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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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Our #10 celebrates first year anniversary as Bishop of Burlington, looks to future

When Bishop Christopher J. Coyne became bishop of the Vermontwide Diocese of Burlington nearly one year ago, he set out to be a positive, faithful presence both within the Catholic and wider civic communities.

To that end, he has visited all 10 deaneries and met with priests, religious, parishioners, interfaith and ecumenical leaders, the governor, the mayor of Burlington, the president of St. Michael's College in Colchester, persons involved with social service agencies and Catholic school students and teachers. From the middle of February to the end of November, he put more than 15,000 miles on his black Jeep Grand Cherokee.

"I have tried to reach out to not only the Catholic community but also to men and women of goodwill throughout the state," he said during a Dec. 1 interview at his chancery office in South Burlington. "I have tried to establish that the Catholic community has a positive place within the larger community of the state and that we are not a marginalized people but we are in fact a people of goodwill who want to work with other people of goodwill to foster the common good of all."

His first 11 months as 10th bishop of Burlington have been recorded on his blog, Facebook, Twitter and other media accounts. During this time through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops he has coordinated media relations for Pope Francis' first-ever visit to the United States, promoted the establishment of the first virtual Vermont Catholic high school and maintained lines of communication with all people.

"I'm trying to be a person of good faith, goodwill and good news," he said.

He's also a good sport, throwing out the first pitch at a Vermont Lake Monsters baseball game.

But one of his funniest memories is of going to Troy on Good Friday to celebrate the 3 p.m. liturgy because his schedule had listed "Sacred Heart Parish."

"They were not sure why I was there but were glad to have me," he said. "I couldn't figure out why I was scheduled for Troy instead of the cathedral. Finally, it occurred to me that it was an old event from Indiana (where he had served as an auxiliary bishop) where I was supposed to celebrate the 3 p.m. service at Sacred Heart Parish in Jeffersonville, Ind. I thought I had cleared my calendar of all Indiana events when I came to Vermont, but I missed that one."

Bishop Coyne was installed as the shepherd of Vermont Catholics during a packed – and televised – Mass Jan. 29 at St. Joseph Co- Cathedral in Burlington.

In his homily, he addressed decreasing church attendance, saying, "Now more than ever, our community needs to hear the call of the good news, proclaimed to a culture that seems to hear so many other voices." He addressed the challenge faced in Vermont and elsewhere of declining membership and a cultural trend away from a revealed religion to a personal spirituality at best or no belief at worst.

By visiting parishes throughout the state, Bishop Coyne has seen declining church attendance and witnessed the effects of both lapsed Catholics and changing demographics. "It's not simply a matter of a lack of priests oftentimes it's a lack of Catholics" that has created the need for parish reconfigurations such as those that have taken place during the past several years, he said.

He has celebrated Masses for hundreds of people and for tens of people, prompting the question of sustainability over the years for some Catholic parishes with declining populations. "We have priests, and we have enough priests to take care of our Catholic community, but our priests need to be assigned to places where people can be found," he said.

To foster more vocations from within the Diocese of Burlington the diocesan director of vocations will be full time rather than part time as of July 1 with the help of an assistant vocation director and the reestablishment of a vocation board.

With nine current seminarians and at least five more serious candidates, he is hopeful for an increase in vocations to the priesthood.

In addition, when a call was issued in October to parishes, Catholic agencies and Catholic schools for the names of young men and women who might be possible candidates for priesthood or religious life, more than 600 names were submitted. "There is a lot of possibility of vocations within this state," he said; those individuals were invited to a vocations awareness program.

Asked about Pope Francis and his influence on his first year as bishop of Burlington, Bishop Coyne said not only does he owe him respect and obedience as the supreme pontiff, he respects the way Pope Francis has changed the conversation between the Church and the culture of the world.

"Now more and more we are being defined by what we are for rather than by what we are against," the bishop said. "We had allowed ourselves to be defined as a church that's against gay people, a church that's against women, a church that is against freedom of expression – all those things of the culture war."

But Pope Francis has "turned that around" and the Church is better known as the Church for the marginalized, the needy and the struggling, he said. "The arms of the Church are very wide."

The pope has visited prisons, met with the poor and shown kindness to the needy. "He challenges me all the time," Bishop Coyne said.

In calling for a special Year of Mercy – which began Dec. 8 – Pope Francis is emphasizing God's great mercy. "With God's mercy, there are no ifs, ands or buts," the bishop said. "We human beings want to put restrictions on God's mercy" and say it is available only if certain conditions are met.

"God's mercy is a very abundant mercy. It's a wide mercy that calls each of us to His love," he said, stressing that everyone needs that mercy and must be an instrument of it for others, moving out of the selves and their churches to be instruments of mercy to others. "Mercy means I see a need and I act out of compassion to help."

Considering the Syrian refugee situation, the bishop said he hopes to address it "in a substantive way in the very near future," and in the meantime encouraged Vermont Catholics to support the work of Catholic Relief Services and the local work of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program and to pray.

Bishop Coyne expressed gratitude for the multitude of ways Vermont parishes and Catholic schools and social service agencies reach out in their communities and beyond. "Our Catholic community is invested in good works," he said, giving as examples the efforts of the two Vermont Catholic high schools that are involved in such activities as providing food for the needy at holiday times and Vermont Catholic Charities Inc., the work of which includes providing emergency assistance and supporting programs that feed and shelter the poor.

During the chancery interview, Bishop Coyne spoke of his support for life issues including an end to abortion and opposition to physician-assisted suicide. But because both are legal, he said the efforts of the Church "should be to make sure that people don't get so desperate that they have to" access them.

He wants the Church to seek to enact just laws to protect all human life and also to "create and maintain" housing for elderly, sick and needy persons so they don't ever feel alone and "do everything we can" to help women and families "not have to make the unfortunate choice for abortion."

As he looks to the future, the bishop sees an essential good work in which he wants members of the Catholic community to be of assistance: the fight against heroin addiction. He hopes they will commit themselves to work with the wider community to "stamp out the scourge of heroin addiction" that takes a toll on people of all ages, ethnicities, social classes and places of residence.

They can help educate others about the epidemic, listen with compassion to those affected by it, make appropriate referrals, support groups working with addicts, lessen the shame of the addiction and educate people about the signs of addiction and drug dealing.

Bishop Coyne is energized by the hiring of new diocesan staff including a director of youth and young adult ministry, director of evangelization and catechesis, executive director of development and coordinator of pro-life ministries. "We're getting the team in place" to minister and spread the good news throughout Vermont, he said. "I'm happy with where we're going."

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
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