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Cori Fugere Urban

Cori Fugere Urban

Cori Urban is a longtime writer for the communications efforts of the Diocese of Burlington and former editor of The Vermont Catholic Tribune.

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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.

Pre-school connects love of God with teachers, parents, students

While some children napped in a dimly lit classroom at St. Edward's Preschool, others, across the hall, drew and practiced printing their ABC's.

Theresa Forbes, the director as well as a teacher, listened to the boys and girls recite the letters after they had traced them with a marker on a preprinted sheet.

There are 23 children ages three to five enrolled at the school, and eight elementary-age children are enrolled for pre-school and/or after-school care. Not all are there everyday.

They are under the care of two full-time and two part-time teachers; the teacher-student ratio is usually 1:7.

"I pride myself on hiring dedicated teachers that model and demonstrate respect and love of self and others," Forbes said. "They model the Lord's 'Golden Rule' to love one another, and the Lord gets the credit for their personal talents."

Vocationist Father Patrick I. Nwachukwu, administrator of Mater Dei Parish, which includes St. Edward Church in Derby Line, said his hope for the school is that children will "be good Catholics and good Christians, solid in faith and morals."

He also wants them to be good citizens "who can be responsible and trustworthy" with bright futures and promising careers.

The children spend the morning separated by age groups: 3 and 4 and 4 and 5. They are combined for the afternoon, after some have had a nap.

Amy Frizzell Sherlaw of Derby has sent her children to St. Edward's Preschool since it opened; she has four children, and three of them have gone or are currently enrolled at St Edward's. The youngest is two and will go when he is old enough.

A member of Plymouth Congregational Church in East Charleston, she attended a Catholic college and taught at a Catholic school. "The quality of education that you receive at a Catholic school is second to none," she said. "I wanted my children to attend preschool in a safe, welcoming, learning environment. I wanted to be sure that they would be respected and valued. I wanted them to learn academically but also socially. We found such a place at St. Edward's Preschool. It offered all of these things and is close to my home. St. Edward's was the right fit for my family."

St. Edward's Preschool is a licensed preschool program that operates under the guidelines/requirements of the State of Vermont. The curriculum corresponds with the state standards, and the child-assessment system used is Teaching Strategies Gold.

By using this combination of educational objectives and developmental domains, teachers can enhance/encourage proper developmental growth that fits each child's learning style.

Their education focuses on areas that include social-emotional growth, language development, cognitive skills, literacy, math, science, technology and social studies.

"The local schools have said we have done well preparing them for kindergarten," Forbes said.

"My children are well prepared for kindergarten both academically and socially," Sherlaw said. "When they left preschool they could identify their numbers and letters. They could match numeral to quantity and knew the sounds each letter makes. They built lasting friendships and were well prepared" for kindergarten.

St. Edward's Preschool opened in the St. Edward Parish Hall in 2007; Forbes and then-pastor Father Yvon Royer founded it after Sacred Heart School in Newport closed. Forbes had been a pre-school teacher there. "Parents wanted a private, full-day program," she said.

"The Lord has a plan and purpose for each one of us. I always pray that He places children and families in our program that He knows need our teachers' faith and love not just our educational skills," said Forbes, a parishioner of Mater Dei Parish St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Newport. "In a world with much pain, sorrow and demands, we all need the Lord's guidance, prayers and mercy."

Jesus' love for everyone is emphasized at St. Edward's, where children are taught to love and accept everyone. "They are all shining stars and all special," she said of her students. "They are all God's children."

"Our program may only be a small part of our students' lives, but through encouragement, respect, hope and love we become a significant part of the Lord's plan," she said. "As director, I look at our priests and sisters as spiritual leaders. When we work together with our teachers and parents, we can make the connection of the word of God and love of Christ."

Melissa Scherer of Newport has one child in the preschool. "The education students receive is extraordinary," she said. "They not only receive standards-based education but Christian values as well."

Sister of Mercy Laura Della Santa, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Burlington, said it is important to have a Catholic preschool in as many areas of the state as possible. "It plants the seeds of faith, love and knowledge of Jesus that we hope the children will continue to develop," she said.

For more information about St. Edward's Preschool, call (802) 873-4570.
  • Published in Diocesan

'Beloved Date Night' series brings couples together, strengthens marriages

Peter and Claire Curtice agree that marriage fluctuates among phases of romance, disillusionment and joy, lasting from about 10 minutes to years before moving into one of the other phases.

Though in a joy phase, the parishioners of Mater Dei Parish in the Northeast Kingdom are attending the Beloved Date Night series at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Derby Line.

The 12-part series takes place six times a year for two years, and during the third session, they spoke about their marriage, saying that even after 43 years, they still work on it. "It's a lifelong process," Mrs. Curtice said. "We change as people."

Date Night gives them a chance to focus on themselves as a couple, said the parents of three and grandparents of eight. "It helps us make the choice to put each other and our relationship first," she added.

There are 14 couples – of different ages and backgrounds – that attend. Preceded by the 6 p.m. parish Saturday Mass, Date Night continues with a potluck candlelight dinner at 7 and then a Beloved DVD presentation and discussion about the joys and challenges of married life.

The Beloved program helps couples discover the meaning of their marriage, how their marriage fits into an eternal story, the truth about the bonds and commitment of love, God's plan for true spiritual and physical intimacy, how to communicate and resolve conflict, the importance of healing and forgiveness and tools for protecting their marriage.

It explores Scripture, tradition and Church teaching to bring God's plan for their marriage alive.

Steve and Ann Gonyaw facilitate Beloved Date Night for their parish; she is also the director of the family faith formation program. Because the Church offers various programs for marriage preparation and few for married couples, she saw the need for the Beloved program. "We need to provide support for marriage, to strengthen them [because there are so many] life challenges," she said. "There is a need to refresh, revitalize" marriage.

The parents of two who have been married for 15 years, the Gonyaws appreciate the perspectives on married life offered by couples married for many years and a few years all in the Catholic environment of the parish program.

Topics this year are marriage through salvation history, the importance of marriage, the meaning of sacrificial love, total gift of self, the sacramental bond and challenges marriages face.

The second year's topics will focus on practical conflict resolution and communication to build deeper unity and protect the bond of marriage.

Cheryl and Andre Lefebvre have been married for 38 years and have three children and four grandchildren. "We're all on the same page" about marriage at the Date Nights, she said. "Our marriages are important to us."

Dr. Chuma Ezenwa and his wife, Chinelo, had been thinking about participating in a marriage program when they heard about Beloved Date Night. "It was providential," he said with a smile.

Married for eight years with four children, he described today's world as one that "kind of takes oxygen away from marriage," so the program is "a way to get fresh air" and re-energizes, reinvigorates and refreshes marriages.

And the church setting helps couples stay focused on the marital relationship as a sacrament, Mrs. Ezenwa said.

Nathan and Regina St. George agreed. Married for four years with one child and one on the way, they are new to the parish but enjoy getting to know other couples and sharing the same faith values and focus on family and spouse. "We have a greater appreciation of marriage and married life" thanks to Beloved Date Night, Mrs. St. George said.

After viewing a DVD that emphasized that marriage is meant to mirror God's love and that individual marriages are part of God's plan for salvation, the couples engaged in small group discussion and then spread throughout the parish center to talk privately, spouse to spouse.

"Our society has lost the concept of (marriage) being a permanent choice," Mr. Curtice lamented during a group discussion. That's why the grace of the sacrament of matrimony is so important.

Mr. Gonyaw said marriage is "so big and wonderful and hard, and it is a total commitment. You can't do it without grace."
  • Published in Diocesan

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."
  • Published in Diocesan
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