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World Day of Prayer for Creation

Environmental destruction is a sign of a "morally decaying scenario" in which too many people ignore or deny that, from the beginning, "God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment," said the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
 
Marking the Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for Creation, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople issued a joint message.
 
They urged government and business leaders "to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation."
Looking at the description of the Garden of Eden from the Book of Genesis, the pope and patriarch said, "The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy."
 
But, they said, "our propensity to interrupt the world's delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet's limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets -- all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation."
 
"We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession," the two leaders said. "We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs."
 
Ignoring God's plan for creation has "tragic and lasting" consequences on both "the human environment and the natural environment," they wrote. "Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation."
 
The pope and the patriarch said prayer is not incidental to ecology, because "an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world."
 
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople established the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 1989. In 2015, shortly after publishing his encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si'," Pope Francis established the day of prayer for Catholics as well.
 
The object of Christian prayer and action for the safeguarding of creation, the two leaders wrote, is to encourage all Christians "to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives."
 
Echoing remarks Pope Francis made Aug. 30 when the pontiff announced he and the patriarch were issuing a joint message, the text included a plea to world leaders.
 
"We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized," they wrote. No enduring solution can be found "to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service."
 
Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew also highlighted how "this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people," especially the poor, in a more pronounced way.
 
"Our obligation to use the Earth's goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures," they said. "The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development."
 
  • Published in World

Donegan Farm

When 34-year-old Joe Donegan was growing up near the maternal family farm in Hinesburg, he considered pursing a farm life or a religious vocation. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public and community service with a minor in theology from Providence College and worked on a St. Albans dairy farm.
 
And he realized he could farm and live a life of service to God.
 
“Any work is infused with divine dignity and divine purpose if it’s what God wants you to do,” he said.
 
Now married and the father of three boys, Mr. Donegan sees his ministry as one of husband, father, son, farmer, brother, neighbor.
 
He and his wife, Emily – whom he met at a plant sale in Providence – run Donegan Family Farm in Charlotte; they own about 80 acres and rent 200 more, pasturing and/or grazing 260 acres. In mid May they had 83 Jersey cows of which 36 were milked.
 
The organic farm is part of the Organic Valley cooperative. According to its website, “Research shows that organic foods are higher in antioxidants and other nutrients, like omega-3 and CLA essential fatty acids. And organic crops have been shown to contain significantly less concentrations of cadmium—a toxic metal on par with lead and mercury. Organic food really is better for you. And it tastes better too.”
 
Donegan said he farms organic not just because there is a niche market for the organic milk but because he considers it a spiritual obligation to farm in a way that improves the overall ecological health of the Earth God has created.
 
“Here in Vermont grass-fed meat and milk are sustainable and restorative [improving the soil and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere], if you do it right,” said Mrs. Donegan, 33, a Groveland, Mass., native who earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies at Warren Wilson College near Ashville, N.C.
 
And there is a social justice aspect to what they are doing: “Agricultural land in a country with starving people should not be used to feed the rest of the world” but its own inhabitants, Mr. Donegan said. He is working to contribute to the feeding of people in the United States with food produced here and has been influenced by the writing of environmental activist Bill McKibben, author of such books as “Hope, Human and Wild” and “Wandering Home.”
 
The Donegans have been at their Charlotte farm for seven and a half years; they purchased it two years ago.
 
They are the parents of Patrick, 7; Franklin, 5; and Dominick, 2.
 
On a recent afternoon the older boys – clad in knee-high rubber boots -- were in and out of the farmhouse kitchen as their parents talked with a visitor, their brother on his mother’s lap.
 
Patrick said he drinks mostly milk from the farm, but sometimes he drinks store-bought milk when he visits family in Massachusetts. The organic farm milk is better, he said.
 
“Our boys are exposed to real, simple, honest work,” Mrs. Donegan said. “They enjoy working,” especially in the vegetable garden. “As a farm family, we do a lot of work together.”
 
The Donegans belong to St. Jude Church in Hinesburg where Mrs. Donegan is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and Mr. Donegan is a member of the men’s group.

Originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

 
  • Published in Parish

BioBlitz at Mercy Farm

The 39-acre Mercy Farm in Benson is home to at least 36 moth species, more than two dozen types of trees, a half dozen spore bearer varieties, two score of plants, 42 types of birds, a dozen insects and a dozen animals, eight types of aquatic life and three Sisters of Mercy.
 
It’s easy to count the sisters who live at the eco-spiritual center but difficult to count the other forms of life that call it home.
 
Thanks to a recent “BioBlitz,” the sisters have a better handle on just what is living with them on the religious congregation’s property.
 
The May BioBlitz was a 24-hour period of intense biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species on the farm.
 
According to Sister Betty Secord, program director, the survey was valuable in showing how full of life the land is and how connected each form of life is to others. “The desire came from our sense that we are connected. All of creation is interconnected,” she said.
 
According to the Mercy Farm website, “Spiritual practice invites us to contemplate and engage in the world in an intentional way that is dedicated to developing a more insightful, mature relationship with self and the world – a way that is profoundly meaningful and fulfilling.”
 
During this Year of Creation in Vermont called for by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, the BioBlitz drew attention to the need to care for all of God’s creation. “If we’re all part of creation, all part of God’s gift of love through nature, when one part of our body hurts, we all hurt,” said Sister Secord, director of the BioBlitz at Mercy Farm. “Everything is a manifestation of God’s love.”
 
But she lamented that much of society has become “consumers” rather than “citizens,” disconnected from creation. “We are raping the Earth for comfort and profit,” she said. “We are not living within our means. We are consuming too fast for the Earth to recoup. We are taking much more than we actually need. Consumerism is a major issue.”
 
So at Mercy Farm, visitors can connect with one another, with nature and with their deepest self. “It’s important that we have places like this in the world where people can get away from everyday life and get that sense of relationship,” Sister Secord said.
 
It’s also a place where, according to the BioBlitz, visitors just might see a clover looper moth, a quaking aspen, a prickly ash, an inky cap, a hairy vetch, an ox-eye daisy or a dog violet.
 
There will also be wild geraniums, robins, crows, June bugs, caterpillars, fox, red maples and crayfish.
 
Forty-two volunteers and 30 participants attended the BioBlitz, recording their findings in categories including trees, basic botany, spore bearers, animal signs, insects, moths, aquatic life and birds. A group of naturalists lead the effort.
 
No recommendations for improvements to the farm’s ecosystem were made. “They seemed to think we have a complete ecosystem here,” Sister Secord said of the experts.
 
She plans to share the information from the BioBlitz with visitors and said it will be important information for future planning for the property.
 
The BioBlitz also included a Master Gardener display, an astronomy talk, a lesson on growing mushrooms, a bat-banding demonstration and a scavenger hunt.
 

Essex parishes continue 'green' efforts

Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction is continuing its efforts to care for the Earth, shedding light on the possibilities churches have to save money and to reduce their energy consumption.
 
Parking lot lights at Holy Family Church and St. Lawrence Church were converted to LED lights.
 
The new bulbs require 14 watts of power to operate; the old ones took at least 100 watts. By implementing this change St. Lawrence Church will reduce the cost to light the parking lot by 85; Holy Family will reduce its cost by 67 percent.
 
“These were very simple changes to make. Both projects were completed in less than a half day of time,” commented David Robideau, a Parish Council member. “It's important to realize that big savings to energy usage can happen without spending a lot of time. LED lights bulbs are extremely efficient, and there is a conversion kit available that will modify existing light fixtures to LED to meet most applications.”
 
The parish worked to make church buildings more energy efficient and has implemented "Green Kitchen Guidelines" for all parish groups and outside organizations renting the parish hall as well as recycling and composting programs.
 
“We are constantly working on becoming more energy efficient,” said Edmundite Father Charles Ranges, pastor. “Besides protecting our environment, it just makes sense and is saving us money.  We need to be good stewards of the financial resources that come our way and, of course, we need to be good to ‘Mother Earth.’”
 
He said the parish’s buildings are generally energy efficient, but there is always room for improvement.  “With the improvement on our buildings, our gas and electricity bills are lower,” he noted.
 
St. Pius X Church in Essex Center, also under the pastoral care of Father Ranges, is becoming energy efficient. “The parking lot lights are LED. The church building will soon become undergo an energy audit. In our parish hall, we have stopped using disposable coffee cups, glasses and dishes,” he said. “St. Pius is onboard our move to become environmental friendly.”
 
“Everyone has a responsibility to be good stewards for the natural resources that God has provided,” Robideau said.
 
 
  • Published in Parish

Solar projects update

Last year St. Peter Church in Rutland was the first parish in the Diocese of Burlington to install solar panels to generate electricity. Then came St. Peter Church in Vergennes, where the solar panel system went online Jan. 10.
 
“Caring for the land and our atmosphere were vital to the health of our animals and in turn to us as a family,” said Father Yvon Royer, pastor o the Vergennes church, who grew up on a farm in Newport Center. “Anything that we can do to either not pollute the land, water or air goes a long way in maintaining the health of what God has given to us.”
 
The parish had been getting four Green Mountain Power Corp. electric bills: one each for the church, rectory, parish center and thrift shop. The annual total electric bill was about $5,300.
 
Utilizing the sun to help create the electricity used at St. Peter’s will help reduce those costs. “By the spring our solar panels will be creating enough electricity to take care of all of our electric needs here at St. Peter’s,” Father Royer said.
 
The solar project at St. Peter’s in Rutland was part of ongoing parish efforts – that included weatherization of the rectory and installation of energy-saving LED light bulbs -- to conserve both energy and funds and is “in line” with Pope Francis’ call to care for “our common home,” the Earth, said Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin Father Thomas Houle, pastor.
           
The panels produce electricity for the friary, saving about $220 to $260 a month, depending on the time of year.
 
But not only do the solar panels bring a financial benefit, they provide clean energy. “We are protecting the Earth around us,” Father Houle said.
 
He will continue to advocate for reducing carbon footprints by following in the footsteps of the founder of his Franciscan community, St. Francis of Assisi, “who saw all of creation as a gift from God and became the patron saint of ecology as he attempted to show us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.”
           
Father Houle is also pastor of St. Alphonsus Ligouri Church in Pittsford where solar panels to provide electricity for the church, rectory and parish hall are to be installed as soon as weather permits, he said. “There should be considerable savings,” he said.
 
Father Houle encourages other parishes to investigate the possibility of using solar energy, especially when grants are available.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
This article was originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 
 

Reduce, reuse, recycle, compost

Nineteen kindergarten and first-grade students from St. Michael’s School in Brattleboro donned green construction hats as they learned a lesson in the three R’s – not reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic – but reducing, reusing and recycling.
 
During an April 12 visit to the Windham Solid Waste Management District in Brattleboro they saw how recycled materials are sorted and bundled for sale and how compost is made.
 
It was part of the school’s observance of the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation, and the children understood the importance of caring for what Pope Francis calls “our common home,” the Earth.
 
“Not reducing, reusing and recycling is bad for the Earth,” said Jackson Ferreira, 7, a first grader.
 
“The Earth is our home, and we should respect it because God gave it to us,” added classmate Kalyn Curtiss, 7.
 
Before taking a tour of the facility, the children and their chaperones listened to a presentation by Kristen Benoit, program coordinator for the management district. “Everyone makes trash, but we can make the trash smaller by making smarter decisions,” she said.
 
Reducing consumption, reusing items, recycling recyclables and composting food waste and other compostables are all smarter decisions.
 
Benoit said every Vermonter produces about four and a half pounds of trash a day; that equals 1,640 soccer balls per year per person. “Our job here is to help make it less,” she commented.
 
Seventy-five percent of all trash is recyclable; recycling 2,000 pounds of paper saves 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water and 380 barrels of oil, she noted.
 
Paper, for example, can be recycled to make tissue paper, bathroom tissue and egg cartons. Soda cans can be recycled to make more soda cans, and milk jugs can be turned into carpet backing.
 
As for compost, Benoit said 30 percent of household trash is generally food and yard waste – items that could be composted “to make really good dirt for your plants.”
 
Putting food into landfills is not only unnecessary, it creates harmful methane gas.
 
Liz Martin, the kindergarten and first-grade teacher at St. Michael’s School, said during Lent the children made a special “sacrifice” to take better care of the Earth God has given them. “We’re going to try to do that for the entire year, not just Lent,” she added.
 
  • Published in Schools

A Catholic Christmas and new year

This will be my second celebration of Christmas as the bishop of the Diocese of Burlington. I feel very much at home here. Over the past two years, I have met a lot of very wonderful and good people, some who share our Catholic faith, others who do not. There is a large network of men and women in our state who are dedicated to doing good works, whether it is helping the neediest and most vulnerable in our midst, striving for affordable housing, feeding the hungry and the homeless, providing resources for people and families who are finding it difficult to make ends meet or working tirelessly to protect our water and our environment. Much of this is reported in the 2016 winter issue of Vermont Catholic in which we acknowledge the good deeds and works that are being carried out by faithful Catholics here in Vermont.
 
This is what we Catholics do. We feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the sorrowing, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner and clothe the needy. We do it because we know the meaning of Christmas: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son...” (Jn 3:16). The conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb and His later birth in the manger which we celebrate at Christmas remind us that God was born among us to bring reconciliation between God and man and reconciliation between all of us as brothers and sisters. Jesus’ later preaching of the Kingdom of God was a call to communion with Him and with one another. That communion calls us to be merciful, doing unto others as we would have done to ourselves.
 
So, I wish you all a merry Christmas as we contemplate the merciful love of God for each of us, and I wish you all a new year of faith in which we renew our call to serve God through loving acts of mercy for others.
 
On another note, I invite you to join with me in celebrating 2017 as a “Year of Creation” in our diocese. On May 24, 2015, Pope Francis published his encyclical on the environment entitled “Laudato Si’” subtitled, “On care for our common home.” In this encyclical, he states that concern for the natural world is no longer “optional” but is an integral part of Church teaching on social justice. While it has been nearly two years since its publication, I think it is time for the Church here in Vermont to study, ponder and begin to implement much of what the pope calls for in “Laudato Si’.” As such, a number of resources, events and programs have been created for both parish and diocesan venues to help us do so. More will follow over the next few months, but I hope you will join me in this endeavor.
 
Yours in Christ,
 
The Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne
 
Bishop of Burlington
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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