Bishop responds to pandemic crisis

Bishop Frank J. Dewane has been at the forefront in responding to the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic within the 10-county Diocese of Venice.

The announcement to suspend all Masses and Parish activities effective March 20, and continuing through at least Easter, was the culmination of a series of meetings, conference calls and consultation from the priests of the Diocese and other advisors, while also following guidance from local, state and federal officials. The dramatic limitations of all public gatherings ultimately affected the decision to suspend Mass.

In a March 18 letter to the faithful, Bishop Dewane explained his decision noting that it “was made after prayer and discernment, as well as hearing from the priests and the Faithful.” The decision to suspend the Mass came several days after Bishop Dewane dispensed all of the obligation to attend Mass during the same period.

“This is acknowledged as a sacrifice for the Catholic Faithful, who have a great love for the Holy Eucharist and depend on the Most Blessed Sacrament for their spiritual lives,” the Bishop wrote in his letter. “Do recall that Faithful Catholics, throughout the history of the Church, have kept the faith alive through trying times. By prayer and devotion, as well as spiritual solidarity with each other, the life of faith continued to be a source of strength and perseverance during persecutions and other times of public crisis.  Tomorrow, on the Feast of St. Joseph, I will dedicate the Diocese of Venice to the care of the Foster Father of Jesus. Let us be united in prayer to St. Joseph for his intercession and protection.”

In the same March 18 letter, Bishop Dewane announced the suspension of all activities in Parishes, including events and religious education programs. Parish offices will have limited staff and it is requested that, when possible, business be conducted by phone or email. Funerals will be limited to immediate family only, weddings – if they cannot be postponed – are to have limited participation, and baptisms will only be celebrated in cases of emergency. Priests are required to take all necessary precautions, so the Anointing of the Sick is being limited to a genuine need for the dying. Diocesan Catholic Schools were placed on an extended Spring Break, returning to virtual learning beginning March 31 for the foreseeable future.

Bishop Dewane has called upon the priests to draw upon the Church’s rich tradition of prayer and devotion to ensure that the spiritual life of parishioners is nourished and remains vibrant through means which are prudently adapted to the current circumstances.

Leading the way, Bishop Dewane recorded a video message to the Faithful encouraging everyone to turn toward prayer. In addition, Mass has aired daily at 9:15 a.m., live from the Catholic Center in Venice, with the Bishop as the celebrant. This Mass in available through Facebook and links to this and many other resources are available through the Diocesan website.

Encouraged by the leadership of Bishop Dewane, most Parishes within the Diocese have begun to live stream the daily Mass on their websites and social media accounts. Many also responded to suggestions to begin offering the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation by car beginning March 21, and then late in the week of March 23, outdoor Communion was being offered at some Parishes.

Bishop Dewane also reassured the Faithful that the Diocese will continue to function and serve the community through the outreach of Catholic Charities and other ministries.

“Through prayer and trust be confident in the belief that God does not abandon us in times of peril, in fact, the Lord will draw us close and protect us,” Bishop Dewane said.

“Please continue to pray for everyone impacted by this pandemic – the sick, their caregivers, courageous medical personnel, and those reaching out in charity to help our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“Seeking the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in particular, her spouse, St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for protection and guidance through these troubling times,” the Bishop continued. “Through the Word of the Lord, that is Sacred Scripture, it is possible to overcome fear and courageously face the challenging days ahead.”

Solemnity of St. Joseph – last public Masses

The Solemnity of St. Joseph is a celebration of the foster father of Jesus Christ, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patriarch of the Universal Church. He is also guardian and protector of the Church and Her Faithful.

The 2020 Feast Day (March 19) had a double meaning – a day to celebrate and honor a saint as well as the last day for public Masses in the Diocese of Venice until at least through Easter.

“It is shocking and sad,” said Miriam Bonner after the 8 a.m. Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. “I gain such comfort from the Mass and am unsure how I will cope without it in the coming days when I will need it most.”

Those sentiments were echoed at parishes throughout the Diocese as the news spread that Bishop Frank J. Dewane has announced the suspension of all public Masses through at least Easter.

Cathedral Rector Father Jack Costello celebrated the 8 a.m. Mass. He made the announcement about the suspension of Masses and in response there were audible gasps from some who had not previously heard the news.

Mindful of social distancing expectations, the several hundred faithful who were present, were well spread apart and mindful of not getting too close to others.

Father Costello opened the Mass by first praying for the victims of the pandemic, particularly those in Italy, where St. Joseph is revered, saying: “Let us all keep safe and let us pray for one another and be comforted in the knowledge that God is overshadowing all of us with His Grace and Blessing during this difficult time.”

Following the Mass, some cried and other stayed to prayer in the Cathedral for a few more minutes. Father Costello did announce that Mass would be available online through the Parish website and on TV on Sundays thanks to the Diocese. Bonner was comforted by this news. “That will lessen the heartache I feel right now.”

March 19 marked the beginning of a “Year of St. Joseph,” declared by Bishop Dewane and lasting through March 19, 2021. The Bishop celebrated a Mass that was later posted to the Diocesan website.

“Particularly in this time of uncertainty in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is appropriate to seek the intercession of the saints for guidance and protection,” Bishop Dewane said in his announcing the special year. “I declare that the next year be a ‘Year of St. Joseph’ as we join in heartfelt prayer and devotion, encouraging all to take his life as our model for fulfilling our personal call to holiness.”

One of the last churches to suspend its activities was Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria. As was previously scheduled, there was Eucharistic Adoration and the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation until midnight in the Church the Solemnity.

Catholic Charities helping most needy

Operations pivot to focus on providing food, financial assistance and mental health counselling

The motto of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is: “Providing Help. Creating Hope. Serving All.” Since the beginning of the pandemic crisis, the staff of Catholic Charities is living that motto on the front lines of helping people throughout the 10-county Diocese.

With a long history within communities across the region, Catholic Charities is putting its resources and focus on the critical needs of providing food, financial assistance and telehealth mental health counseling.

“Catholic Charities is here to help those in need during this challenging time and ramping up its efforts to enhance support programs,” said Philomena Pereira, Catholic Charities CEO. “We have adjusted our focus to help in ways that will make the greatest difference to those in greatest need: food, financial assistance as well as mental health counselling.”

Food is delivered to the Elizabeth K. Galeana Center of Catholic Charities in Fort Myers the week of March 23, 2020.

Before the pandemic, Catholic Charities already assisted tens of thousands of individuals and families with a variety of support services. That broad effort focused on providing people with not just a helping hand, but a help up toward stability. With the onset of the pandemic, the focus is on ensuring the neediest, in the communities serviced by Catholic Charities, are not forgotten and can get the emergency help they need.

“The loss of jobs in the community is having a big impact,” Pereira explained. “Many of the people we see live paycheck-to-paycheck, and the sudden closure of so many businesses at once is devastating.”

As the situation has developed the leadership of Catholic Charities, in consultation with Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Board of Directors, has worked to ensure that the critical needs within the community continue and are in key areas are enhanced.

Stressed during this time is to make sure all appropriate precautions are being taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all clients, volunteers, staff and community.

Food is sorted at a Catholic Charities food pantry in Bonita Springs the week of March 23, 2020.

The initial effort of Catholic Charities included strategically purchasing food and distributing supplies to food pantries located throughout the Diocese. This was and will continue to be done through existing long-term food banks and other reliable sources. A large donation of rice and beans from Cheney Bros. Inc. in Punta Gorda helped to supplement other purchases.

Food distribution will take place ONLY at existing pantry locations in Sarasota, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Naples and Immokalee. Clients will receive a pre-packaged bag or box of food items for their family and arrangements are being made to ensure both those distributing and those receiving food remain healthy and a safe distance apart. Additional food distribution points are also being established at select parishes in the Eastern Deanery.

Catholic Charities is also working to provide financial assistance for those in need. Financial assistance may include utility payments, prescription medication, or other critical needs. Persons in need will be exclusively assisted by phone for the foreseeable future.

In addition, Tele-Mental Health Counseling will be available for existing Catholic Charities clients, on a limited basis, using phone or videoconferencing.

During this crisis, Catholic Charities has established three toll free numbers for people needing assistance available 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. (Please have patience as the demand for assistance is high.) The numbers are as follows:

  • Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties, 844-385-2407;
  • Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423;
  • Collier County: 844-385-2404.

Until further notice, Catholic Charities is restricting its offices to staff only. Services for persons in need will be assisted by phone.

While Catholic Charities relies heavily on volunteers, at this time, all volunteers are currently being asked to refrain from coming to offices unless otherwise notified. For questions about volunteering, please refer to your area-specific number listed above for assistance.

Additional steps include the suspension of shower services and clothing donations until further notice. Further, two major fundraisers, the Emerald Ball and the AFCAAM golf tournament were indefinitely postponed.

If you want to help, our food supply is the most important! Our pantry locations plan to deliver food to roughly 2,000 households across the 10 counties in the Diocese of Venice over the next several weeks. Funds to purchase food are greatly appreciated! You can help Catholic Charities respond swiftly and provide assistance to those in need by donating today at www,catholiccharitiesdov.org.

“Catholic Charities relies on the support of its generous donors and they can be assured that their contributions will go immediately to support those in the community in greatest need,” Pereira said.

Catholic Charities food pantry distribution sites (Please call ahead for distribution times and requirements.):

  • Bethesda House – 1670 4th Street, Sarasota, 844-385-2407;
  • Elizabeth K. Galeana Food Pantry – 4235 Michigan Avenue Link, Fort Myers, 844-385-2423;
  • Bonita Springs (at St. Leo the Great Parish) – 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, 844-385-2423;
  • Judy Sullivan Center Family Resource Center– 3174 Tamiami Trail East, Naples, 844-385-2404;
  • Guadalupe Social Services – 211 South 9th Street, Immokalee, 844-385-2404.
Food is sorted the week of March 23, 2020, at the food pantry of the Elizabeth K. Galeana Center of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. in Fort Myers.

Holy Week nears: Paschal Triduum is the center and summit of our liturgical year

As the Lenten Season comes to a close, now more than ever we must prepare for the Easter Triduum which bespeaks of the suffering, death and Resurrection, renders visibly that God’s love has no bounds.

While it is not possible to physically attend Mass or enter church during this holiest of weeks, it is essential to stay truly connected to your Faith at this critical time. Parish priests, as well as Bishop Frank J. Dewane, will be live streaming the Holy Week celebrations (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter) with prayer intentions for those who are not present and those who are suffering during this time of the global pandemic.

“During this time of fear and uncertainty, the faithful must be assured that the Church continues to celebrate Lent and in turn Holy Week,” Bishop Dewane explained.

The Bishop went on to say, “While we would all wish for the church buildings in the Diocese, and throughout the world, to be open and full, the Universal Church remains, and the importance of the Paschal Triduum is not diminished. In fact, they are enhanced as the celebration of these important moments in the live, death and Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ are what unite us, bringing light in the face of darkness.”

Pope Francis describes Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday as enabling us to enter increasingly in the great mystery of our Faith: the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Holy Father said the “Mystery we adore in this Holy Week is a great story of love that knows no obstacles. Jesus’ Passion lasts until the end of the world, because it is a story of sharing with the sufferings of the whole of humanity and a permanent presence in the events of the personal life of each one of us.”

Pope Francis also noted how the Triduum represents God’s service, love, and silence, and that we, as His disciples, are called to live out these characteristics in our lives.

Holy Week viewing schedule

A live stream of the Holy Week liturgies celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane from Epiphany Cathedral in Venice will be available through the Diocese of Venice website at www.dioceseofvenice.org or through the Diocesan Facebook page at the following times.

2 p.m., Tuesday, April 7, Chrism Mass – a blessing of holy oils used for Sacraments;

7 p.m., Thursday, April 9, Holy Thursday – the Mass of the Lord’s Supper;

3 p.m., Friday, April 10, Good Friday – Stations of the Cross begin at 2 p.m., followed by the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  At 3 p.m., the celebration of the Lord’s Passion will begin.

8:30 p.m. Saturday, Easter Vigil – Mass during which the story of salvation is proclaimed in numerous Scripture reading, the Easter Candle is lit, and a Renewal of Baptismal Promises is made.

The Easter Sunday Mass will be available online on the Diocesan website; and can be viewed on television: 9:30 a.m. on the CW Network in Manatee, Highlands, Charlotte, Sarasota, DeSoto, and Hardee counties, and at 10:30 a.m. on FOX-4 in Lee, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Charlotte counties.

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In response to the special circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Holy See, through the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and the Apostolic Penitentiary, has provided Pastoral Directives regarding Holy Week. By having all priests follow the directives during the time, the visible communion of the Church is manifest and is a source of hope and comfort to the Catholic Faithful.

The Paschal Triduum begins at the conclusion of Lent, which ends at sunset on Holy Thursday. Triduum means “three days.”  The Paschal Triduum is the three-day season counted sunset to sunset from Holy Thursday night to Easter Sunday evening. During these three days, we keep one festival, our Easter. These feasts are the heart of the entire liturgical year, not one feast among others.

Holy Thursday is April 9 and celebrated as an evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. A component often present on Holy Thursday is the Washing of the Feet.  While always optional, this year it will be omitted. After hearing John’s Gospel, when the foot washing would normally take place, the faithful are asked to reflect on Jesus’ call for service.

Following the Holy Thursday liturgy, the Blessed Sacrament is normally removed from the Church to a place of repose to remain there until the Easter Vigil. However, this year the Blessed Sacrament will be returned to the Tabernacle.

The Church keeps the Paschal Fast from Good Friday through the Easter Vigil. Unlike the penitential fasting of Lent (now over), it is the fasting of joyful anticipation and anxious yearning for the Easter sacraments.

Good Friday is April 10 and includes the celebration of the Lord’s Passion. This day is a good time to reflect on the Stations of the Cross (a video of the Stations is available on the Diocesan website).

The Good Friday Liturgy, which is never a Mass, but is comprised of the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, Veneration of the Cross and reception of Eucharist. Veneration of the Cross is the climax of our response to the Passion. The faithful are called to behold Christ in his great act of love and we respond with loving veneration. For Christians, veneration – whether in person or remotely – means loving service to the cross and taking up one’s cross and following Christ crucified.

The Great Easter Vigil, the night before Easter Sunday, is filled with ancient traditions of the Church. However, there is no lighting of fire this year. The Paschal Candle is lit with the proclamation that Christ is our Light. During the liturgy, the faithful hear the story of our salvation proclaimed in numerous Scripture readings. During this celebration, a Renewal of Baptismal Promises is made.

The Mass is a celebration of the Risen Christ who is really and substantially present in the celebration of the Eucharist. This Great Vigil opens the Easter Season which will continue for 50 days and finds its conclusion in the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 31, 2020.

The conclusion of the Easter Triduum and the celebration of Easter is not confined to a single day, in fact, throughout the next 50 days the Easter Season is celebrated “in joyful exultation as one Feast Day, or better as one ‘great Sunday.’”

Catholics Schools online education ramps up

An unexpected two-week Spring Break for the thousands of Catholic School students across the Diocese of Venice, because of the pandemic, caused a dramatic pivot to online learning.

Donahue Academy of Ave Maria began distance learning on March 24, 2020, for middle and high school students.

Ben Hopper, Diocesan Interim Superintendent of Catholic Education, working closely with Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Diocesan School Board, acted decisively in early March when restrictions limiting gatherings larger than 10 people went into effect.

The first move came when the state extended a planned Spring Break scheduled to end March 20 to end March 30. It was decided that is was appropriate for Diocesan Catholic Schools, which had a long weekend, March 13-16, to turn the week into an early Spring Break and then to use the extra week to prepare to transition to online instruction.

This concept was reinforced when on-campus classes for all Florida schools were suspended until at least April 15.

Each Diocesan Catholic School provided students and families with specific details and expectations for the distance learning and virtual instruction.

St. Andrew Catholic School Math Teacher Thomas James prepares lessons for distance learning from his Cape Coral classroom.

Hopper noted in a March 19 letter announcing the extension of the campus closure that, “this is an ever-evolving situation” and updates would be provided as necessary.” He continued by noting “these actions were taken to ensure the safety of faculty, staff, students and families, which is always a top priority at Diocesan schools.”

“Our schools and their teachers have put in countless hours to ensure that we provide a rigorous Catholic education as we transition to distance learning,” Hopper said. “We have seen extraordinary collaboration and creativity from our faculty and administrators. The eagerness and excitement of our students and teachers are palpable.”

Acknowledging that there may be some anxiousness about the unknown of this transition, Hopper added “we will embrace this challenge as we do every day in our schools with an open mind, a willing heart, and a trusting soul.  We must believe, as it is written in Philippians 4:13, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  Let the adventure begin.”

Hopper praised and thanked the teachers for their selfless service as they worked days, nights and even weekends to modify their lesson plans for fun and memorable virtual learning experiences. He also thanked the school staff and administrators for reallocating precious time and resources to effectively respond to the challenges. To aid in the transition from live classroom instruction to a distance learning environment, books, handouts and other learning material were collected for parents to pick up throughout the break.

Spring break was not yet over, but St. Joseph Catholic School 4th graders held a math review session March 27, 2020, with their teacher for online class practice! Reviewing mixed fractions with classmates was fun!

Teachers conducted a number of collaborative sessions to help create online lesson plans that adhere to the high academic standards and immersive interactive activities that our students enjoy, and parents expect. Sessions such as these took place throughout the Diocese, with each one developing an effective strategy to help students and teachers stay connected to their Catholic school community.

Hopper thanked parents, guardians and families for their patience, understanding and support during this transition. Finally, he added, “I thank the students for their courage and confidence to stand united in mind, body and spirit and for their willingness to learn in new and exciting ways.”

The upper grades of Donahue Academy of Ave Maria had a head start on the rest of the Diocesan schools by returning to the virtual classroom on March 23.  This occurred because the school Spring Break started earlier, allowing the faculty and staff the time needed to accomplish the necessary work and training for virtual learning.

One parent noted: “What Donahue is doing, having the classes in real time, live, is great. It allows the kids to get out of isolation and be with their classmates virtually, in real time. This is so much better than what Collier (County schools) is doing which is just posting assignments. Thank you. Everything has been so well organized and proactive also. Kudos to you and your staff! Thank you again!”

Stories from across the Diocese

The Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples review student submissions from a pandemic quarantine challenge from the comfort of their convent.

During the unexpected break, the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, which run St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, initiated an #sjnquarantinechallenge. Each day the Sisters will post a challenge for students to complete. Students were then asked to post themselves doing the challenge by 7 p.m. each day. Chosen winners will receive a $10 Amazon gift card and each participant for the day earned 10 points for their House.

This is important as Neumann is structured in a House system of student government, where students are assigned Houses at the beginning on the year. As the year progresses, they can earn points for participation in a variety of activities. The first challenge was to post a video of themselves doing an Irish jig in honor of St. Patrick’s Day or post a photo of where they are finding beauty in the midst of this uncertain time.

St. Mary Academy in Sarasota has a regular ceremony honoring its students as Rising Stars. The faculty and staff of the school for students with special learning needs decided that a cancelled ceremony was an excuse for a drive-by parade. Visits were made to students and the teacher-of-the-month.

This student from St. Ann Catholic High School in Naples dressed as a hero Publix worker and firefighter as part of an homeschool challenge during an extended Spring Break.

St. Ann Catholic School in Naples encouraged students to participate in a Homeschool Spirit Week COVID-19 style. Each day students were encouraged to be creative, such a superhero day – when students were to dress as a hospital worker, first responder, grocery worker or other essential personnel. One dressed as a scientist, another dressed as a Publix employee and firefighter combined, and still another dressed as an anti-coronavirus, and much more.

These were just a few examples of the effort take on by the Diocese of Venice Education Department, as well as by the faculty and staff at the 15 schools who worked tirelessly to ensure that the quality education expected continues in the best way possible.

Parishes adapt to suspension of Mass: Live streaming now common

Parishes have had to adapt to a temporary reality that Mass is temporarily suspended, and offices transitioned to reduced staffing.

The initial shock of this new reality may have worn off, but the solution to this problem has been varied and encouraging. What may have been a novelty in the past, such as live streaming daily and Sunday Mass, or having a Sacrament of Reconciliation from a car in a church parking lot, are becoming commonplace.

As common as these efforts to stay connected to the faithful have become, more is still taking place, all in response to a communication from Bishop Frank J. Dewane to the priests of the Diocese. In one letter, Bishop Dewane asked the priests to draw upon the Church’s rich tradition of prayer and devotion to ensure that the spiritual life of parishioners is nourished and remains vibrant through means which are prudently adapted to the current circumstances.

Father Hugh McGuigan, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, is Pastor of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers, was one of the first to live stream Mass and to hear confessions from the car.

“With people cut off from reception of the Sacraments and the Mass we had to make adjustments,” Father McGuigan said. “While these are not the answers to all of the problems, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton has confession times on Saturday mornings and afternoons. Each session is scheduled for one hour but in the first two weekends (March 21 and March 28) the time has been extended by as much as 30 minutes.

Father Shawn Roser, Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph Parish, said he was encouraged to have so many people interested in the sacrament.

The drive-thru confession is typically a set time when a priest, or priests are available under the church portico, seated or standing a safe distance away from the vehicle, but close enough to hear the penitent. (See list of Parishes and times below.)

To ensure the Sacrament is properly administered, there is a limit of one penitent in the vehicle. When there are more people in a vehicle, arrangements are made to ensure confession is heard not only at a safe distance for the health of the priest and penitent, but also for the purposes of ensuring absolute privacy. Priests are also available for the Sacrament by appointment through the Parish Office.

The Diocese, as well as Parishes, have used their websites for not only broadcasting a live Mass, but for the prayer intentions for the day, as if the church was open. In addition, numerous intentions have been added for all impacted by the pandemic. Live Masses in the Diocese are being offered, in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese and Latin.

Some priests have also been sharing daily and weekly reflections on the readings and/or current pandemic crisis; reciting of prayers such as the rosary, Our Father, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Angelus, and more; as well as having live Adoration, Stations of the Cross and Holy Hours.

Each effort keeps a connection open. Comments reacting to the efforts have been very positive, with some offering suggestions for more content.

Bishop Dewane acknowledged in his March 18 letter to parishioners announcing the suspension of the Mass, the sacrifice for the Catholic Faithful, “who have a great love for the Holy Eucharist and depend on the Most Blessed Sacrament for their spiritual lives. Do recall that Faithful Catholics, throughout the history of the Church, have kept the faith alive through trying times. By prayer and devotion, as well as spiritual solidarity with each other, the life of faith continued to be a source of strength and perseverance during persecutions and other times of public crisis.”

On the Diocesan and Parish websites, a number of additional resources, including links to prayers, devotions and the daily readings have been made available.

Parishes are also continuing to produce their weekly bulletin, updating schedules of cancelled or postponed events and sharing the latest updates on actions people can take to help in the community. In many cases, copies are being mailed to those who do not have access to the internet. This is one reason the Diocese offers the Televised Sunday Mass, airing at 9:30 a.m. on the CW in the northern portions of the Diocese and 10:30 a.m. on FOX-4 in the southern area.

During this time, priests and Parish staff are limiting their exposure to others by first curtailing access to offices and encouraging most, if not all, business to be conducted by phone. Many staff are also working from home to ensure necessary social distancing.

Last rites will be administered only in the case of death. Baptisms are not being denied but temporarily only taking place in cases of emergency. Weddings are encouraged to be postponed. In the event postponement is not a viable option, limitations are required in regard to the number of people present. In addition, funerals are being limited in size to immediate family members only.

Bishop Dewane is aware of the difficulty some of these restrictions are causing but said they are necessary during this extraordinary and historic time.

“In this time of Lent, with challenges, uncertainty, and fear in our lives, let us turn toward prayer,” Bishop Dewane said. “Through prayer and trust be confident in the belief that God does not abandon us in times of peril, in fact, the Lord will draw us close and protect us.

Please pray for everyone impacted by this pandemic – the sick, their caregivers, courageous medical personnel, and those reaching out in charity to help our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Seeking the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in particular, her spouse, St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for protection and guidance through these troubling times, the Bishop continued,

“Through the Word of the Lord, that is Sacred Scripture, it is possible to overcome fear and courageously face the challenging days ahead,” the Bishop said.

News from around the Diocese late March 2020

Blood drive a success

St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, in conjunction with the Knights of Columbus Council 12178, helped make a blood drive on March 21 a huge success.

With the fears of the pandemic keeping people home, the blood drive was authorized by authorities to continue considering the urgent need for blood. Using the Ministry Center, Naples Community Hospital Healthcare System Community Blood Center bus was parked outside and classrooms in the building were used to process donors.

Precautions were made to ensure the health and safety of all. The Blood Center follows universal precautions and following guidelines issued from CDC and FDA to keep our donors safe.

Grand Knight Randy Thomas was initially worried no one would participate in the blood drive. With an initial sign-up of 21 donors, about 100 arrived to give blood. Because of the demand, and to ensure everyone stayed as prescribed social distancing, some donors made an appointment to donate blood later as need will continue.

“It is wonderful how the people of St. Peter’s stepped up, even during time of uncertainty. Really wonderful,” Thomas said.

St. Peter Pastor, Father Gerard Critch, stopped by to offer words of encouragement and to bless the Blood Center workers, volunteers and donors.

St. Vincent de Paul Society still helping

The St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) Society districts throughout the Diocese of Venice may have shuttered their famous thrift stores, but they continue to help people in need.

Courtesy FOX-$

Responding to the pandemic, various programs that make a difference for those in need, such as meals on wheels, financial assistance and food pantries continue to operate under modified conditions which ensures both the health and safety of members, but also that of the the public at-large.

An example of this is opening food pantries for limited hours and by appointment and delivering food to the elderly twice a week instead of each day limiting personal contact and risks for all.

Those needing help or wanting to assist, are encouraged to contact their local SVdP Society offices for details.

Bradenton food pantry operating, needs donations.

Volunteers at the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton are focused on ensuring there is enough food for all in need. Busy on any day of year, the food pantry is the largest in Manatee County serving more than 1,200 individuals and families each month, there has been an immediate demand for more for whatever the pantry can provide.

An appeal for food the week of March 23 brought a huge response and helped to temporarily restock the shelves, but the need remains strong. Donations of nonperishable food are needed, but specific needs include the priorities right now is for donations of pasta, rice, potatoes, cereal, peanut butter and jelly, as well as canned meat and fish.

Precautions are being taken for those making donations and handling the food. People are being asked to make drive-up donations from 9 a.m.-noon, Tuesday through Thursday. Cars are to enter the church parking lot at 2704 33rd Ave. W. From there, signs are posted to direct people to the appropriate drop-off location. Call if you have any questions 941-756-3732.

Religious Education goes online

Religious Education classes across the Diocese of Venice were put on hold with the suspension of all Parish activities through at least Easter.

This does not mean that religious education teachers are not staying connected to their pupils. Through an agreement with the Augustine Institute, both religious educators and students have been granted free access to FORMED, an online religious education resource with thousands of movies, programs, classes and books made available.

Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education, Anne Chrzan, provided catechists across the Diocese with a resource guide for religious education classes that are now online.

A note was sent to parents to inform them of the opportunity to continue the exploration of the Catholic Faith through the Augustine Institute for free. “FORMED is a great way to help you and your entire family understand, live and share the Catholic faith… (allowing) instant access to faith-fueling, inspiring and informative stories, teaching and more. Feel free to share this link and information with your friends and family.

Additional outreach from the Diocese and Parishes to parents and students will continue as long as in-person classroom instruction is not an option.

Periodic pertinent updates will be forthcoming as soon as possible with regard to those in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programs, as well as the status of confirmation classes and others seeking First Holy Communion.

Religious sister, former principal of school principal, dies

Sister Christine Patrick, Sister of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, former principal of St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, died on March 18, 2020, at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 89 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 70 years.

Sister Christine Patrick was born Feb. 5, 1931 in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Walter and Anna Scheidegger Patrick. She was baptized Eleanor Mae.

Sister Christine entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence on Feb. 2, 1950, and professed her final vows on Aug. 15, 1957. She earned a degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and an advanced degree from Indiana University.

In her 70 years as a Sister of Providence, Sister Christine ministered as a teacher and principal for 44 years in schools in Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., and Florida. Within the Diocese of Venice, she served as Principal of St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton from 1995-2004. Upon her retirement she volunteered for Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto and Sarasota, as well as serving at St. Joseph Parish as a minister for the homebound and volunteering with the senior outreach program.

Sister Christine is survived by a sister, and was preceded in death by two brothers and four sisters, two of whom were Sisters of Providence. A private Mass of Christian Burial was March 27 with burial in the cemetery of the Sisters of Providence in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Prayer needed in time of crisis: Diocese of Venice responds to COVID-19 Pandemic

In this time of challenge Bishop Frank J. Dewane calls on every person to turn toward prayer as the Diocese, state, nation and world continue to face an uncertain future which bring unique difficulties during the ongoing pandemic.

“As Catholics, we trust in the power of prayer, God’s Hope and Mercy,” Bishop Dewane said. “Please join me is praying for those that have lost loved ones to this virus and may God console them and grant them peace. We also pray for the sick, caretakers, medical providers and all those impacted by this pandemic in different ways. When we unite for a common good, we can overcome fear and courageously face the challenges in the days ahead.”

Bishop Dewane, working in consultation with clergy and other Diocesan leadership are meeting daily in response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

“Rest assured that together with our Priests and Diocesan Staff, I have been closely monitoring developments regarding the threat posed by the Coronavirus, particularly for the most vulnerable among us,” Bishop Dewane said. “

After consultation, on March 14 the Bishop issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass to all the Catholic Faithful until further notice. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist, for now, will continue in our churches with the necessary precautions.

All the Catholic Faithful are asked to observe the Lord’s Day with reverence and in spiritual communion with one another, whether you attend Mass or not during this time. The Diocese of Venice offers a Sunday Televised Mass throughout the Diocese at www.dioceseofvenice.org/tvmass. (Additional information is location below about the Televised Mass and other ways to stay connected to your Faith while home.)

A special Coronavirus webpage has been created for your easy reference. Located on the Diocese of Venice website homepage at www.dioceseofvenice.org. It will be updated throughout this crisis providing the latest communications from the Diocese to the Faithful including letters or notices from Bishop Dewane, as well as resources to assist in your prayer and spiritual life.

The following additional precautions are effective immediately throughout the Diocese of Venice:

  • Classes are suspended in all Catholic Schools within the Diocese of Venice until at least March 30.
  • All Parish Religious Education and Youth activities are suspended until at least March 30.
  • Parish events are postponed or canceled through at least March 30.
  • Parish and Diocesan offices will remain open during this time.

The Diocese continues to closely monitor the situation and will issue updates as appropriate on the Diocesan website.

Additional precautions have been taken or will be implemented by the weekend of March 21-22. They include:

  • All missals and other printed material that may be handled by parishioners is to be removed.
  • Collection baskets are being retrofitted to include a handle for the ushers to use and will eliminate the need to pass the basket from person to person. Where this is not possible, central collection points are being designated.
  • The doors to Churches are being propped or held open by greeters before and after Mass so as to diminish the number of people touching the handles.
  • Extensive handwashing and parish cleaning guidelines have been shared with all parishes.

Previous guidelines implemented in February include:

  • Communion from the Chalice has been temporarily suspended in Parishes of the Diocese of Venice until further notice.
  • The Faithful should avoid the shaking of hands or making physical contact during the time designated for the Sign of Peace. A verbal indication of peace or a bow of the head to one another is sufficient. Further, please recall that the Sign of Peace is an OPTIONAL PRACTICE in the Liturgy which may be omitted.
  • There should be no holding of hands during the recitation of the Our Father.
  • Holy Water fonts are emptied. However, a dispenser with a spigot will be provided to allow the Faith to take Holy Water home, therefore allowing continued access to this important Sacramental. In the absence of Holy Water fonts, the Faithful may be encouraged simply to make the Sign of the Cross as they enter the Church.
  • The Faithful are encouraged to receive communion in the hand during this period. Please remember that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates, “The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant” (160).

Please note that because of the specific risk facing clergy and Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Communion, separate guidelines have gone out to all parishes regarding procedures for distribution of Holy Communion in the Church as well as making visits to those at home or in hospitals.

Resources online

As mentioned earlier, a special Coronavirus webpage is located on the Diocese of Venice website homepage.

Resources include the prayer for Act of the Spiritual Communion, videos of the Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy Chaplet and Pray the Rosary by following the links for the Diocese response to Coronavirus included on the Diocese homepage.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, www.usccb.org, also posts the daily Mass readings.

Additionally, Magnificat is offering the online version of this devotional at https://us.magnificat.net/free.

As noted, during this time when many are unable to attend Mass, the Televised Mass for the Homebound is available throughout the Diocese each Sunday and on the Diocese of Venice website at www.dioceseofvenice.org/tvmass.

In northern parts of the Diocese (Manatee, Highlands, Charlotte, Sarasota, DeSoto and Charlotte counties) the Mass airs at 9:30 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Collier, Lee, Glades, Hendry, Charlotte counties) the Mass airs at 10:30 a.m., on WFTX-TV (FOX-4).

Please check local listings for channel info. Leaflet missals are available upon request by writing to TV Mass, Diocese of Venice, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285. Or contact Gail Ardy at 941-486-4714, ardy@dioceseofvenice.org.

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