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Life issues and social justice

As a child in the 1950s, I recall the Church being insular and sharply divided from
the world around us. That began to change as we approached Vatican Council II. We heard words like “ecumenism,” “social justice” and “liturgical renewal.” There was even a daring concept of celebrating the Mass in the vernacular, the language commonly spoken in the location of the Mass.
 
As the council unfolded, laypersons were invited to take on new roles in the Church, both liturgical roles and in various ministries in the Church. Both men and women could now serve in the sanctuary as lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Mass could be celebrated with the priest facing the people instead of with his back to the congregation.
 
After Vatican II, we saw the Church engaging the world around us in a completely different way.
 
We recognized the need to enter into dialogue with other Christian denominations to explore the possibility of reunification of Christianity. We began to hear about topics like racism, discrimination and social justice. The Church was more open in its criticism of injustice in society.
 
Topics like war, disparate treatment of minorities by the criminal justice system, treatment of undocumented immigrants, the natural environment and a living wage became topics addressed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and local bishops.
 
Yet within the Church, we saw dissent emerge. Some sought to radically change certain moral teachings on issues of sexuality, contraception and abortion. With Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), Catholic understanding of sexuality and the teaching on contraception were beautifully affirmed. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae” (“Gospel of Life”) again affirmed those teachings and emphasized that moral law given by God cannot change.
 
Human life issues (abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia and capital punishment) continued to receive prominent attention from the bishops and Catholic laity in local and political arenas.
 
The Church needs to engage society on both human life issues and issues of social justice; it is not one or the other.
 
Catholics know from scripture that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Hence, all human beings have an inherent dignity: There is something about each person that is a reflection of God to those around them.
 
Catholics must hold in their heart two great commandments: Love of God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. The Church must continue to proclaim that message not merely as an abstract concept, but in concrete terms: Life is sacred. Human beings are to be treated as a precious image and likeness of God; they are to be accorded full human dignity, and this includes just treatment in all particulars of their existence in a just society.
 
As members of the Church and followers of Jesus Christ, we must act to further those teachings and to incorporate them into our own attitudes and behaviors.
 

Worship and social justice

By Steven R. Marchand
 
It has been said that one of most striking characteristics of modernity is the fragmentation of the once-cohesive social fabric that held together political, moral and social communities. Concretely, this view of life results in many either-or ultimatums where a truly Christian view would suggest a both-and response.
 
In Catholicism, we hold many paradoxes together -- such as grace and nature, faith and reason, scripture and tradition, body and soul -- in such a way that each element remains in place in tandem with the other. True Christian teaching keeps us from veering into any kind of extremism.
 
Unfortunately, there crept into the minds of many in the Church in the mid and late 20th century a kind of dualism that pitted the worthy celebration of the liturgy against service to the poor and social activism. If one used resources to beautify the liturgy one was accused of stealing from the poor, and conversely, those laity, priests and religious who sought out the poor and marginalized were accused of abandoning prayer and the worship of God.
 
In reality, however, these two missions of the Church -- worship of God and service in the world -- are two sides of the same coin. It is impossible for the Christian community to worship God at Mass, hear the message of the Gospel and ignore those in need around them.
 
In the Old Testament, the connection between worship and justice is clear. In the Book of Amos we read, “Even though you offer me your burnt offering and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:22-24).
 
In the New Testament, St. Paul warns both who would seek to put worship and justice over the other in 1 Corinthians 10-11. He begins by pointing out that it is hypocritical for the community that celebrates the Mass to do so while the poor go hungry. He follows that by stressing the importance of eliminating abuses at the Lord’s Supper and participating in the Eucharist only worthily.
 
In fact, both the worship of God and service to the disadvantaged are aspects of justice and charity. We all have a duty to pray and worship God according to the mind of the Church, to offer to God only the best of what we have in our churches (like music and sacred art) as a matter of rendering to God what is due.
 
These worthy services are for the edification of the whole Christian people, the rich and poor alike. The virtue of religion helps us to grow in our relationship with God through our attention and participation in the liturgy. Our participation in the Eucharist ties us into the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for our salvation.
As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the power and life of the Church. The King of Kings deserves all the glory we can render Him as He is made present again on our altars.
 
And serving the Lord at the altar should be part of a seamless life of Christian charity. The spiritual treasure we receive at Mass should inspire and inflame our hearts with charity in service to our neighbor. Indeed, the Christian’s motive for social service and justice is that Christ himself is served when we serve those in need.
 
There is no contradiction then between service at the altar of the Cross and the altar of world, for Christ died that we all might have life and have it to the full.
 
As Catholics, we are all obliged to attend Mass with a pure heart and with great praise. At the end of every Mass, we are equally challenged to bring the
Good News and the love that we have first received from Christ into the world.
 
Let us worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and remember that we serve the same Christ in both our worship and our service.
 
--Steven R. Marchand, a seminarian for the Diocese of Burlington, is scheduled to be ordained to the transitional diaconate by Bishop James F. Checchio, bishop of Metuchen, on Sept. 28 in Rome at the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican at the Altar of the Chair.
 

Originally published in Vermont Catholic magazine, Fall 2017.
 

Nonviolence workshop

Laurie Gagne would say that nonviolence is what the love of God looks like in action.
 
“Jesus calls us to stand in His place, to enter the relationship of love which He shares with the Father. The more deeply we enter this relationship, the more we experience the love of God as a passion, which propels us, as Pope Francis says, toward those who need our help,” she said. “Violence contradicts the love of God in us; therefore our actions on behalf of others must always be nonviolent. In individuals like Dorothy Day and Gandhi, we see how nonviolence can be a way of life as well as a real power for social change.”
 
Nonviolence is the “use of power in such a way that promotes the life and dignity of every human being and of all creation,” defined John F. Reuwer, an adjunct professor of nonviolent conflict resolution at St. Michael's College in Colchester. “This is contrasted with violence, which is the use of power as if someone and parts of creation are not worthy of life and dignity.”
 
The Catholic perspective on nonviolence has developed during the more than 2,000- year history of the Church.
 
“The early Church was completely pacifist,” said Gagne, former director of the Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice at St. Michael's College in Colchester and current adjunct professor of peace and justice there. “From gravestone inscriptions we know that until 170 A.D. there were no Christians who were soldiers because the early Church fathers believed that military service contradicted Jesus's command that we love our enemies.”
 
She and Reuwer are scheduled to co-facilitate a workshop, "Nonviolence: Power for Peace and Justice," on Oct. 21 at Holy Family Church in Essex Junction from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with registration, coffee and bagels at 8:30. 
 
St. Augustine introduced the Just War Theory in the fifth century, and for the next 1,500 years, the Church taught that fighting for a just cause, using limited means, in a war declared by a legitimate authority, was the duty of Christians.
 
“Since the papacy of John XXIII, however, we find one pope after another speaking against war,” Gagne continued. Pope “Paul VI famously went before the United Nations and declared, ‘No more war! War never again!’ At the same time, there has been a turn to nonviolence as a way of resolving conflicts.”
 
The 20th century was witness to a robust Catholic peace tradition lead by Dorothy Day, Gordon Zahn and Daniel and Philip Berrigan, among others. “But what was remarkable was the advocacy of nonviolence by the Magisterium,” Gagne said, pointing to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Centesimus Annus” and the American bishops’ two peace pastorals. “The World Day of Peace Statement issued by Pope Francis this past January is the strongest endorsement of nonviolence by the Church thus far and indicates that it has become mainstream in Church teaching.”
 
Yet as much as the Church is promoting nonviolence today, it hasn't completely rejected the Just War Theory, and it remains a good standard for evaluating wars that are occurring, Gagne noted. “Catholics should know that according to Just War criteria, there have been almost no just wars in the modern period; modern weapons, for one thing, make the Just War principles of discrimination and proportionality hard to meet.”
 
Thus Catholics, she said, should call for nonviolent means of solving the conflicts which lead to war and support nonviolent movements for social change. They can also support groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Nonviolent Peace Force who stand alongside those trapped in conflict situations.
 
“The phenomenally destructive nature of modern war has caused many people to seek alternatives to this age-old method of conflict resolution,” Gagne said. “I find it exciting that the Catholic Church is taking part in this search. By adopting the principles of nonviolence, we can be true to our pacifist origins while remaining fully engaged with the world and its problems.”
 
According to Reuwer, nonviolence is “poorly understood in our culture” because it is depicted as weak in the face of powerful evil, while violence is depicted as the strong defender of the helpless and innocent.
 
“Belief in this contrast is a major reason why war and violence are so persistent and so few resources allotted to nonviolent means of dealing with evil,” he said.
 
The workshop he and Gagne will lead presents evidence that nonviolence is the stronger force for good. “If this is true, then we can easily embrace Pope Francis's call to embrace nonviolence. Think for a moment if we put the money, creativity, and human sacrifice that we put into war and its preparations into nonviolent conflict engagement. The results, I believe, would be astounding.”
 
The public is invited to attend the workshop, "Nonviolence, Power for Peace and Justice," on Oct. 21.
 
Topics to be covered include history of Church teaching on peace and war and current teaching on nonviolence; relating the concept of nonviolence to participants personal and communal spiritual growth; how the power of nonviolent action can forge a realistic path from the Sermon on the Mount, through the harsh realities of a violent world, to the reign of God among us; how to begin, on a personal and community level, to use nonviolent power to create the relationships and the world participants seek.
 
It was presented at St. Thomas Parish in Underhill Center in May, and parts of it have been presented dozens of times in the last 20 years at various churches, colleges and public forums.
 
“Nonviolence is based on love and has no inherent contradictions, while violence is almost always based on fear and always has contradictions and unintended consequences,” Reuwer said.
 
For more information on the workshop, which will cost $10, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 
 

Giving groceries

A bag of groceries can make a big difference for a family that is facing financial difficulties.
 
At St. Ann Church in Milton, parishioners know that and support a food shelf that helps scores of households with food and toiletries.
 
“It’s part of our ministry – to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” said Denise Lavigne, coordinator of St. Ann Food Shelf. “It is what we [Catholics] are taught to do. We try to help in our community, and it’s without judgment. There’s a need, and we want to fill it.”
 
The year before last, the food shelf distributed 354 bags -- or 4,017 pounds -- of food and 211 toiletry bags. In last September and October alone, the parish helped 44 families (comprised of 69 adults and 34 children) with food bags and toiletry items.
 
After 25-30 years of having a food shelf, volunteers have a smooth system that entails food collections and drives, financial donations and volunteers who shop, sort, stock shelves and pack the bags of foods and toiletries.
 
The bags are packed in the church hall, and each weekday enough are brought to the parish office to accommodate the anticipated needs for the day. Seven teams (10 volunteers) take charge of the food shelf one or two months a year. Allan Boucher oversees the toiletry portion.
 
“Their enthusiasm is fantastic. They want to help,” Lavigne said.
 
Some volunteer shoppers use coupons to stretch the funds donated to buy items, and one store gives a 10 percent discount to help the food shelf.

Recipients may get one food bag once a week and a toiletry bag once a month.
 
Food bags always include at least 16 items with staples like cereal, pasta, spaghetti sauce, canned vegetables, canned fruits, peanut butter and soup. Another item is added when available from food donations.
 
Toiletry bags include toothpaste, a toothbrush, shampoo, deodorant, dental floss and a bar of soap.
 
Some recipients access the donations as often as allowed as it is part of their monthly budget, Lavigne said. Others access them on an as-needed basis.
 
Some days are busier than others with requests; “it’s very unpredictable,” Lavigne said.
 
In addition to food and toiletries, the food shelf has some financial aid available to help Milton residents once a year with emergency needs like electricity and heating fuel.
 
“In the past fiscal year we helped 28 families. So far this fiscal year we have helped 15 families, and we are not even halfway through the year,” Lavigne said last fall.
 
This money comes from the same charitable account that is used to purchase food.
 
Some people are “overjoyed” to receive help from the parish, she added, and “everybody is happy to help.”
 
 
  • Published in Parish

Montpelier meal ministry

“Your smiling faces let us know
That you care
And that’s rare
So we just want you to know
You are our
Unsung heroes, stirring soup in pots.
We just wanted to say,
“Hey, thanks a lot.”

 
The words from a “Soup Kitchen Appreciation Song” by Lauren Sales for the volunteers at the weekly midday meal at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier express the sentiments of the people who attend.
 
Like “Karen” (not her real name), who appreciates not only the nutritious meal but also the camaraderie.
 
It’s a social opportunity for the Montpelier woman who lives alone, and not having to pay for the meal is a godsend “since my money for food is gone on the seventh of the month, and then I am broke for the rest of the month,” she said.
 
St. Augustine’s is one of five Montpelier churches that hosts a meal, so a free meal is available Monday through Friday in the capital city.
 
What’s different about the meal at St. Augustine’s is that guests sit at tables in the parish hall, and their meal is served to them, no standing in line.
 
“It gives people dignity,” said volunteer Sue Walbridge, a parishioner of St. Augustine’s. “It gives them worth.”
 
Indeed.
 
When asked what she likes about the meal at the Catholic church, “Karen” was quick to say, “They wait on you.”
 
She doesn’t get to eat in restaurants often, so once a week, “it’s nice to sit down and have somebody bring [the meal] to you.”
 
On a recent Friday – St. Augustine’s day to serve the meal – sloppy Joes (and a vegetarian version) were on the menu along with coleslaw, rolls, crackers, desserts and beverages.
 
Cindy Ross of St. Augustine’s is one of the parishioners who waits tables. “I like to communicate with the people who come here,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite days. We help so many people.”
 
More than 80 people braved a cold, snowy, rainy day to attend one of the Friday meals; 75 is about average attendance.
 
Parishioners, businesses, non-profits and others support the ministry with both food and monetary donations.
 
Sometimes volunteers are concerned there will not be enough food for the meal – which began at least 30 years ago as a soup-and-sandwich meal, but “like a miracle” they never run out, said volunteer Bonnie Giuliani of St. Augustine’s.
 
She is one of nine regular volunteers who do everything from set up, to serve, to clean up; occasionally others join them. “Helping people is what Jesus would do,” said volunteer dishwasher Elliott Curtin, another St. Augustine parishioner.
 
And they have fun while they are helping others; they joke and laugh; and they share in the joys and challenges of one another’s lives.
 
But their focus at the meal is the people they serve. “This is one thing we can do that makes life a little bit better for people,” said Deb McCormick of St. Augustine’s.

A community that CARES

This is a faith community that CARES.
 
CARES Catholic Network, a cooperative health and wellness ministry of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski and the Burlington parishes of St. Mark, St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, is all about Compassion, Advocacy, Respite, Education and Service.
 
Housed at the former convent at St. Mark’s on North Avenue in Burlington, CARES Catholic Network is a Christ-centered, parish-based ministry dedicated to the holistic health and wellness of the community. Through assessment of people’s needs, planning and implementing health and wellness activities and reflecting on the Gospel mission of health and wholeness, CARES promotes the integration of body, mind and spirit both in volunteers and in those they serve.
 
Services and activities include transportation, home visits, a durable medical goods exchange (canes, shower chairs, commodes etc.), advocacy for immigrants, handyman services, right-to-life advocacy, blood pressure screenings and a caregiver support group.
 
CARES has a full-time parish nurse, Sharon Brown, who makes home and hospital visits, coordinates CARES services and is a liaison with other service providers.
 
The Francis Center at St. Mark Parish provides physical space and is the hub of the CARES Catholic Network. It consists of a chapel, two medium-sized multi-purpose rooms, two smaller conference rooms and a residential kitchen.
 
It is a place for community, serving others and spiritual growth.
 
At the center there is space for meetings, trainings and spiritual formation for volunteers; community prayer groups and faith formation activities; cultural/educational activities; education/support group meetings; and storage/collection space for durable medical and household goods.
 
“We are excited we can use this space to reach out to minister to the community, following our faith and doing works of mercy,” said Father Dallas St. Peter, administrator of St. Mark Parish. “The reason [for the center] is to extend the Church’s mission of mercy in this area.”
 
Services are available to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.
 
Two of the approximately 60 people who volunteer in the CARES ministry as their time allows are Claudine Nkurunziza and her mother, Merida Ntirampeba, natives of Burundi now living in Winooski and attending St. Francis Xavier Church. “My life is to help somebody,” Ntirampeba said.
 
She and her daughter escaped the genocide in their homeland and thank God for the help they received to do so. “They were doing it [helping the mother and child] for the love of God, and I want to repay God,” she said.
 
“Many people would have just saved themselves,” Nkurunziza added.
 
St. Francis CARES – which began three years ago -- brought the family food and clothing when needed and provided transportation and nursing assistance. “Without them, I don’t know where we’d be. They really have helped,” Ntirampeba said.
 
St. Mark Parish joined the CARES Catholic Network in 2015, and the cathedral and co-cathedral parishes joined in September. “We have absolute support from the pastors and administrative assistants,” Brown said.
 
Volunteers will spend the winter identifying programs needed for the spring and summer. Already fabric and sewing machines have been donated for a spring sewing class for refugee women.
 
Marie Forcier of St. Mark’s plans to be an instructor. “I love helping out,” she said.
 
“Pope Francis tells us to take care of each other,” Brown said. “By caring for others, we show the heart of Jesus.”
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Vermont Catholic parishes actively involved in social justice ministries

Mindful of the words of the Lord: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(Jn 13:35), Christians can yearn for nothing more ardently than to serve the people of this age successfully with increasing generosity. Holding loyally to the Gospel, enriched by its resource, and joining forces with all who love and practice justice, they have shouldered a weighty task here on earth and they must render an account of it to him who will judge all people on the last day.
--"Gaudium et Spes" (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #93


A recent survey of parish social justice activities reveals that Vermont Catholics are serving others with untold generosity.  There are 73 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington and more than 100 active churches.
 
From visiting the sick and imprisoned, to assisting the homeless to feeding the hungry, the people of Vermont parishes are contributing thousands upon thousands of dollars in volunteer services to people in need throughout the state. 
 
Based on the survey, 96 percent of responding parishes participate in feeding the hungry either by donations to a local food shelf, managing their own food pantry, serving meals at the parish hall or food drives. Most parishes support multiple ministries: 89 percent poverty; 83 percent illness/infirm; 66 percent homeless; 30 prison and 29 percent other. Parishes support and partner with more than 155 organizations throughout Vermont to volunteer, donate goods and money.

Father Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol, said the various ministries parishes offer help people in the larger community “to know God’s love through the acts of our parishioners.”
 
Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Morrisville, Johnson, Hyde Park and Eden reaches out to persons in need through its SAM – Social Action Ministry – program, which provides assistance with things like rent, utilities, gasoline, food and phone minutes. Spiritual guidance is available also.
 
“We try to give them hope,” Mary Elfer said of those who seek assistance from the parish.
 
She is the parish ministries coordinator and considers assisting others as integral to her faith. “We are to follow the Gospel and practice our faith through works of love toward our neighbor,” she said. “Christ told us to help each other. We are supposed to take to heart those in need.”
 
The parish also works with local service agencies to meet needs.
 
Ted and Kathy Barrett of St. Jude Church in Hinesburg coordinate the twice-monthly senior meal hosted by the parish in partnership with Age Well, an agency that advocates for the aging population of northwestern Vermont.
 
Motivated by their faith and their desire to help others, they have been involved in the meals for about 10 years. “The seniors need a place to get out and meet other seniors,” Mr. Barrett said.
 
“We enjoy doing it, and they enjoy the camaraderie, the friendship,” Mrs. Barrett added.
 
The meal program serves about 20 meals at each dinner, and volunteers include parishioners and community members.
 
In addition to a free bingo game, “there is a lot of chatting, telling stories and reminiscing,” Mrs. Barrett said.
 
Many parishes are involved in providing gifts to persons in need at Christmas. At St. Thomas Parish in Underhill Center, for example, a food project provides about six to 10 families with food and fruit boxes/baskets that include a ham or turkey and a gift card for additional needed items.
 
“God calls us to love our neighbor,” said Laura Wells, coordinator of religious education and coordinator of the Christmas food and fruit boxes/baskets. “When we open our heart to Christ…we are happy and … want to serve our neighbor.”
 
The parish collects food all year for people in need, but during Advent, the collection is used specifically for the food and fruit project.
 
“People are so good” about helping others in need, Wells said, noting that the Christmas food project is but one of the social justice works in the parish.
 
One of the important social justice ministries at St. Michael Parish in Brattleboro is St. Brigid’s Kitchen and Pantry. Healthy noontime meals are served four days a week, and a food pantry helps those who need food to take home. About 17,000 meals a year are served there.
 
St. Brigid’s is nearly 35 years old, and throughout the years faith has motivated many of its volunteers. “We are compelled to care for the poor because God demands it,” said Volunteer Coordinator Carolyn Pieciak.
 
But it is important to point out that as much as varied parish charitable works assist people in need, they also give volunteers a broad selection of ways to “give back” or to live out their faith.
 
“The old adage that ‘it is in giving that receive’ is made very true through the opportunity to share of one’s self through these different ministries,” Father Royer said.
 
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
-- Mt 25:34-40

 
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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