On Jan. 31 Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne conducted his fourth Catholic Town Meeting; it took place at St. John Vianney Church in South Burlington with more than 200 people in attendance.

Father Patrick Forman, pastor, opened the meeting with a prayer. Bishop Coyne then provided an update on the Diocesan Synod as well as information on other topics including the lay committee reviewing files of priests with abuse allegations.

Because of feedback from previous Catholic Town Meetings, Bishop Coyne included an explanation about the change in the confirmation age from 10th grade to sixth grade. A committee comprised of laity, priests and deacons spent a year and a half exploring options, including moving the age to third grade (like New Hampshire), keeping the same age and changing the age to middle school — which a majority preferred. Because there was not full consensus, Bishop Coyne was asked to make the final decision.

“After listening to the committee, I chose middle school because our youth are dealing with intense, moral issues much earlier than we did. They need help and the power of the Holy Spirit to provide them with strength of heart and mind,” he said. “In addition, a recent extensive study of young people who have left the Church found that most started losing faith in sixth grade.”

Bishop Coyne added that there are plans to roll out a comprehensive program that will engage Catholic young people beyond confirmation that includes faith formation and leadership opportunities for teenagers.

While many of the topics were similar to other meetings regarding women clergy, the need for vibrant parishes that engage parishioners beyond Sunday Mass and the culture that led to clergy sexual abuse, there were several new topics.

Jules Welchi, a parishioner at St. Joseph Cathedral in Burlington and founder of a ministry to support the French-speaking African Catholic community, explained that in his culture, the family is the center of the Catholic faith and a newborn must be presented to God in baptism immediately following birth. “Why must we wait so long to present our baby to God?” Welchi asked. Bishop Coyne explained that there was no barrier to baptism earlier but for many young parents who have been away from the Church the pastor often needs to provide faith formation and get to know the family prior to the baptism.

Phil Soltau, a parishioner at St. John Vianney Parish and delegate to the Diocesan Synod, asked Bishop Coyne to explain a comment he made during the synod process: “The Catholic Church in Vermont is no longer a church of maintenance but a missionary Church.”

Bishop Coyne explained that in his youth during the 1950’s and ‘60s, when someone asked you where you were from, you would say your parish. Everyone went to Mass on Saturday or Sunday, and the priests were engaged in important decisions in the community. That was the norm. The Catholic Church was engaged in the community and when the church doors opened, people came. “Now, even if you have the best liturgy and music, you can’t just open your doors and expect people to come. We have to go out and spread it by deed and encouragement,” he said.

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