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.”