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.