Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer in Jamaica, where Sunday Mass was to be celebrated.
“We want to honor her and keep her in our thoughts” during the walk, Father Williams said in his homily. “We know Christ is our companion on the way, but we know we need her as well. … She gives us a great example of courage, to persevere.”
This is the second year parishioners of the Springfield Catholic church have undertaken a summer walking pilgrimage; last year they walked 40 miles from St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte to St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.
During their walking time, pilgrims spend some time in silence, some in group prayer and some in private devotions.
There were five “rules” for the pilgrimage: Be quiet and listen to God. Change your heart and ask God for one thing to change. No complaining. Build community; talk to someone new. Look forward as redemption and resurrection are ahead.
“We hope to be an example of what true Christians should be like and not be afraid to share our faith and that we have love for God,” said return participant Paul Kimball, explaining what he hoped to witness as he walked to Jamaica wearing his “pilgrim” T-shirt.
“This is a walking retreat,” added his wife, Eileen. She also likes being outside, getting to know other people in the parish and the awareness of God’s presence at all times.
“It’s that feeling of community and joining with fellow parishioners and bringing praise and glory to God and pushing yourself beyond your normal limit,” said parishioner Lori Limoges, explaining her reason for participating in the pilgrimage for the second year.
The pilgrims – whose gear was transported for them by truck – planned to stay overnight at a campground in Winhall.
Other parishioners were to join them for segments of the pilgrimage.
“I feel proud to be part of this,” Limoges said.
Donna-Rae Grant, a parishioner on the pilgrimage for the first time, had one concern: the rain in the forecast. “But we have all our trust in Jesus,” she said with a smile.
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Cigars and Stories

It was a warm, dry Thursday evening, and the fire in the pit next to Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Springfield was burning almost lazily. Five men, including the pastor, Father Peter Williams, relaxed around it, telling stories punctuated by deep, hearty laughs.
It was the July men’s meeting for “Cigars and Stories,” though only a couple had a cigar.
“This is relaxing,” said parishioner Dennis Pine. “I look forward to it,” added Father Williams whose idea it was to gather the men to relax, get to know one another and share their wisdom.
He occasionally smoked a pipe, but when he saw a computer ad for Immaculata Cigars, he was intrigued because of his devotion to St. Maximilian Kolbe, founder of the Militia of the Immaculata, a worldwide evangelization movement that encourages total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a means of spiritual renewal for individuals and society.
He bought a box of the cigars, made by Ave Maria Cigars, but then wondered what he would do with them. So he decided to share them with the men of the parish.
The monthly, 7 to 9 p.m., May through October gatherings around the campfire began last summer and are open to all men. “The purpose is gathering. And keep it simple,” Father Williams said. “We [men] don’t often socialize unless we have an event. This is a social event.”
He hopes by participating, men of the parish will get to know one another better – “which is invaluable” – and appreciate the wisdom of the older men. “It’s an exchange of wisdom,” he added.
Men are encouraged to “come with a story;” and although they don’t have to be funny, “it helps if they are,” Father Williams said with a laugh.
Stories have centered on topics like family, travel and camping.
But Father Williams is open to questions, and the gatherings of about a half dozen men are times when they can seek answers to questions about the Church or their faith.
“This is a nice getaway … to hang out,” said parishioner Dave Prunier who contributed a story about “German festive coffee.”
“We all get along, and this is a way to continue to get to know people in the parish,” he said.
Asked why he attends, parishioner Pierre Peltier exclaimed, “It’s our penance,” and the other men roared with laughter.
Parishioner Tony Klementowicz said he enjoys the camaraderie and the comfortable atmosphere around the fire. (If it rains the gathering is moved indoors.)
Pine is hoping the group will meet around the campfire at least once in the winter.
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Father Williams built a tiny house

Father Peter Williams built himself a house that has all the comforts of home: a full kitchen, a bathroom with a flushable toilet and shower, a dining area, a living area with a drop-down television, a propane furnace and even electric radiant heat under the laminate wood flooring.
It’s all part of his towable, tiny house.
The brown cedar-sided house with brown standing-seam metal roof has about 160 square feet of floor space plus a sleeping loft and a storage loft.
Father Williams, pastor of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Springfield, lives in its 5,000-square foot rectory, and though he’s not complaining, he quips, “If you want to know my preference, go look at the tiny house.”
Using plans he bought for the exterior of an 18-foot house and modified for 21 feet, he began the building project behind the church four years ago and finished it two years later.
Materials alone cost about $30,000, and he did most of the work himself.
Though he had basic knowledge of tools, he had never built anything, but thought he could – and should – build himself a tiny house.
When a friend first introduced him to the concept of tiny houses about six years ago, Father Williams admits he thought it was “crazy.” But he realized it would be perfect for a priest who can be assigned anywhere in the diocese; instead of selling a personal home to move to another assignment, he could just move the tiny house with him.
Also, the tiny house could be just right for retirement.
Father Williams, 56, had a liver transplant in 2012 and realized when he was in the hospital that he really does not need much in terms of a house. In fact, he can picture himself living in the tiny house when he retires, on five to 10 private acres somewhere in Vermont.
He is the sixth of 15 children; his family is originally from the Chicago area and moved to Vermont from Connecticut. A graduate of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Burlington in 1987.
When he was building his tiny house, Father Williams had many “untypical” visitors who stopped not only to see what he was doing but to talk about everything from faith, heaven and hell to their personal lives. The project was a way for him to be available to people in an informal way, not during office hours.
The tiny house – with its interior painted in light green and light blue with birch tree decals on one wall -- is now on a parishioner’s property in Springfield, and the priest goes there from time to time on days off. Staying in it, he said, “is like staying in a luxurious hotel room.”
It’s perfect for him: comfortable, peaceful and simple.
“I’d love to use it more, but it doesn’t fit into my life right now as much as I thought it would,” he said.
Last summer he built a camper on a trailer he can pull with his small Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck. “You need a really big truck to pull the tiny house,” which weighs about 12,000 pounds, he said.
Building his own house gave him a greater appreciation for tradespeople like carpenters, electricians and plumbers. “We really need people who know how to build things,” he said. “And they have a greater appreciation for me because I was willing to build my own house.”
Having practical skills “grounds you,” he added. “There is a lot of peace from working with your hands. You realize the value of labor.”
He enjoys watching television programs about tiny houses and especially likes the clever ideas for ladders to lofts and for storage.
When Father Williams built the tiny house, it was not his intention to focus on using less energy, but he likes that he spends only about $100 a year on energy costs for it, with its limited use. “It’s practical wisdom that if you don’t need to use a lot, don’t,” he said. “There is something about that that is very attractive to me.”

Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
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