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Christmas message from Bishop Coyne

Whatever your relationship with the Church may be, I invite you to consider how the moment of the Incarnation – God becoming man in Jesus Christ – has graced all of creation with the saving power of God. Throughout the course of the Church’s history, great saints and poets have authored heartfelt praise to the mystery of the Incarnation in which they tried to capture what it meant that God, the Supreme Creator of all that is, became one like us. Writing in the fourth century, St. Gregory Nazianzen came close to offering a perfect blend of the poetic and the theological when he wrote:
 
“The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: He it is who comes … to take to himself all that is human, except for sin. … He who makes rich is made poor; He takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of His divinity. He who is full is made empty; He is emptied for a brief space of His glory, that I may share in His fullness.”
 
But, while St. Gregory’s words may transport us into the Mystery of the Divine Majesty of God made manifest, the greeting of the angels to the shepherds that we hear proclaimed in the Gospel of Luke lead us deeply into Christ’s humanity:

"Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
 
In this Christmas celebration, we recall the mystery of Christ, true God and true man, and offer thanksgiving that “God so loved the world, that He gave us His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.” Every time we celebrate the Mass we encounter the same Christ present among us in the Church gathered, in the Word proclaimed and in the Sacrament of the Eucharist — and what a Christmas gift that is!
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

School Christmas activity

The boxes of donated items to four different charities during Advent are a testament to the generosity of the families at St. Paul School in Barton.
 
With only about 50 families, the school sends boxes of gifts to active soldiers, pet items to the local animal shelter, toys to the Toys for Tots program and food to the local food pantry.
 
“This is little Barton, and our families sacrifice to [send their children] here already. They are so thankful and somehow able to still be generous,” said Principal Joanne Beloin.
 
There are 68 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and 30 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunches.
 
“A lot has been done for us at St. Paul’s or we wouldn’t still be here,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do to pass on that generosity and help others.”
 
The school community sends two boxes of toiletries, games, candy, writing material, socks and homemade cards to soldiers during Advent and another for Valentine’s Day.
 
“Our school as a whole really supports our vets,” Beloin said, and that support reaches to today’s soldiers.
 
“They support our country, and we want to honor them and support what they are doing for us,” said Jennifer Wilson, the third- and fourth-grade teacher as her students worked on a poppy-themed art project to send to veterans.
 
“It’s nice to do this. They are rising their lives for us,” Micha Sicard, 9, a third grader said of the boxes sent to soldiers.
 
Classmate Akira Conley, 8, said she likes collecting for the animal shelter because “God doesn’t want to see the animals starve because they’re His creation.”
 
Mara Royer, 13, an eighth grader, usually contributes to the Toys for Tots collection because she likes to help ensure a child’s happiness on Christmas morning. “You want to welcome Christ by being full of cheer, and you want everyone to be as happy as possible.”
 
Riley Perry, 13, also an eighth grader, said her family and school community model generosity for her: “It’s important to be generous because you can share happiness.”
 
“Giving is just as good as receiving,” Mara added. “It makes you happy deep down inside.”

--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 
  • Published in Schools

Pope: Coldest hearts can be warmed by Christmas cheer

Christmas joy expressed through music brings a message of peace and brotherhood for those most in need, Pope Francis said.
 
Meeting with organizers and artists participating in a benefit Christmas concert at the Vatican, the pope said the talents of musicians and artists during the festive season "is a formidable way to open the doors of the mind and heart to the true meaning of Christmas."
 
"Christmas is a heartfelt feast, participatory, capable of warming the coldest hearts, of removing the walls of indifference toward one's neighbor, of encouraging openness toward the other and giving freely," he said Dec. 15.
 
The proceeds of the Dec. 16 concert, which is sponsored by the Pontifical Congregation for Catholic Education, will be donated to two organizations -- Scholas Occurrentes and the "Don Bosco in the World" Foundation -- to benefit children's programs in Argentina and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 
The pope thanked the artists and the event organizers for donating their time and talents to "the needs of the needy and disadvantaged who beg for help and solidarity" and for promoting peace and compassion through music.
 
Pope Francis said he hoped the concert would be "an occasion to sow tenderness -- this word that is often forgotten today. Violence, war, no! Tenderness! That it may sow tenderness, peace and hospitality which flows from the grotto in Bethlehem," the pope said.
 
Among the international cast of musicians meeting the pope and performing at the concert were Annie Lennox and Patti Smith.
 
  • Published in Vatican

Christmas shopping for little Catholics

Are you looking for the perfect gift for a young child in your family this year? Spread the Gospel and give them a gift they’ll love.

You may have heard it before, but it is worth repeating: If you have been baptized, it is your duty to spread the Gospel, and your family is a great place to begin. Your children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and godchildren are all going to be expecting gifts this year, so let’s give them something that will make them smile and will feed their soul.

My Pick:

My first suggestion is a new book: "King of the Shattered Glass" by Susan Joy Bellavance. It’s a tale about a young kitchen maid and her courageous encounter with the King. The story is compelling, the pictures are beautiful, and the conversation created between parents and children is priceless. This book will lead children and their parents to consider God’s mercy in a whole new way. Don’t be surprised if you have tears in your eyes by the end. The author also has free-downloadable worksheets, coloring pages and discussion guides on her website – especially useful for a catechist who would like to use this book in the classroom.

Children’s Bible Story Book:

My second suggestion is to pick up a children’s book of Bible stories for your little one. I still have good memories of my own growing up. I remember how foolish that man was for building his whole house on sand – and how joyful the woman was when she found just one lost coin in her house. Growing up with these stories is a great way to be introduced to the Bible and makes for a great conversation starter between children and their parents. Ignatius Press offers "A Child's Treasury of Bible Stories."

For slightly older children, try "The Picture Bible" by Iva Hoth, which reads like a comic book. In the words of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “This picture Bible for all ages is an excellent introduction to those who do not know the Bible and an excellent review for those who do.”

Bible Playsets:

Maybe the child you have in mind doesn’t want a book – you’re still in luck. Sometimes children need more than pages in their hands. Bring the stories of the Bible alive with the gift of a Bible story playset. Allow your children to set up their own Noah’s ark with the BibleToys Noah's Ark 18 Piece Playset or put the apostles on their boat with the Galilee Boat 15 Piece Playlet by BibleToys. If you’re handy, you can always make and paint your own wooden figurines.
 
All books and toys can be found on-line at Amazon* and other on-line retailers

*If you're shopping on Amazon, consider using AmazonSmile to donate a portion of your purchase price to Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. or another favorite charitable organization.


Michael Hagan is the coordinator of religious education and catechesis for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.

 
  • Published in Diocesan

Christmas Day Fire in 1905

Fairfield, Dec. 26, 1905

Dear Bishop –
I have a most calamitous news to tell you. The church and the house here were destroyed by fire yesterday – nothing but some house furniture was saved. I cannot account for it. At about half past twelve, I looked in the church to see that the outside doors were closed, to keep the heat in – and I saw nothing out of the way, hardly more one hour after the smoke was coming out in heavy clouds from the steeple. This took place at about two o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Yours in grief, N. J. LaChance



St. Patrick’s parishioners had decorated the church beautifully for Christmas with evergreens and candles – which were left to continue burning around the altar after the last Mass was over. Fairfield had no firefighting resources readily available and little could be done to save the church, rectory and stable. The fire burned through and completely destroyed the structures. At the time, it was said to have been the worst in the town’s history. Damage was valued at about $25,000 by Father Napoleon (Norbert) J. LaChance. The wooden church, complete with a wooden steeple, had been built about 40 years prior, replacing the first St. Patrick’s, which had been a brick structure with a small belfry, originally erected in 1847.

While the Catholics were displaced from their own church building, the Congregational church building was made available for their use for as long as necessary. Thanks to Father LaChance’s direction, the generosity of parishioners and some funds from the church’s insurance policy, the current St. Patrick Church was under construction within a year of the fire and dedicated on Sept. 20, 1910.

--------------------
Kathleen Messier, Archivist
Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington 

World must welcome prince of peace

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The song of the angels that heralded the birth of Christ urges men and women to seek peace in a world divided by war, terrorism and greed, Pope Francis said. 

"Today this message goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace," the pope said Dec. 25. 

Migrants, refugees, children suffering due to hunger and war, victims of human trafficking as well as social and economic unrest were also remembered by the pope.

"Peace to the peoples who suffer because of the economic ambitions of the few, because of the sheer greed and the idolatry of money, which leads to slavery," he said. 

An estimated 40,000 people slowly made their way through security checkpoints into St. Peter's Square to attend the pope's solemn Christmas blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world). 

Heightened security following the Dec. 19 terrorist attack in Berlin, Germany was evident as police cordoned off streets and established multiple checkpoints throughout the area. 

While police presence is standard for major events in St. Peter's, the added security was a sign of the times where crowded areas have become a target for terrorists.

The pope prayed for "peace to those who have lost a person dear to them as a result of brutal acts of terrorism that has sown fear and death into the hearts of so many countries and cities."

Countries ravaged by the scourge of war were also in the pope's thoughts, particularly in "the war-torn land of Syria, where far too much blood has been spilled," especially in the city Aleppo. The pope called on the world to support the people of Syria with humanitarian assistance and to put an end to the conflict.

"It is time for weapons to be silenced forever and the international community to actively seek a negotiated solution so that civil coexistence can be restored in the country," he said. 

The pope appealed for peace for the people of Ukraine, "who to this day suffer the consequences of the conflict." 

The Vatican announced Dec. 23 that the first installment of 6 million euro ($6.3 million) would be distributed on Christmas Day to assist in relief efforts in Ukraine. Earlier this year, the pope called for a collection across churches in Europe to help the people of the war-torn country.  

Iraq, Libya and Yemen, "where their peoples suffer war and the brutality of terrorism," were in the pope's prayers so that they may "be able to once again find unity and harmony." 

The pope also remembered Africa, especially Nigeria where fundamentalist terrorism "exploits children in order to perpetrate horror and death" as well as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, calling on their leaders to choose the path of dialogue rather than "the mindset of conflict."

He also prayed for peace in the Holy Land and that Israelis and Palestinians turn away from hate and revenge while having "the courage and determination to write a new page of history."

Praying for an end to current tensions, the pope also called for peace in Venezuela, Colombia, Myanmar and the Korean peninsula

Christ's birth, he said, is a sign of joy and a call for the world to contemplate "the child Jesus who gives hope once again to every person on the face of the earth."

"'For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.' He is the 'prince of peace;' let us welcome him."

After his address, the bells of St. Peter's rang loudly, pealing throughout the square as they did in the evening Dec. 24 following the proclamation of Jesus' birth during Christmas Mass.  

The darkness of the night sky over St. Peter's Basilica was broken by the bright lights emanating from the colonnade and the Christmas tree from the square.

Temperatures just above 40 degrees didn't stop thousands of people unable to enter the packed basilica from participating in the Mass, sitting outside and watching the Mass on giant screens in St. Peter's Square. 

In his homily, the pope said the love of God is made visible at Christ's birth on a night of glory, joy and light "which would illuminates those who walk in darkness."

The shepherds are a witness to "the enduring sign" of finding Jesus when they discover him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger;" a sign that is given to all Christians today, the pope said. 

"If we want to celebrate Christmas authentically, we need to contemplate this sign: the fragile simplicity of a small newborn, the meekness of where he lies, the tender affection of the swaddling clothes. God is there," he said. 

This sign of humility, he added, also reveals a paradox: God who chose not to reveal himself through power, but rather through the "poverty of a stable" and "in the simplicity of life."

"In order to discover him, we need to go there, where he is: we need to bow down, humble ourselves, make ourselves small," the pope said. 

The image of the child in the manger, he continued, is a challenge for all Christians to "leave behind fleeting illusions" and "renounce insatiable claims." 

It is also a calling for the world to respond to the sufferings of children in this age who "suffer the squalid mangers that devour dignity: hiding underground to escape bombardment, on the pavements of a large city, at the bottom of a boat overladen with immigrants," the pope said. 

"Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by the children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one satiates their hunger, by those who do not have toys in their hands, but rather weapons," he said. 

Christmas is not only a mystery of hope but also of sadness where "love is not received and life discarded" as seen by the indifference felt by Mary and Joseph "who found the doors closed and placed Jesus in a manger."

That same indifference, he said, exists today when commercialism overshadows the light of God and "when we are concerned for gifts but cold towards those who are marginalized."

"This worldliness has taken Christmas hostage. It needs to be freed!" the pope said departing from his prepared remarks. 

However, the hope of Christmas is the light that outshines this darkness and "draws us to himself" through his humble birth in Bethlehem," he said. 

Noting that Bethlehem means "house of bread," the pope said that Jesus was born to nourish us, creating a "direct thread joining the manger and the cross." 

"In this way, he seems to tell us that he is born as bread for us; he enters life to give us his life; he comes into our world to give us his love. He does not come to devour or to command but to nourish and to serve," the pope said. 

Pope Francis said that like the shepherds, who although marginalized are chosen to witness the birth of Christ, Christians are reminded of God's closeness and can enjoy the true spirit of Christmas: "the beauty of being loved by God."

"Contemplating his humble and infinite love, let us say to him: thank you, thank you because you have done all this for me," the pope said.
  • Published in Vatican

A Catholic Christmas and new year

This will be my second celebration of Christmas as the bishop of the Diocese of Burlington. I feel very much at home here. Over the past two years, I have met a lot of very wonderful and good people, some who share our Catholic faith, others who do not. There is a large network of men and women in our state who are dedicated to doing good works, whether it is helping the neediest and most vulnerable in our midst, striving for affordable housing, feeding the hungry and the homeless, providing resources for people and families who are finding it difficult to make ends meet or working tirelessly to protect our water and our environment. Much of this is reported in the 2016 winter issue of Vermont Catholic in which we acknowledge the good deeds and works that are being carried out by faithful Catholics here in Vermont.
 
This is what we Catholics do. We feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the sorrowing, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner and clothe the needy. We do it because we know the meaning of Christmas: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son...” (Jn 3:16). The conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb and His later birth in the manger which we celebrate at Christmas remind us that God was born among us to bring reconciliation between God and man and reconciliation between all of us as brothers and sisters. Jesus’ later preaching of the Kingdom of God was a call to communion with Him and with one another. That communion calls us to be merciful, doing unto others as we would have done to ourselves.
 
So, I wish you all a merry Christmas as we contemplate the merciful love of God for each of us, and I wish you all a new year of faith in which we renew our call to serve God through loving acts of mercy for others.
 
On another note, I invite you to join with me in celebrating 2017 as a “Year of Creation” in our diocese. On May 24, 2015, Pope Francis published his encyclical on the environment entitled “Laudato Si’” subtitled, “On care for our common home.” In this encyclical, he states that concern for the natural world is no longer “optional” but is an integral part of Church teaching on social justice. While it has been nearly two years since its publication, I think it is time for the Church here in Vermont to study, ponder and begin to implement much of what the pope calls for in “Laudato Si’.” As such, a number of resources, events and programs have been created for both parish and diocesan venues to help us do so. More will follow over the next few months, but I hope you will join me in this endeavor.
 
Yours in Christ,
 
The Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne
 
Bishop of Burlington
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Refugees place importance on keeping in touch with displaced families at Christmastime

ISTANBUL (CNS) -- Sami Dankha, his three brothers and their families used to kick off Christmas celebrations by attending a packed Christmas Eve Mass at St. Thomas Church in Baghdad. Wearing brand new clothes and sporting fresh haircuts, they would spend the night chatting, singing and eating pacha, a dish made from sheep's head that Iraqis consider a delicacy and a staple of Christmas.
 
But that was 20 years ago. Today, Dankha, 51, his wife, Faten, and their five children live in Turkey as refugees, far away from the rest of their families. They are waiting for an answer to their resettlement application to Australia.
 
"If you count Christmas and Easter, it has been about 40 times we haven't gathered," said Dankha, whose brothers now live in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.
 
Years of instability, violence and discrimination have forced Iraqi Christian families to leave their homes. Christmas, traditionally celebrated with loved ones, is a reminder of the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the Middle East to countries throughout the word. Despite the distance and across different time zones, families keep the spirit of the holiday alive.
 
"The last time we were all together was 2005. Maybe 2006. I am not sure," Habiba Taufiq, 69, told Catholic News Service.
 
Taufiq was born in Aqrah but has lived most of her life in Ankawa, a Christian enclave in northern Iraq. She is now a refugee in Turkey, where she lives with one of her 10 children. The other nine are split among Australia, France, Sweden and Iraq.
 
"We danced and celebrated because of Jesus. Not only us but also with other families," Taufiq said, remembering Christmas back home. "Now there is a big difference because we are in different countries and that affects the occasion."
 
To stay connected, families rely on messaging and calling apps. "I call them on Viber video," said Dankha, mentioning one the most popular apps among the Iraqi community in Turkey.
 
Last year, Dankha spent at least four hours glued to his phone as he virtually celebrated Christmas with family and friends in 10 different countries. At some point he had to connect his phone to a power adapter after running out of charge. But seeing and hearing what is happening on the other side of the call is no replacement for being face to face.
"I see them celebrating in parties, and I feel sorrowful because I am here and we are separated, in different countries," Dankha said.
 
Nearly halfway around the world, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Nesrin Arteen, 42, also uses a messaging app to keep in touch with her family. "I talk to them often; with the internet, it is easy. But back when I arrived, it was very different," she told CNS.
 
Arteen is from Zakho, Iraq, and moved to Canada in 1994 before smartphones became ubiquitous. At the time she had to use a call center and wait in line before she could speak with her family. And when it was her turn, the quality of the connection was not good, and the calls frequently disconnected.
 
For Arteen, Christmas meant attending the Christmas Eve Mass and staying up all night with her family. She fondly remembered klecha -- a traditional cookie usually filled with nuts, coconuts or dates -- which she could not have when she first arrived in Canada. Back then Saskatoon did not even have a Chaldean Catholic church, which made her feel removed from her Christmas traditions.
 
"It was a different feel, different from home. I didn't feel the spirit of Christmas," Arteen said, remembering the first Christmas she spent in Canada.
 
Over time things changed. Today there is a Chaldean church in her city, and Arteen has started to create her own Christmas traditions. "I feel that the spirit of Christmas is here," she said. "My children go to a Christian school and are also part of the choir. There are places where they sing Christmas carols."
 
Taufiq hopes to reunite soon with some of her family in Australia. As she navigates visa procedures, she said she feels at peace that her children continue the traditions she started. "The circumstances separated us and now we are in different countries. But we still continue living with love," she said.
 
Dankha told CNS this Christmas will be special. His younger brother, Yalda, will visit him in Turkey from the Netherlands. They haven't seen each other since 2000.
 
That makes one less person on his list of people to call on Christmas.
 
"There are so many friends I don't know if I will ever see. Maybe one day when my country's situation is OK, maybe then we will get together. But I don't know if that will happen," he said.
 
  • Published in World
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