Last year the diocesan Office of Communication created a new Catholic schools branding initiative with input from every Catholic school in our state. The “Catholic Schools: You Belong Here” logo could not be more appropriate now as teachers open their doors to nearly 2,000 students throughout the state during a pandemic. The great preparation and effort our teachers and administrators committed during the summer to ensure our students could return safely was nothing short of heroic, or, dare I say saintly?

Certainly, we can and should pray to the saints, especially our educational saints highlighted in this issue, to protect and encourage our teachers and educational staff during this challenging time as they risk much to deliver a faith-based education grounded in the loving hope of our savior, Jesus Christ.

The foundational pillars of our Catholic schools reflected in the BELONG slogan, chosen by our school leaders, can be applied to our entire faith community as we struggle with how to open wide our own hearts and spread the love of Christ to help heal racial divides erupting in violence throughout our country.

This issue explores the “Open Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” a pastoral letter against racism written by the U.S. bishops in 2018. The letter and accompanying study guide are a way for Catholics to begin the conversion of heart necessary to lead real change through prayer, study, reflection and peaceful action.

We can also draw inspiration from St. Peter Claver, a relentless advocate on behalf of the enslaved people traded in the port city of Cartagena, Colombia, in the 1600’s; he made many enemies within the community for his persistent pursuit of justice. We can look to Father Augustus Tolton, the first identified Black priest ordained for the United States, whom Pope Francis declared “venerable” last year. Father Tolton was born into slavery in 1854 and denied access to seminaries in the United States after repeated requests, so he pursued his education in Rome and struggled against rampant racism. Yet he was known for bringing people of all races together. Neither of these faithful servants of God gave up their peaceful pursuit of justice amid great resistance.

As Catholics we know we are never alone as we face these uncertain times.  We are one faith family guided by and united in Christ and His works of love, justice and mercy. May this issue give you hope that, together, we can renew and strengthen our Church and spread God’s healing love so all may know that they truly belong.

—Originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.