The Diocese of Burlington’s Year of the Family was a year filled with family-friendly activities, prayer opportunities and educational programming to strengthen and celebrate family life.

“In keeping with the Church’s vision on the beauty and gift of the family, an exhortation that was renewed by Pope Francis in “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), the Diocese sought to celebrate, foster, encourage and proclaim the joy of love experienced by Christian families in the Church and available to all,” said Deacon Phil Lawson, executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington.

Events during the Year of the Family were designed to focus on various areas of the Church’s teachings on the family and Pope Francis’ 256-page apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia.” Some of these events were designed to celebrate families, some designed to educate, some designed to inspire and equip leaders with resources and some focused on healing.

“This Year of the Family offers us a year to ponder the Church’s teaching on the family and embrace it ourselves,” Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne said in announcing the special celebration.

“The purpose of the Year of the Family is to explore, reflect upon and implement the message of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia,’” explained Stephanie Clary, manager of mission outreach and communication for the Diocese. “The overall focus of the Year of the Family is the joy and love that are experienced by being attentive to the important relationships in our lives and serving as an example of that love — God’s love — for those we encounter.”

Beginning in the fall of 2017 and continuing for a year, the special celebration included a World Marriage Day Anniversary Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral, Family-focused Stations of the Cross, a Family Retreat Day in Troy, a family Mass at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte and a Year of the Family Conference in Montpelier. There was a presentation on foster care and adoption by the Vermont Department of Children and Families for diocesan staff.

Family was the focus of an Aug. 25 conference sponsored by the Diocese of Burlington that featured a speaker who said God’s “method is mercy.”

Lisa Likona, an experienced speaker on the family and nationally known spiritual writer from New York, quoted St. John Paul II’s “Dives in Misericordia” (“Rich in Mercy”) in her keynote address, “Mercy in the Heart of the Family.”

“Mercy is love’s second name,” she said. “Mercy stoops down in order to pull up” and makes people feel fuller, richer and purified.

More than 100 people attended the conference, “Year of the Family: the Joy of Love,” at Capitol Plaza Conference Center in Montpelier. It was the premier event of this year’s celebration of the Year of the Family in the Diocese.

The Year of the Family Celebration also included a workshop at St. John Vianney Parish in South Burlington, “Hope, Healing and Outreach,” for Catholics who are separated or divorced as well as retreats for men and women and a Family Healing Service at St. Joseph Cathedral.

“No matter into what model our families fit — or don’t fit — they can serve as examples of joy and love in the world if they strive to be domestic churches committed to God’s will,” Clary said.

“The Church needs families!” enthused Josh Perry, director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington. “Insomuch as families hold the presence of Christ, the Church — which we know to be the Body of Christ — is strengthened by the presence of families. Throughout [“The Joy of Love”] the Church is referred to as a ‘family of families.’ The Church needs you!”

Deacon Lawson expressed gratitude to the 17 men and women from throughout the Diocese who made up the steering committee for this Diocesan Year of the Family and for the many initiatives that took place “and will continue to bear fruit in our parishes and in our families.”

—Originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.