Blessings and joy, which come with each New Year, offer the opportunity to reflect upon what has passed in the previous year with a new perspective.
While 2020 was filled with challenges, suffering and sadness from the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it was also a time of amazing kindness, compassion and an opportunity for spiritual renewal as the faithful found new ways to grow closer to the Lord.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane guided the Diocese of Venice initially through the normal busy times of seasonal activities in the first two months of 2020 before quickly adapting to and addressing the changing realities of the Pandemic and its impact on the faithful for the balance of the year.
Parishes ceased operations temporarily and all reopened two months later under stringent health and safety guidelines. Livestreaming Masses, including with Bishop Dewane, became the norm and many are still available to this day.
The inability to gather physically Church impacted many, in particular the elderly, and efforts were made to reach out (via the mail, email, phone or socially distanced visits) to keep people connected. After Parishes were closed for public Mass on March 20, 2020, there were offerings of outdoor Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, and, following the lead of Bishop Dewane, many offered a livestreamed Mass. The dispensation for the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for those who were ill, or fearful of illness, was extended into 2021.
While many events were cancelled during 2020, key Holy Week Masses were celebrated by Bishop Dewane and livestreamed from Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. Bishop Dewane expressed sadness of having these celebrations without the Faithful. In addition, many Diocesan offices, within their area of specialization, reached out with online programming and content which included prayers, devotions, links to information about saints and much more.
The nationwide shutdown threw many out of work creating a crisis, which Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. had never seen before, and responded with its full capacity. In addition to opening six emergency food pantries, Catholic Charities established hotlines to expedite the process of getting help (food, emergency funds or tele-mental health) for the community. From late March through December, Catholic Charities distributed more than 2 million pounds of food and helped more than 170,000 individuals. The generosity of the faithful shined forth during the crisis as requests for donations were answered.
When the restrictions caused by the Pandemic struck, the Diocese of Venice Prison Outreach quickly facilitated virtual access to Mass, which continued throughout the year. In addition, digital religious education programming and other materials on the teachings of the Catholic Church, were made available to prisoners statewide.
Following the lead of the State of Florida, Parishes reopened for public Mass on May 18, 2020. This was accomplished by implementing a variety of guidelines (social distancing, face coverings and extensive sanitizing) not only to ensure the safety of the public attending Mass, but for those priests, staff and volunteers who serve at the Parishes. All of those guidelines remain in effect.
Celebrations, which would have brought large crowds, together were held with all dignity and tradition respected while distancing precautions were taken. Included among these events were the Ordination to the Priesthood of Father Franckel Fils-Aime on June 27, 2020; the Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate for the Diocese of Venice of seven men on Aug. 15, 2020; and the Ordination to the Transitional Diaconate of Diocesan Seminarian Alexander Pince on Aug. 29, 2020.
Other liturgical celebrations by Bishop Dewane which were made available through a livestream included the Mass for Victims of Abuse, Veterans Day Mass, Red Mass for legal professionals and more.
The annual Diocesan Youth Rally was different from its usual gathering of nearly 2,000. On Nov. 14, 2020, about 100 gathered at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples to hear music, talks and then participate in Mass with Bishop Dewane. At the same time, youth joined virtually from 20 satellite locations across the Diocese.
Diocesan Catholic Schools closed for an extended Spring Break before classes resumed virtually in late March 2020 for the balance of the academic year as everyone adapted to the ever-changing situation.
All Diocesan Catholic Schools successfully reopened for the new 2020-2021 Academic Year in August to both in-classroom and online instruction, including a full slate of athletics. This was accomplished by using lessons learned in the spring, combined with the implementation of comprehensive health and safety protocols. The success of this effort is reflected in the reality that nearly 90 percent of all students are learning in the classroom.
Bishop Dewane declared a “Year of St. Joseph,” effective March 19, 2020, the Feast of St. Joseph, the Protector of the Universal Church. This happened to be the last day of public Masses before the temporary suspension. “Particularly in this time of uncertainty in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is appropriate to seek the intercessions of the saints for guidance and protection,” Bishop Dewane stated. It should be noted that Pope Francis declared a global “Year of St. Joseph” from Dec. 8, 2020 through Dec. 8, 2021. Considering this notice, Bishop Dewane extended the Diocesan year to conclude Dec. 8, 2021.
A “Year of St. Joseph,” page (https://dioceseofvenice.org/a-year-of-st-joseph/) was added to the Diocesan website so as to provide prayers, devotions and general information about the foster-father of Jesus. Meanwhile, in December 2020, the Diocesan Department of Catholic Education started a St. Joseph Devotional Project to promote a devotion to the saint while at the same time developing a devotional life of both children and adults.
Before the Pandemic, activities which took place as usual included: a Widows and Widowers Mass on Jan. 26, 2020; a Men’s Conference on Feb. 8, 2020; a Women’s Conference on Feb. 22, 2020; two Wedding Anniversary Masses in February; as well as a Prayer Walk for Life in January. Parish activities slowly restarted in August and have been adjusted to ensure the health and safety of all.
While 2020 brought great challenges to many, including to the Diocese of Venice, the Catholic Church remains strong and 2021 looks to be a time of celebration and hope.
Stay tuned to learn about the events of 2021 coming in the Jan. 15, 2021 edition of The Florida Catholic.