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40 Miles closer to God

The Year of Mercy celebration, a pilgrimage, an opportunity to pass through the Holy Door at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington and a visit to the site of the first Mass in Vermont celebrated 350 years ago were all rolled into one as parishioners of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Springfield walked 40 miles from St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte to the co-cathedral.

“We are called to deepen our relationship with God, so we felt that in this Year of Mercy, we would do it in a very traditional way, through pilgrimage,” said Father Peter Williams, pastor. “As we walked such a great distance we realized how powerless we are before God and hopefully learned to trust Him more.”

Six of the original 12 walkers completed the 40-mile walk July 30-31.

“After about 15 miles I had some blisters and could feel my body start to shut down, and then I thought of our Lord who was beaten and then had to carry His cross to His death,” said participant Paul Kendall. “It sure made walking the rest of the way seem pretty easy. What a wonderfully spiritual journey it was.”

The walk’s step off was preceded by a 7 a.m. Mass at the shrine and a blessing by Father Williams. Along the way the pilgrims observed an hour of silence and prayed a group rosary. After about seven hours everyone had arrived at a campground in Grand Isle, most able to finish the first 20 miles. The day concluded with evening prayer and planning for the second day of the pilgrimage.

Morning prayer was at 7:30 a.m. the next day. “Everyone had arrived at St. Joseph’s (Co-Cathedral) by 3 p.m., and as we prepared for Mass and walked through the Holy Door there was a shared feeling of reverence and accomplishment,” said Eileen Kendall, the parish’s religious education director. “All came away with a profound feeling of gratitude for such an amazing faith experience.”

She was reluctant to go on a 40-mile walk with camping in between, but it turned out to be a fulfilling experience for her. “I spent the weekend with people I don’t usually spend time with, and we all talked about our faith, our faith experience and those times we saw God in the people and the world around us,” she said. “It was more rewarding than I had expected to complete the pilgrimage, and when we walked through the door and knelt to pray it was powerful.”

 On June 26, 40 people took a chartered bus from the Springfield parish to St. Joseph Co-Cathedral to walk though the Holy Door.

According to the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, anyone who passes through the Holy Door will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope. The doors are symbols of God’s mercy, open to welcome everyone into the compassion of God’s love that Christ proclaimed.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban,
Vermont Catholic content editor/staff writer.
  • Published in Parish

First Mass in Vermont to be commemorated

Early Jesuit missionaries to New France believed that it was in their daily offering of self to God and to the people whom they served — even to the shedding of their blood — that the seeds of a new faith might flourish.

According to Jesuit Father Michael Knox, director of Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario, early Jesuit authors of the “Jesuit Relations” (chronicles of the Jesuit missions in New France) were rooted in an experience the Spiritual Exercises of Society of Jesus founder St. Ignatius Loyola that emphasized Christ crucified -— turning, in their minds, New France into a “mystical landscape of the Cross.”

Father Knox, a lecturer at Regis College, University of Toronto, wrote his doctoral thesis on “The Rhetoric of Martyrdom in the Jesuit Relations, 1632-1650.”

He will be the homilist at a special 10:30 a.m. Mass celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne on Sept. 11 at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte commemorating the 350th anniversary of the first Catholic Mass celebrated there in 1666.

“Anniversaries remind us of our 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.”

French explorers brought Jesuit missionaries with them as they landed on Isle LaMotte, an island named after French soldier Pierre LaMotte who built a military outpost on the island in 1666.

“The foundation of Fort Sainte Anne at the Isle of LaMotte occurred during a moment of the history of the Jesuits in Nouvelle-France that could be declared a proverbial ‘renaissance’ for the mission,” Father Knox said. “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.”

Considered one of the most exposed and dangerous outposts in New France at the time and erected to defend the French and their allies from the onslaught of further Iroquois attacks, the fort would have been considered the perfect assignment by any Jesuit, all of whom holding firmly to the belief that the greater the level of self-offering in any mission, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the divine reward might be for all, Father Knox explained.

 Naming the fort after St. Anne is an indication of how the spirituality and religious experience of the French were shaping their perspective. In 1658, a shrine was erected only miles from Quebec City, dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of Mary, and at that site, a miracle had already been reported when one of the builders is said to have been cured from rheumatism while handling the “miraculous” statue of St. Anne to be kept in the new church. 

“From that point on, St. Anne began to figure into the religious imagination of Catholics in Nouvelle-France; and in establishing the fort [in Isle LaMotte], who better to consider as its patron?” he added.

 The 350th anniversary celebration at the shrine is a Mass honoring the anniversary of a Mass and will be preached in the light of the Gospel reading for that given Sunday, said Father Knox, a former member of the faculty of history at Oxford University. 

People come to the shrine for a variety of reasons: For some it is Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation; for others it is to unload burdens and seek healing; and for others it is a place to see God revealed in the beauty of creation.

“The shrine is a special place in Vermont. It has a unique history and its religious significance reminds us of the role that Jesuit missionaries played in bringing the Catholic faith to our land,” Father Cummings said. “The peacefulness of the grounds allows us to encounter the risen Lord in an intimate and beautiful setting. We are blessed to have such a place to visit, and we in the Society of St. Edmund are grateful to have been serving here since 1904.”

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

Jubilee for Families

More than 300 people celebrated family and faith July 17 at the Year of Mercy Jubilee for Families at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle La Motte. Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne celebrated Mass, which was followed by a procession. Afterward, families enjoyed a barbecue and fun-packed day filled with sunshine, lawn games and swimming in Lake Champlain. The Society of St. Edmund co-hosted the event.  Next year’s Family Day Mass and picnic will be at St. Anne’s Shrine  on July 16.
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