Retreat Center weathers pandemic while marking 25 years

Sitting on the lazy, peaceful banks of the Myakka River in Venice is Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat and Spirituality Center (OLPH), the primary retreat center for the Diocese of Venice.

It was some 25 years ago when the groundbreaking on the 250-acre property took place with the first buildings opening within a year. Since that time in 1995, untold thousands have visited the OLPH grounds either to visit or to take part in one of many retreats.

For a time, early in the global pandemic, there was a question on whether OLPH could maintain its operations restrictions that included social distancing, the wearing of masks and the sanitizing requirements needed for a facility that can host dozens of overnight visitors.

Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, OLPH Director, explained how in the midst of a great deal of uncertainty, something amazing happened.

As people began to work from home, Father Yavarone and the staff at OLPH figured out a way to transition to give individual retreats online, meeting one-one-one for an hour each day with each retreatant by video. The question was would people be willing to discuss their relationship with God over the computer?

“When the pandemic hit, we knew our retreats would drop some 40 percent,” Father Yavarone continued. “You know what happened, the individual one-on-one retreats – where you meet with the person every day for 3 days. 5 days, 8 days – they went up 50 percent because people from all over the country, and even the world, were desperate to find an open retreat center. We were able to do it safely.”

The applications for retreats came from across Florida and beyond, including California, Australia, New Zeeland and the United Arab Emirates. This created a problem with trying to figure out time zone difference. Each retreatant was provided with instructions on how to best set up their home space, away from distractions, so as to focus on the retreat. While these were helpful to many, there were limits as the lack of access to the Mass or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the absence of these were deeply missed by all.

This online option continued for a time, even as OLPH reopened to in-person individual retreats. Men and women came to OLPH desperate for time alone with the Lord in an era of stress and anxiety, finding the peace that only Jesus can give, Father Yavarone added.

One retreatant remarked: It helped me clear my mind and give me hope for the future.” Another said, “I lived the story of the Prodigal Son by coming here, and I was welcomed home.”

“It was an amazing thing to get to ministering to so many people on a very deep level who were struggling with COVD,” Father Yavarone explained. “It is something for which I am very grateful to God.”

Of course, the number of large groups using OLPH remained low for much of 2020 and into early 2021 as retreat size restrictions were necessary due to social distancing and other safety guidelines for all retreatants. Even when in-person retreats returned, the retreats were different, as the Sacrament of Confession was necessarily from a greater distance than was normal. “We adjusted to create an environment where everyone was comfortable,” Father noted.

As 2022 moves forward, the long-awaited celebration of the 25th Anniversary of OLPH is nearing. Necessarily postponed because of the pandemic, “The Butterfly Ball,” will take place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 19, at St. Thomas More Parish Chelsea Center, 2506 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota. The evening includes a cocktail hour, formal dinner, musical entertainment, dancing, and a silent and live auction. Tickets are $150. each. For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit our website at www.olph-retreat.org or call 941-486-0233.

Shortly after the establishment of the Diocese of Venice, Bishop John J. Nevins asked Father Charles Mallen, C.Ss.R., to begin the process of promoting the development of a retreat center for the young diocese.  The groundbreaking ceremony took place in January 1995 and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center became a reality.

The site includes a conference center, villas for overnight guests, a dining center and chapel. In addition to the seven buildings on-site, there is the newly dedicated Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, all laid out to allow retreatants the opportunity to spend time enjoying the beautiful grounds which include the Way of the Cross, the Rosary Walk and the prayer decks located along the riverbank.

Regardless of the 25th Anniversary celebrations, OLPH is back and hosting groups of all sizes.

Retreat Offerings

Of course, OLPH continues to offer 3, 5, and 8-day individual retreats. Each retreat begins with a meeting with a priest spiritual director, and dinner. Mass is offered each day, as well as a meeting with the director, spiritual reading assignments, and peaceful time for introspection and contemplation. The final day concludes with a meeting, Mass, and lunch. For those with less time, OLPH also offers a 1-Day retreat (often referred to as a Desert Day). There are also Ignatian Preached Retreats (the next one is May 20-23) which are silent and introduce participants to the Spiritual Exercises in a group setting.

Another popular offering is the Monthly Day of Prayer, with the next Wednesday session is on Feb. 9 and the Sunday session is on Feb. 13. The day begins at 9:30 am with continental breakfast and includes two conferences, lunch, Eucharistic Adoration, Mass, and opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, private meditation and prayer. The day concludes with Mass, ending at 3:15 pm. The cost is $40. Note: the conference topics are the same for the Sunday and Wednesday sessions in each respective month, so please choose the day that is compatible with your schedule.

OLPH is also hosting a Couples Retreat from Feb. 25-27.  This is a chance to open our hearts to the grace of the marriage vocation. Couples are invited to spend some time with each other to explore God’s grace. What has our marriage meant to us? What has God taught and what is left for us to learn? Scripture, prayer, papal teaching, fellowship, and the Eucharist will help us grow closer to our Lord and each other. The cost is $450 per couple, which includes private room and meals.

The Easter Triduum Retreat is also very popular. The weekend begins with dinner on Holy Thursday (April 14) and ends with Mass and breakfast on Easter Sunday (April 17). The liturgies of the Lord’s Supper, Way of the Cross, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, Easter Vigil, and Sunrise Easter Liturgy are celebrated. A series of six 1-hour conferences on varying topics is offered throughout the retreat. In addition, the opportunity for Confession or spiritual direction is available.

To learn more about these retreats go to www.olph-retreat.org/schedule-of-events or call 941-486-0233.

 

Looking ahead to 2022 in the Diocese of Venice

Opportunities abound for the faithful of the Diocese of Venice to grow closer to the Lord as the new year begins while continuing to deal with the impacts of the global COVID-19 Pandemic. A variety of Diocesan events are scheduled or in the planning stages while at the same time numerous Parishes are in the process of either completing or beginning major construction work. Therefore, 2021 is sure to be an exciting year for Catholics across Southwest Florida.

In the coming months there will be the Ordination to the Priesthood of three men, the Diocesan Phase of the Synod on Synodality, Masses for couples celebrating significant wedding anniversaries, a first-time joint Men’s and Women’s Conference, a continuing initiative to curb the impacts of pornography on society, opportunities to promote the sanctity of life, and learning experiences of various types.

During the first half of 2022, taking center stage will be the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” Specifically, there will be a series of listening sessions which will take place in each part of the Diocese and to be announced in the next few weeks. The goal of these sessions is to discern the Word of God in Scripture, what those Words are saying to us while remembering the living Mission of the Church. This Diocesan Phase was inaugurated with an opening Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Oct. 17, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

Coming in March is one of the most valuable opportunities to grow in the Faith, a first-ever joint Women’s and Men’s Conference. This year, the Conference agenda has been supercharged with dynamic speakers addressing relevant topics within the Church for Catholic men, women and their families. The 2022 Diocese of Venice Men’s & Women’s Conference is Saturday, March 5, at the Charlotte Harbor Event Center, 75 Taylor Street, Punta Gorda. Speakers include Trent Horn, Matthew Leonard, Emily Wilson, Dr. Michael Dauphinais, and Nicole Caruso with several breakout sessions geared specifically toward men or women. The large venue is ideal for allowing all participants to grow closer to the Lord. In addition, there will opportunities to participate in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Confession all day. Bishop Dewane will conclude the day by celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Doors open at 8 a.m. with the day beginning at 9 a.m. and concluding with the closing Mass at 4 p.m. To register, visit https://dioceseofvenice.regfox.com/2022-menswomens-conference. If you have any questions, contact the Diocesan Evangelization Office at 941-484-9543 or evangelization@dioceseofvenice.org.

For all couples celebrating a significant wedding anniversary (25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, or more than 50 years of marriage) in 2022, Bishop Dewane will be the celebrant of two Masses in your honor. The Masses will be celebrated at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 12 at St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, and at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 19 at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Avenue, Venice. The Masses will be followed with a lunch and include the opportunity for complimentary anniversary photos taken with Bishop Dewane. To register, please contact your local parish office for reservations no later than a week prior to the event you choose to attend.

The Office of Respect Life will be busy throughout 2022 with a variety of activities, all to raise awareness about important issues regarding the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. First up is the 24th annual Sarasota Prayer Walk for Life on Tuesday, Jan. 18, outside of the Planned Parenthood in downtown Sarasota. Bishop Dewane will celebrate Mass at 8:30 a.m. at St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota. A bus will shuttle participants to the abortion center on Central Avenue to circle the block in prayer as many times as desired. The walk coincides with the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade court decision which paved the way for legalized abortion in the U.S.

In addition, there are two Parish-based prayer walks Saturday, Jan. 22. Members of the Ave Maria Parish Respect Life Outreach, along with Ave Maria University and Community Pregnancy Clinics Inc., will be hosting a March for Life from the Ave Maria University football field 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Special guests include Bishop Dewane and Pro-Life speaker Pam Stenzel. The same day, the St. Leo the Great Parish Respect Life Outreach in Bonita Springs is hosting its 3rd Annual Walk for Life on U.S. 41 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Participants are asked to park in the Parish parking lot at 28290 Beaumont Road and everyone will meet on nearby U.S. 41.

Later in the year, there will be an opportunity to participate in the national 40 Days for Life Spring Campaign during Lent in Fort Myers and Sarasota, then the Fall Campaign (October) at multiple locations in the Diocese.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., will be hosting several events to support its more 30 than programs throughout the Diocese. First up on Wednesday, Jan. 19, is the “Celebration of Hope Luncheon” to benefit the programs in Lee, Hendry and Glades counties, The Luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m., at the Lexington Country Club, 16257 Willowcrest Way, Fort Myers. For tickets to this event, please contact Victoria Guevara at victoria.guevaranunez@catholiccharitiesdov.org or call 239-334-4007 ext. 2100.

In the beginning of February, make plans for an elegant evening at the “Together Again” Catholic Charities Ball, which supports the programs of Catholic Charities in Sarasota, Manatee, Highlands, Glades, DeSoto and Hardee counties. The Ball is 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Ritz-Carlton, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota. For tickets or to sponsor the event, please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/event-on/ or call 941-909-7817.

Coming later in February is the Our Mother’s House Annual Wine Tasting, Auction & Dinner Dance at 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24, at the Venice Community Center, 326 Nokomis Ave. S., Venice. Funds raised by this event will ensure that Our Mother’s House is able to offer the support needed to the mothers and their children as they journey towards self-sufficiency. For more information, please contact Lisa Ventura at 941-485-6264 ext. 1500 at lisa.ventura@catholiccharitiesdov.org. For tickets, please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/event-on/.

Next among the Catholic Charities events in early 2022 is the Emerald Ball 2022. This evening supports the Catholic Charities programs in Collier County and will take place at 6 p.m., Thursday, March 10, at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort, 280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples. For more information or to sponsor the event, please contact Rosa Aspilcueta 239-455-2655 ext. 3100 or emeraldball@catholiccharitiesdov.org, or visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/event-on/.

Continuing on the success of the first Safe Haven Sunday in 2021, the Diocesan Office of Family Life is working on developing the second phase of the initiative for the fall of 2022. This phase help to raise awareness about the harmfulness of pornography in the family and society. Pornography creates unsafe environments for children and confuses others about attitudes towards sex and marriage. This day of awareness describes the impacts pornography can have on marriages, families, and culture, while providing helpful resources for all. Detailed information will be shared with the faithful about how to combat this scourge in the weeks leading up to Safe Haven Sunday.

In the coming months, Bishop Dewane will preside over a variety of celebrations which occur each year, including the Rite of Election on the first Sunday of Lent, March 6, when Bishop Dewane welcomes those in Parish RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) programs from throughout the Diocese who will be fully entering the Church at the Easter Vigil; a Mass for Victims of Abuse will take place in April – National Child Abuse Awareness Month; later in the year a Veterans Day Mass at Sarasota National Cemetery, a Red Mass for legal professionals and more. As earlier mentioned, three men will be Ordained to the Priesthood by the Bishop this summer at Epiphany Cathedral.

Throughout 2021 there will be a variety of Parish-based celebrations coming in 20211. Among those is the 40th Anniversary of the founding of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples, which is also going through an expansion project slated to begin in 2022. The dedication of new Parish Life Centers for Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande and St. William Parish in Naples will be happening in the first half of the year; and renovations to existing buildings as new Parish Life Centers at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee and Our Lady of the Angels Parish Lakewood Ranch are nearing completion. The coming year will be a big one at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Sarasota which is nearing the completion of a major Church renovation and ground will be broken on a new Ministry Center. There will also be a renovation of the baseball fields at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers as well as the expansion of the religious education building at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. Additional smaller, but no less important, projects are slated throughout the Diocese in an effort to benefit current and future generations.

As 2022 moves forward, check the Diocesan website (www.dioceseofvenice.org) frequently for information about these and other upcoming events. As always, check the weekly Florida Catholic e-Edition to read stories and view photos from these and other happenings across the Diocese. If you would like to read the story looking back at life in the Diocese during 2021, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/looking-back-on-2021/.

Marco Island Knights Council celebrates 50th

Knights of Columbus San Marco Council 6344 celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. On Thursday, January 13, 1972, approximately 30 Knights formed San Marco Council.

The Knights of Columbus are a fraternal Catholic organization that empowers Catholic men to live their Faith at home, in their Parish, in the Diocese, at work and in their community. Through various Knight programs and resources, the Knights of Columbus provides opportunities to enhance their Catholic identity and to live and spread the Faith.

The Knights of the San Marco Council, whose founding Grand Knight was Alexander Ayyot, was formed to focus on providing charity, a key focus of all Knights. This has been done to help the needy through countless food drives, clothing drives, toy drives and much more in support of such organizations at the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Catholic Charities. The Council also supports college scholarships and has assisted in purchasing ultrasound machines which are donated to local pregnancy clinics and serve a critical role in showing mothers their unborn child which ideally helps them choose life.

Current Grand Knight, John Coff explained how “50 years is a milestone for any organization, but for Knights Council 6344 it is a tribute to all the Knights came before and had the vision for the good work Council has done and will continue to do through our Church into the future… We are excited about our anniversary and are grateful to our Pastors who made our Council possible.”

Over the years, Coff said the Knights have done some wonderful work both supporting the Parish and area organizations. He is especially proud of the fact that Knights are always active in the support of San Marco Parish by volunteering as lectors, ushers, Eucharistic Ministers, as well as assisting at Parish events.

Soon after the Council formed, fundraising events were initiated to include bingo, Lenten fish fry, car shows, concerts and more.

The Council also has woman’s auxiliary, the Columbiettes, which was founded in 2008 and works hand-in-hand with the Knights in their programming.

As Grand Knight Coff noted, “It’s been a great 50 years.”

For more information about Knights of Columbus San Marco Council 6344, please call 239-389-5633 or visit www.sanmarcoknights.com.

News Briefs for the Week of January 14, 2022

Appointments

After consultation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announced the following appointments:

Father Alphonse Tri Vu, C.R.M., relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar and Chaplain of Our Lady of Lavang Community at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota, effective December 19, 2021, and thus, has returned to his Religious Community.

Father Joseph Toan Duc Vu, C.R.M., as Parochial Vicar and Chaplain of Our Lady of Lavang Community, as well as hospital ministries, at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota, effective December 22, 2021.

Youth mural represents Beatitudes

If you have a chance to stop by the St. Joseph Parish Center in Bradenton, you will notice a new mural hanging on the wall in the hallway leading from the gymnasium. It represents the Beatitudes and was created by both the high school and middle school youth groups. The mural includes 10 panels with elegant script of the words which are attributed to Jesus as recounted in the Sermon on the Mount. The panels also include various religious symbols that either represent the specific words of Christ on the panel or that of the Sacraments of the Church. The Parish maintenance team installed the mural the week of Jan. 3, 2022.The eighth-grade students at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota will soon be reading the book “Animal Farm” by Kurt Vonnegut. On Jan. 6, 2022, the students had the chance to build wind turbines using LEGO “Spike” to represent the windmill created by the animals in the novel. This is an example of how the school integrates many of its studies across different classrooms, using the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum to present students a more well-round education that fosters increased creative thinkers while developing skills which will be useful later in life.

Donated lockers make debut

Lockers for students at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples made their debut when students returned from Christmas Break on Jan. 4, 2022. Those lockers are the first at the school and are courtesy of the Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria. The Academy replaced some of their school lockers with larger ones in the fall. The used lockers were then donated to the Naples school and were only recently installed.

STREAM fun with LEGOs

Epiphany Feast recognized at schools

The Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2022, is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men from the East and was celebrated at different Diocesan Catholic Schools. Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice, the eighth graders led a procession and brief play retelling the story for the entire student body. At St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, the Feast Day, was taught in second grade Spanish class, where students learned about how traditions are celebrated differently in Spain and Latin America. Both schools held celebrations which included food and the wearing of crowns.

Student get lesson in mosquitoes

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School seventh graders were visited on Jan. 10, 2022, by a representative of Lee County Mosquito Control who brought samples of the different bugs and types of mosquitoes found throughout the area and explained how some bugs are good for the environment while others can carry disease. Further, it was explained what the county does to control the mosquito population, including spraying, and what each student can do on a daily basis to help keep the mosquito population under control.

Respect Life opportunities for 2022

The Office of Respect Life will be busy throughout 2022 with a variety of activities, all to raise awareness about important issues regarding the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.

First up is the 24th annual Sarasota Prayer Walk for Life on Tuesday, Jan. 18, outside of the Planned Parenthood in downtown Sarasota. Bishop Dewane will celebrate Mass at 8:30 a.m. at St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota. A bus will shuttle participants to the abortion center on Central Avenue to circle the block in prayer as many times as desired. The walk coincides with the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade court decision which paved the way for legalized abortion in the U.S.

 

Catholics nationwide are preparing to pray 9 Days for Life, the annual pro-life novena beginning this year on January 19. In the Catholic Church, a ‘novena’ consists of prayers or actions over nine successive days. This pro-life novena is an opportunity for recollection and reparation in observation of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal throughout the United States.

Sponsored by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 9 Days for Life began in 2013 in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. This is the tenth year the novena is taking place. The overarching intention of the novena is the end to abortion. Each daily intention highlights a related topic and is accompanied by a reflection, educational information, and suggested daily actions. The novena encompasses the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children on January 22. All are invited to sign up at 9daysforlife.com. Participants can receive the novena in English or Spanish via email or text message or access it online. Participants can share their pro-life witness and invite their social networks to pray on social media with the hashtag #9DaysforLife.

In addition, there are two Parish-based prayer walks Saturday, Jan. 22. Members of the Ave Maria Parish Respect Life Outreach, along with Ave Maria University and Community Pregnancy Clinics Inc., will be hosting a March for Life from the Ave Maria University football field 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Special guests include Bishop Dewane and Pro-Life speaker Pam Stenzel. The same day, the St. Leo the Great Parish Respect Life Outreach in Bonita Springs is hosting its 3rd Annual Walk for Life on U.S. 41 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Participants are asked to park in the Parish parking lot at 28290 Beaumont Road and everyone will meet on nearby U.S. 41.

Later in the year, there will be an opportunity to participate in the national 40 Days for Life Spring Campaign during Lent in Fort Myers and Sarasota, then the Fall Campaign (October) at multiple locations in the Diocese.

 

Looking back on 2021

The continuing global pandemic did little to curb the important work of spreading the Good News of the Lord to the faithful throughout the Diocese of Venice in 2021.

While some events were modified, delayed or even postponed, the Diocese was blessed to have two men Ordained to the Priesthood; welcome hundreds into the Church at the Easter Vigil; start a massive robotics program in its Catholic schools; host a successful Youth Rally, as well as Women’s and Men’s Conferences; honor the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; continue to pray for victims of abuse; honor our veterans; prayer walks for an end to abortion; assist tens of thousands with food and other support; evidence major enrollment gains in its Catholic schools; dedicate a new Parish Church and Retreat Center Shrine; continue to expand the outreach to the Hispanic Catholic community; inaugurate the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” and conclude the “Year of St. Joseph.”

This list is just a small sample of what took place across the Diocese of Venice in 2021, all while the Diocese as well as the Parishes and Catholic schools modified operations to ensure that everyone remained safe. Each activity during the year was carefully planned to ensure participants would benefit from participating and ultimately working to the goal of helping the faithful grow ever closer to the Lord.

While taking time to look back covers many pivotal events in the life of the Diocese, the following is by no means a comprehensive listing of the initiatives and events which take place throughout the Diocese.

Priestly Ordination and Vocations

One of the most important building blocks of the Catholic Church is the ordination of men to the priesthood. The Diocese of Venice was blessed to have two men ordained in 2021 presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane at Epiphany Cathedral. Three other seminarians were ordained to the Transitional Diaconate in 2021 and are expected to be ordained to the priesthood in 2022.

Also encouraging is that there are currently 16 active seminarians in the Diocese, including the transitional deacons. The Vocation’s Office hosts several informational trips to the seminaries in Florida for prospective young men.

Chrism Mass and Celebration of Jubilarians

During Holy Week the priests of the Diocese gathered for the annual Chrism Mass; a powerful sign of unity with more than 100 priests on the altar with Bishop Dewane at the Cathedral. This annual Mass is one of the most critical and unifying moments for the Diocese during Holy Week. At the Chrism Mass, priests and deacons who celebrate milestone anniversaries were honored. To accommodate the latest guidance on social distancing and limiting the size of gatherings at the time, only priests and Permanent Deacons and their wives were present for the Mass. The public was able to view this Mass via livestream.

Catholic schools

The Diocese of Venice uniformly strengthened STREAM education in 15 Diocesan Catholics Schools through an investment in a partnership with FIRST®, a global robotics community, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” placing students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic virtues. A gift of 500 robots and curricular resources were presented by Bishop Dewane to Diocesan Catholic Schools on March 10, 2021. Since that announcement Catholic schools throughout the Diocese have been enhancing STREAM-based learning and taking the time to continuously engage students through playful learning activities to think critically and solve complex problems, regardless of their learning level.

Also of good news, a report from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCC) has revealed that the Diocese of Venice leads all other Arch/diocese in enrollment gains in the past year. This trend also wipes out enrollment losses that occurred due to the pandemic. The Diocesan numbers – a 15.2% enrollment increase in elementary schools and 8.9% percent increase in secondary schools – compare favorably to the rest of the state.

Throughout the year, many schools implemented programs to improve sustainability through water conservation and energy reduction effort all in the spirit of Laudato Si, an encyclical from Pope Francis on the care for our common home.

Respect Life Outreach

The Diocese of Venice had huge numbers participate in prayer vigils at abortion facilities throughout the Diocese of Venice. With this topic gaining national attention due to laws restricting access to abortion in Texas and Mississippi and pending decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the vigils took a renewed sense of urgency. A focused prayer walk takes place each January in Sarasota to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, while two 40 Days for Life campaigns take place at multiple locations each Lent and again in the fall to coincide with October, National Respect Life Month.

Honoring the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

As the sanctity of marriage continues to be attacked from many different levels, Bishop Dewane takes time out each year to honor the men and women who have dedicated their lives to living the Sacrament of Marriage. Two Mass are held during the year which the Bishop celebrates for couples enjoying significant wedding anniversaries; many celebrating more than 50 years of marriage and some more than 70 years. These couples represent a shining example of this important Sacrament in the face of many attacks on this vital institution. In addition, the Diocese hosted the inaugural Marriage Enrichment Conference in October in Sarasota and Naples. The goal was to help form married couples to live out their vocation in holiness and joy.

Safe Haven Sunday

To help bolster the family, the Diocese also participated in the first ever Safe Haven Sunday in March 2021. Safe Haven Sunday was set aside so as to give focused time and resources to address the harmful effects of pornography on youth, marriages, and families. Resources to protect individuals, marriages and families were given to families attending Masses that weekend. This was followed up by a series of Cyber Safety workshops for parents, religious educators, and principals.

Catholic Charities

Each year the programs of Catholic Charities within the Diocese of Venice assists thousands of individuals and families and through the pandemic the numbers remained high as inflation has caused housing and food prices to skyrocket further impacting families. More than a million pounds of food was served to some 150,000 individuals at food pantries throughout the Diocese. Catholic Charities also hosted several volunteer vaccinations sites in rural communities with great success. An additional 2,000 received mental health counseling through in-person and tele-mental health programs. Nearly as many received some sort of emergency financial assistance. This support was in addition to the 30 other programs Catholic Charities has at locations throughout the region and ranges from afterschool tutoring to senior care.

Year of St. Joseph

Because St. Joseph is Protector of the Universal Church, Bishop Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to a “Year of St. Joseph” in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic beginning March 19, 2020. The Diocesan dedication to a “Year of Saint Joseph” was extended to continue until Dec. 8, 2021. This was in direct support of Pope Francis creating a Universal “Year of Saint Joseph” from Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021. Among the activities which took place to honor St. Joseph, the Diocesan Office of Family Life introduced a 30-day St. Joseph Devotional for the month of September 2021, as a way to continue to mark the ongoing “Year of St. Joseph,” as well as the celebration of the Year of Amoris Laetitia Family.

Synod on Synodality

Bishop Dewane inaugurated the beginning of the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” with an afternoon Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral. Participating in the Mass were Diocesan priests, as well as some 300 people representing many Parishes, various movements, and many other groups. During the Diocesan Phase there will be a series of listening sessions which will take place in each part of the Diocese in the coming months. The goal of these sessions is to discern the Word of God in Scripture, what those Words are saying to us while remembering the living Mission of the Church. Two episodes of the Bishop radio show, “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane,” were dedicated to covering the intricacies of the Synod.

Dedications

Two major dedications took place in the first half of 2021. First was the Dedication and Blessing of a new Parish Church for St. Paul Parish in Arcadia on March 21, 2021. The building more than quadrupled the capacity of the previous church and offers room for future Parish offices, classrooms and a Parish Hall. The project followed strict guidelines to ensure the building is energy efficient is the context of Laudato Si. A centerpiece feature of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice was dedicated and blessed by Bishop Dewane before an enthusiastic crowd on June 6, 2021. The Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a fitting memorial to the Blessed Virgin who serves as the exemplar for all to follow.

Other items of note

  • For the 14th consecutive year, during Child Abuse Awareness Prevention Month – April, the Diocese of Venice offered a Mass to pray for the victims of abuse at Epiphany Cathedral. Normally there are two Mass, but the pandemic necessitated only one Mass in 2021. So as to accommodate a larger audience, the Mass was live-streamed. The Diocese of Venice, and its entities, take very seriously the safety of all young people and vulnerable adults. To this end, the Diocese, with a zero-tolerance policy, works to prevent any instances of abuse, particularly against minors and vulnerable adults.
  • The 12th Annual Veterans Day Catholic Mass made a successful return to Sarasota National Cemetery as Bishop Dewane prayed for those currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, those who have died, and their families. More than 500 people attended the Mass which was celebrated in 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice out of caution because of the pandemic and the threat of a hurricane.
  • For the past four years the Hispanic Ministries outreach of the Diocese of Venice has strived to meet the needs of those desiring to be better formed in their Faith. The Spanish-language Faith Formation Program recently distributed certificates of completion to 219 students who have completed an educational program to better understand the teachings of the Catholic Faith, bringing the four-year total to more than 1,500. Spanish Faith Formation Program sessions were developed following the local consultation process of the V Encuentro in 2016 and 2017.
  • The Diocese also hosted successful Women’s and Men’s Conferences as well as a full-scale Youth Rally with some 1,000 attendees. Each of these events was necessarily scaled back in 2020.
  • A Catechetical Conference, hosted by Diocese of Venice Department of Education and spearheaded by the Office of Religious Education, provided an understanding as to how to bring Jesus Christ into the classroom as a catechist according to Church teachings. The bilingual Conference was Sept. 25, 2021, and offered catechetical leaders, catechists, religion coordinators and religion teachers a training day aimed at helping them to grow spiritually and professionally.

While 2021 brought great challenges to many, including to the Diocese of Venice, the Catholic Church remains strong and 2022 looks to be a time of celebration and hope.

Stay tuned to learn about the events of 2022 coming in the Jan. 14, 2022 e-Edition of The Florida Catholic.

Christmas brings Light of Christ into Diocese

The Christmas Season is a time to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ and an opportunity to let the Light of the Lord shine forth from within ourselves.

Celebrations abounded throughout the Diocese of Venice with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses bringing the faithful together in celebration of the Birth of the Christ Child – Our Savior Incarnate, the Word Made Flesh.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Masses on Christmas Eve and Day at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. He also recorded a Christmas Day Mass from St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota for broadcast on TV and online for the homebound.

The message of Bishop Dewane was that we must strive to be aware that Christ is in our lives. “He is the Word made Flesh and our Incarnate Savior. Let us fall in love again with the Christ Child this Christmas Season and be sent forward with the Light of Christ, magnifying it to the world.”

Aside from the decorated altars, behind the scenes it was the Faithful who magnified the Light of Christ through their generosity in supporting those in the community who are less fortunate.

Catholic Charities and Parish-based programs distributed thousands of toys and gifts to needy children throughout the region. Additionally, food was also collected in distributed to families who are struggling to make end meet.

One way this is made possible is through the support of the Parish religious education programs throughout the Diocese. These acts of kindness, great and small, made huge impacts on children and families who struggle to make ends meet.

New this year, Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education Anne Chrzan had a special task for the Directors of Religious Education from each Parish. They were asked to participate in individual service opportunities outside of the one’s they were already coordinating at their Parish. The day of Dec. 16, 2021, was chosen because of the Gospel reading for the day stated: “Behold, I am sending a messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you.” (Luke 7:24-30).

Chrzan explained that this task was not intended to be an added burden, but rather an opportunity to focus on how “they” were preparing as individuals, not “what are they” preparing? This served to rediscover the joy of service on a personal level and not as just another task or part of their work.

Among the tasks, were stopping by a nursing home and bringing flowers, unused cards, and stamps; paying for someone’s groceries; helping a neighbor with setting up their Christmas lights and more.  The DREs exchanged ideas and smiles as they came up with each small and significant act.  Several DREs reported back to Chrzan sharing how much fun they had by coming up with something that they could do alone and not with 30 children.

The Filipino Catholic community at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte continued with the custom, in preparation for Christmas, of participating in a novena of Masses at Dawn, known as Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo, from Dec. 15, 2021, to Christmas Eve. This is an important and growing Catholic tradition as the faithful prepare their hearts waiting for that dawn when the sun rises. The sun rise is associated with Jesus Christ, bringing with it a new hope, new life. It is believed that participating in the novena of Masses brings many blessings, mostly for the family. Some also believe that if you attended the Simbang Gabi you would find your future spouse, which naturally increased the popularity of the tradition.

Of course, Christmas could not be celebrated without Nativity plays. One of the region’s largest takes place annually at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. On Dec. 18, 2021, using live animals and including more than 100 children, the story of the Nativity is retold in both English and Spanish. The story includes a recreation of the town of Bethlehem and concludes with the arrival of the three kings on the Feast of the Epiphany. With the end of the program, the was a gift distribution for the children.

The celebration of the Epiphany was celebrated at Epiphany Cathedral with a Mass on Jan. 2, 2022, with Bishop Dewane as the celebrant. The trilingual Mass included the three primary language communities which the Cathedral serve – English, Spanish and Polish. Bishop Dewane explained how the three kings who sought out to pay homage to the Christ Child should serve as examples for all. We are all called, not just by the star the Magi followed, but by our heart, to hear the Message of Christ, but to understand who Jesus Christ truly was.

These are but a few examples of the spirit of Christmas which spread across the Diocese of Venice this Holiday Season.

 

Celebrating independence and fraternity

On the 218th Anniversary of the first Independent Republic in the Caribbean in Haiti, the Diocese of Venice, in conjunction with the Haitian Catholic Community, celebrated a Mass at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs on Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God.

Faithful people from throughout the Diocese of Venice attended the Mass which was celebrated by Most Rev. Pierre-André Dumas, Bishop of the Diocese of Anse-a-Veau and Miragoane, with Bishop Frank J. Dewane concelebrating. There were several additional priests from the Diocese of Venice who also concelebrated.

Bishop Dumas spoke about the celebration of the independence of Haiti and how it importantly falls upon a major celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the World Day of Peace. This is particularly poignant as in Haiti there has been great turmoil in recent months following the assassination of the Haitian president and continued unrest due to fuel and food shortages and corruption in the government.

Bishop Dumas encouraged those gathered regarding unity and fraternity as well as how they should be proud of their roots in Haiti, reminding them they will always be Haitian. With this in mind, Bishop Dumas encouraged everyone to keep a connection to their homeland as well as with their Faith which will serve them well in whatever obstacles they may face in the future.

In a gesture of gratitude toward Bishop Dewane, Bishop Dumas noted that the Haitian Catholic Community within the Diocese of Venice is in good and capable hands and thanked Bishop Dewane for his support.

Bishop Dewane thanked Bishop Dumas for accepting his invitation to be a guest of the Diocese and for sharing his time, wisdom and faith with the Haitian Catholic Community in their native language. He also said it was an honor and privilege to participate in such an important cultural and religious celebration for the growing Haitian Catholic Community in the Diocese of Venice.

Bishop Dewane also thanked and recognized the Haitian priests serving in the Diocese for their continued dedication and passion for caring for the faithful, in particular those in the Haitian community. “The work you do does not go unnoticed,” the Bishop added. Further, he went on to thank St. Leo Parish for hosting the event.

There are currently Masses celebrated each weekend in Haitian Creole at the following Parishes: St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte; St. Francis Xavier in Fort Myers; St. Michael in Wauchula; Sacred Heart in Bradenton; Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee; and St. Peter the Apostle in Naples. The New Year’s Day celebration is one of the few times the entire community can gather in one place.

For the Haitian community, Jan. 1 is both a spiritual day, and an emotional day commemorating such an important day in their homeland. The Haitians defeated the largest and most powerful army at the time, the army of Napoleon, in Cap-Haitien, and Haiti became the second country in the Americas to declare its Independence on Jan. 1, 1804.

When the French were in control, they enacted a law that said the French were the only ones who could eat soup joumou. Prior to that revolution, joumou was considered a delicacy and slaves there were forbidden from eating it. When Haiti proclaimed its independence, revolutionary leaders decided the very first thing they would do would be a symbolic gesture –- eating the soup that was once forbidden to them. Thus, began the Haitian custom of cooking and eating soup on New Year’s Day in celebration of freedom.

In honor of this unique tradition, soup was offered at the meal that followed the Mass in Bonita Springs. Before that meal, Bishop Dumas led everyone in singing the Haitian National Anthem.

‘Come and You Will See’ Charismatic Conference Jan. 15

The 2022 Diocese of Venice Catholic Charismatic Renewal Conference is just a week away and the time to register is now.

Starting promptly at 10 a.m., at St. John XXIII Parish, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers, the Conference includes praise and worship by Ignite Our Hearts, led by Don Sansone, personal prayer ministry and powerful teachings from Father Anthony Lukka and Dr. John Gresham. Bishop Frank J. Dewane will celebrate the 4 p.m. closing Mass. The theme for the day is “Come and You Will See.” The cost is $30, and includes lunch, snacks and refreshments. No walk-ins please. Registration is at www.dvccr.org.

Renee Marazon, President of the Diocese of Venice English Catholic Charismatic Renewal, said the Conference is for every Catholic, whether they are member of a local Charismatic Renewal group or not.

“This Conference is for you if you resolved to grow closer to God in this New Year,” Marazon said. “It is also for you if you desire to not just know about Jesus but to really know Jesus; if you want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit prompting throughout your day; and if you are seeking healing for yourself and those you love, for sure this Conference is for you.”

Father Lukka is a Parochial Vicar of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice and was previously assigned to St. William Parish in Naples and has been involved in Charismatic Movement for the past 15 years. Before coming to the Diocese of Venice, Father Lukka served in the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, and in the Diocese of Kanjirapally, India.

Gresham brings a wealth of experience to all Catholics, having recently retired as Director of the Diocese of Venice Institute for Catholic Studies and Formation. In his academic career, Gresham has worked in a variety of roles –theology professor, librarian, and administrator —at such places as Franciscan University of Steubenville, Paul VI Catechetical Institute, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, and Sacred Heart Major Seminary. His publications include “Jesus 101: God and Man,” “Holy Spirit 101: Present Among Us,” and “Wonder and the Prayerful Study of Theology.”

For anyone interested in encountering Jesus in new ways, the 2022 Diocese of Venice Catholic Charismatic Renewal Conference may be just the answer for you. Registration is at www.dvccr.org.

2021 Christmas Message from Bishop Dewane (English, Spanish, Creole)

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Merry Christmas!

More than 2,000 years ago, the angel brought a message to the shepherds watching over their flocks. “Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

These words of the Angel are all the more necessary to be heard in context of the Pandemic, when so many of our brothers and sisters live in fear, feel alone and isolated and truly are in need of prayer, our prayers.

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Indeed, our world may look very different today, yet the message so many years ago on that holy night, remains the same.  God loved us so much that He sent the wondrous gift of His Son, born in a humble manger, to live among us and to bring joy, peace, and the hope of salvation to the world.

Let us accept this great gift by magnifying and being the light of Christ to others through our thoughts, words and actions.

May the joy of Our Lord be with you, your family and your neighbors this Christmas Season.  Have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

 

Mensaje de Navidad de 2021 del obispo Frank J. Dewane

Mis queridos hermanos y hermanas en Cristo,

¡Feliz Navidad!

Hace más de 2.000 años, el ángel trajo un mensaje a los pastores que velaban por sus rebaños. “No teman, porque les traigo una buena noticia, una gran alegría para todo el pueblo: Hoy, en la ciudad de David, les ha nacido un Salvador, que es el Mesías, el Señor. ” (Lucas 2:10-11).

Estas palabras del ángel son aún más necesarias para ser escuchadas en el contexto de la Pandemia, cuando tantos de nuestros hermanos y hermanas viven con miedo, se sienten solos y aislados y realmente necesitan la oración, nuestras oraciones.

Hoy celebramos el nacimiento de Jesucristo. De hecho, nuestro mundo puede parecer muy diferente hoy, sin embargo, el mensaje dado hace tantos años en esa noche santa, sigue siendo el mismo.  Dios nos amó tanto que envió el maravilloso don de su Hijo, nacido en un humilde pesebre, para vivir entre nosotros y traer alegría, paz y esperanza de salvación al mundo.

Aceptemos este gran don agradeciendo y siendo la luz de Cristo para los demás a través de nuestros pensamientos, palabras y acciones.

Que la alegría de Nuestro Señor esté con ustedes, su familia y sus vecinos en este tiempo de navidad.  ¡Que tengan una muy Feliz Navidad y un bendito año nuevo!

 

Frè m ak sè m yo nan JeziKri,

Jwaye Nwel!

Sa fè plis ke 2000 ane, yon zanj pote yon mesaj bay bège kap gade troupo bet yo “ Pa pè map proklame pou nou Bon Nouvel lajwa pou tout pèp. Jodia nan vil David yon  sovè fek fèt Ki se Mesi a, Seyè a. (Luc 2:10-11)

Pawol sa yo Ki sot nan bouch zanj lan, vin pi nesesè pou n tande nan kontex pandemi a, lè nou wè tout frè ak sè nou yo kap viv ak kè sote, yo santi yo sèl, izole, yo vreman bezwen lapriyè, lapriyè nou.

Jodia nap celebre nesans Jezikri. An efè, mond nou an sanble diferan jodia; sepandan,  mesaj nwit sen sa , rete menm , malgré sa pase lontan.  Bondye telman renmen nou, Li voye kado pitit li a, Ki fèt nan touf pay manje bet yo, pou l vin viv nan mitan nou, e pou l pote lajwa, lapè, ak lespwa délivrants pou mond lan.

Ann aksepte gwo kado sa ak gwo kè louvri, e se pou  n vle tounen limyè Kris la pou lòt yo, nan panse nou, pawol nou, ak aksyon nou.

Se pou lajwa Bondye tonbe sou nou, sou fanmiy nou ak vwazen nou yo nan nan sezon Nwel la.

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