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Year of Mercy: Jubilee celebration to honor role of laity

On Jan. 17, 2016, only one month into the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the diocese will celebrate a special Jubilee for Lay Ministers. During this liturgical event at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, representatives from Vermont's parishes who are involved specifically in lay ministry as lectors, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and others, will be recognized for their collaboration with pastors in building up the kingdom of God in the local parish. (Teachers, musicians and religious will be recognized at other Jubilees throughout the year.)

When Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, he planned its début to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. In no other council in the history of the Church has the role of laymen and women received so much attention. Nearly every document promulgated by this ecumenical council touches on the role of the laity; and in fact, an entire document is dedicated to understanding their role. The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity ("Apostolicam Actuositatem") was promulgated on Nov. 18, 1965. The document speaks about the diversification of ministries within the Church since apostolic times as well as the complementary relationship between the clerical and lay states: "In the Church, there is diversity of service but unity of purpose. Christ conferred on the apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity, too . . . exercise a genuine apostolate by their activity on behalf of bringing the gospel and holiness to men, and on behalf of penetrating and perfecting the temporal sphere of things through the spirit of the gospel." (AA,2)

In our own parishes throughout Vermont, we experience that harmonious collaboration – especially in the case of priests burdened with managing multiple parishes. There are some very visible lay ministries assisting the pastor every weekend at Mass, such as lectors, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and ushers, but there are also many indispensible lay ministries who thrive behind the scenes that make parishes vibrant. For example, the parishioners who provide funeral receptions, those who decorate churches and wash linens, those who serve on various advisory committees to the pastor, those who teach religious education for children and adults, those involved in the media, those with financial expertise, and so forth. (See Lay Ministry story on page 16.)

Our very own Bishop Robert F. Joyce, who was one of the Council Fathers at the time of Vatican II, told Vermonters as far back as 1962:

"Our laymen and women have been very active for a number of years and have displayed excellent qualities of leadership and zeal promoting the work of the Church. I feel very strongly their role should be much further extended as was the case in the early Apostolic times." (Vermont Catholic Tribune article 10/26/62)

The role of the laity has indeed been extended in our modern era in ways that Bishop Joyce could not have foreseen. During this Year of Mercy, the Diocese of Burlington appeals to God the Father, whose "mercy endures forever," that the zeal which marked the first century lay disciples of Christ may be rekindled in the 21st century with increased fervor and unity of purpose to show the world that we truly are Christians by our love.

Father Lance W. Harlow, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Williston and Our Lady of the Rosary in Richmond, is the diocesan chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Year of Faith. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Published in World

Pope wants year of Mercy to tenderly transform the world

When Pope Francis planned the Year of Mercy and the opening of the Holy Door, he did not mean to give the starting signal for a frenzied wave of pilgrims to Rome.

More than call to sign up for an Eternal City package tour, the pope is inviting people to strike out on a yearlong spiritual journey to recognize a loving God who's already knocking on their door.

He says he wants the Year of Mercy to usher in a "revolution of tenderness."

Once people realize "I'm wretched, but God loves me the way I am," then "I, too, have to love others the same way," the pope said in an interview published just a few days before the Dec. 8 start of the jubilee year.

Discovering God's generous love kick-starts a virtuous circle, which "leads us to acting in a way that's more tolerant, patient, tender" and just, he said.

Speaking with "Credere," an Italian weekly magazine run by the Pauline Fathers, the pope gave an in-depth look at why he sees such an urgent need to highlight God's mercy.

"The world needs to discover that God is father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the path, that condemnation is not the path," he said. "Because the Church herself sometimes follows a hard line, she falls into the temptation of following a hard line, into the temptation of underlining only moral norms, but so many people remain on the outside," he said.

The pope said the thought of all those people – sinners, the doubtful, the wounded and disenfranchised – conjured up that iconic image of seeing the Church "as a field hospital after the battle."

"The wounded are to be treated, helped to heal, not subjected to cholesterol tests," he said, meaning a too narrow scrutiny of minutiae delays staving off the broader disease of conflict and indifference. He once illustrated the same concept by painting a visual image of pastors who prefer to coif and comb the wool of the tiny flock in the pews rather than seek the sheep that are outside in danger or lost.

"I believe this is the time for mercy. We are all sinners, we all carry burdens within us. I felt Jesus wants to open the door of his heart," he said in the magazine interview.

The opening of the holy doors in Rome and around the world are a symbol of how Jesus is opening the door of his heart.

In fact, dioceses have been asked to designate and open their own "Door of Mercy" in a cathedral, an important church or sanctuary. The pope also will send out from Rome "missionaries of mercy" – priests mandated to the world's peripheries to show patience and compassion in their ministry.

Such gestures suggest the pope still wants people to avoid the expense of travel – like his post-election suggestion to fans back home in Argentina to give to the poor the money they would have spent for a trip.

To help people at home feel "just like being there" in Rome, the Vatican television center will start broad-casting major papal events during the Holy Year in latest generation "Ultra HD 4K" resolution as well as HD, 3D and standard definition.

From the very start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been showing what the way of mercy means.

The pope's very first Angelus address and homily in 2013 centered on mercy, as he explained God always waits for that day of awakening and conversion, then forgives everything. The real problem is people – not God – who give up on forgiveness, he said.

But mercy changes everything, he said; it "makes the world a little less cold and more just."

The pope's own religious vocation is rooted in that concrete experience of mercy, when he – as a 17-yearold student – walked out of a confessional "different, changed." It was the feast of St. Matthew, and like St. Matthew, he was overcome, feeling "God looked at me with mercy" and said, "Follow me."

Realizing God knows he's a sinner, but embraces him anyway lies at the heart of Pope Francis' ministry and his motto: "By showing mercy, by choosing," based on "The Call of St. Matthew."

He said in the magazine interview that one Friday of every month during the Year of Mercy "I will make a different gesture" that shows God's mercy. He had asked the world's young people to rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, like feeding the hungry and counsel the doubtful, and choose one to practice each month as they prepare for World Youth Day in July. (CNS)

  • Published in Vatican

Year of Mercy event celebrates Jubilee for Families

The celebration of the Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Burlington continues on July 17 at the "Center of Life, Light and Love" with a Jubilee for Families during a special pilgrimage Mass. It will take place at Isle LaMotte' St. Anne's Shrine at 12:15 p.m.

This will be an opportunity for families from throughout the diocese to gather to celebrate this Year of Mercy and enjoy God's gift of nature at this holy location in the diocese.

There will be a procession to the statue of St. Anne after the Mass and then a cookout.

St. Anne's Shrine – located on the shore of Lake Champlain – includes an outdoor pavilion for Mass, outdoor Stations of the Cross, a gift shop, picnic area, gardens, cafeteria, camping and retreat cabins.

"The shrine is a very special place for families to gather because of the beauty of the grounds," said Edmundite Father Brian Cummings, spiritual director there. "Families often picnic or barbecue after Mass on the beach or on the many spots on the grass. Families can recreate playing sports games, swimming, kayaking, biking, fishing or boating. The shrine provides the opportunity for families to pray together and rest in the Lord's presence in a peaceful place. Some families come by boat and tie their boats at our dock. It is a prayerful and fun destination."

The mission of St. Anne's Shrine is to serve as a welcoming place of peace and minister to all God's people through prayer, devotion, hospitality and spiritual renewal.

Father Cummings suggested visitors tour the historic chapel and visit the grottos housing statues of various saints. Walking the grounds, particularly the areas where there are new cabins, would give them a feel for the potential for family and parish overnight retreats which are welcomed here.

As early as 1666, the French erected a fort and chapel on Isle LaMotte, dedicated under the invocation of "la bonne Sainte Anne." It was here that Mass was offered for the first known time in the Northeast.

It is a unique place of pilgrimage with a rich religious tradition steeped in the history of the country's founding. French explorers brought Jesuit missionaries with them as they landed on Isle La Motte establishing Fort St. Anne.

The care and direction of the shrine was entrusted to the care of the Society of St. Edmund in 1904; the Edmundites purchased it from the Diocese of Burlington in 1921.

For more than 100 years, families have come together to worship and to celebrate their faith on the shrine grounds. "The peaceful, serene and natural surroundings of the shrine are conducive to relaxation, prayer and recreation for people of all ages," Father Cummings said.

People who visited as children often return years later with their own families to renew their relationships and faith.

"I hope the people of our diocese will join us on July 17 for a day of prayer and family fun," Father Cummings said. "We will worship together in celebrating the Eucharist, and the sacrament of reconciliation will be available. Afterwards, we will then kick back and enjoy each other's company in a relaxed setting. It should be a great celebration remembering God's mercy and giving thanks to God for the blessings in our lives. And it should be fun!"

And for those looking to stay on Isle LaMotte in scenic Grand Isle County longer than just the day, there are various other attractions. A short distance from the shrine is the Fossil Preserves, a national natural landmark. On the south end of the Island is the Fisk Quarry Preserve and the Goodsell Ridge Preserve, an ancient fossil reef almost half a billion years old. Both preserves are open to the public with a self-guided tour.

To the north, a short walk from the shrine, is the Isle LaMotte Lighthouse Station established in 1857. The lighthouse is visible from the end of the road along the shore north of the shrine.

The Isle LaMotte Historical Society is located on the island with an original blacksmith shop and cabin.

In addition the island is a popular attraction for cyclists of all ages.


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

'Gift of priesthood is gift for entire Church'

"It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain." (Jn 15:16)

During the Rite of the Ordination for Priests, after inquiry by the bishop to those responsible for the candidate's formation for priesthood, he says, "Relying on the help of Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose these, our brothers, for the Order of the Priesthood."

On June 18 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, two men were called and chosen by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne: Fathers Curtis Miller and Matthew Rensch, both of whom he ordained to the priesthood that day.

The gift of the priesthood is a gift for the Church, the entire people of God. From the families that make up our parishes, schools and communities, God calls and chooses men to imitate the first disciples who heard the call of Jesus, "Come, follow me." They left everything and followed Him.

Father Rensch and Father Miller are gifts from God to our diocese. Through the exercise of their priesthood, the people of God will receive the sacraments that will strengthen them in their faith and prepare them for eternal life. As a diocese, we are especially grateful to their parents, their families and their friends who have helped and encouraged them along their journey to the altar of God.

Also ordained on June 18 to the transitional diaconate was Deacon Joseph Sanderson. While exercising this new ministry, Deacon Sanderson enters into the final stage in preparation for the priesthood. While finishing his studies in theology, his final year of seminary formation will include practicums on celebrating the sacraments and on pastoral counseling.

In honor of the Year of Mercy, Bishop Coyne instituted June 18 as the Jubilee Day for Priests and Seminarians, a day in which special graces are given to those serving the Church in Vermont as priests and those in seminary discerning God's call to the priesthood. The seminarians of the Diocese of Burlington served the Mass of Ordination; three of them will begin formation for the priesthood this fall.

God's mercy and faithfulness to the Diocese of Burlington are evident in our two new priests and in the nine men in seminary formation who continue to pursue discerning God's holy will for their lives.

Article written by Father Jon Schnobrich, director of vocations for the Diocese of Burlington.

Celebrating Priesthood

As we celebrate the Jubilee for Priests and Seminarians this month as part of the diocese's year-long celebration of the Year of Mercy, I am reminded of my own priestly ordination that occurred 23 years ago on May 8, 1993. I was the first priest of this diocese to be ordained by His Excellency, Bishop Kenneth A. Angell. The ordination took place in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and I keep one special photo of the event in my living room. The photo captures the moment during the rite of ordination when the ordinand makes the promise of obedience to his bishop. It is one of two sacred promises. The other sacred promise is celibacy. During the rite of ordination, the bishop asks the ordinand: "Do you promise respect and obedience to me and to my successors?" To which the ordinand responds: "I do."

In the photo, I am kneeling before Bishop Angell with my hands held in his. On that day I did promise respect and obedience to him–and to his successors; that is, Bishop Matano and Bishop Coyne. I remember the moment clearly. I also remember it every year when the entire presbyterate assembles with the bishop at the annual Chrism Mass during Holy Week at which we renew our priestly promises.

That promise of obedience opens a door of special graces for the priest. As he physically places his hands into those of his bishop, he surrenders his priestly ministry to the bishop's discernment for the greater good of the diocese. While there is always place for discussion and collaboration with his bishop, ultimately the priest believes that through his promise of obedience, God will manifest his will through the bishop. That belief is not just an abstract theological notion; it is ratified through the lives of countless saints over the course of two thousand years. Not once has a priest-saint ever said, "Do your own thing" or "Your career comes first." But rather, every priest has sought grace through obedience–and it has always borne fruit in his ministry.

While most parishioners view their priest as belonging to "their parish," he really belongs to the entire diocese. (I am speaking here of diocesan priests. Priests belonging to a religious order fall into a broader category defined by the scope of their apostolate). A diocesan priest must live in that poverty of obedience by which he realizes that he belongs to no single parish, but rather that he belongs to all parishes. His pastorates are temporary depending upon the needs of the particular parish and those of the whole diocese. Jesus made that lifestyle clear in the Gospel in the following scene where, humanly speaking, He should have stayed in one town and made a very successful career for himself. But such was not God's will:

"Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, 'Everyone is looking for you.' He told them, 'Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come. So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee' (Mk 1:35-38).

The Holy Spirit opens and closes doors throughout the priest's life leading him to "nearby villages"–even when things seem to be going well for him in a particular parish. The Holy Spirit knows the souls who will benefit from the priest's new ministry, and the priest desiring nothing more than to do God's will, goes where he is sent empowered by the graces brought about by his promise of obedience.

And so, on the day of his ordination, the young priest kneeling before his bishop enters into a new reality of grace. So young and without any priestly experience, he makes those sacred promises certain of the correctness of the Church's wisdom. And then years later, seasoned by age and experience, he not only remembers those sacred promises, but he has an even greater certainty of their correctness, fruitfulness and protection. Those two words, "I do," freely given on the day of his ordination, allow him to teach, to preach and to heal, not for his own personal success or comfort, but for the common good of all of you who constitute the people of God in Vermont. When you see the young ordinands on June 18 kneeling before Bishop Coyne and placing their hands into his, promising obedience to him and to his successors, remember that those sacred promises will open the doors of special graces for them to have very fruitful priestly ministries.

Father Lance W. Harlow, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Williston and Our Lady of the Rosary in Richmond, is the diocesan chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Year of Faith. (See official on page 3.)

Year Of Mercy Called To Serve God, Through The Diaconate

There are numerous accounts of the modern restoration of the permanent diaconate and most of these include the aftermath of World War II which the Church and many others pondered for years. Several Church leaders advocated that Vatican II place this on the agenda as part of a response to the brokenness seen through the time preceding, during and after the war; a visible sign of the Church reaching beyond its institutions to minister to many diverse needs in a rapidly changing world. All these decades later, Pope Francis is underscoring this mission in our day. This Jubilee Year of Mercy offers many opportunities to renew ourselves in God's mercy.

Parishioners 'cook up' a corporal work of mercy

When Pope Francis called for the current Holy Year of Mercy, parishioners of St. Ambrose Church in Bristol and their pastor, Father Yvon Royer, cooked up ways not only to contemplate mercy but to be agents of mercy within the community.

  • Published in Parish
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