Middle school students come together

In colorful shirts, students from each of the 12 Diocese of Venice middle schools gathered as one group for the first time to pray, to sing, to praise Jesus, and to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

The more than 1,000 middle school students were part of the kick-off event to the Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Congress on March 24, 2023, in Fort Myers.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane was there to greet the students as they arrived and said a special effort was made to ensure the middle schoolers were a part of this important moment in the Diocese, this Eucharistic Congress. The Congress is itself part of the larger U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops three-year National Eucharistic Revival.

“I have a beautiful view (from the stage), standing here, knowing you are ready to open your hearts to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament,” Bishop Dewane said. “Each one of us here has an obligation to recognize the Eucharist, and to pray to the Lord in our life.”

In addition to music and inspirational speakers, the day concluded with an outdoor Eucharistic Adoration in the nearby amphitheater with live music by The Vigil Project.

There, the students, wearing their designated colored t-shirts were a sight to behold as they knelt in silence as the Blessed Sacrament was brought forward as music played in the background.

Bishop Dewane then led the closing Benediction, which included leading everyone in praying the Divine Praises.

“It was neat to see a bunch of students in other Catholic schools come together for a good message, love Jesus more through the Most Holy Eucharist,” said Cora, a student at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte, who was impressed by the entire day.

Meanwhile, Blake, a student at Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota said, “I liked being there with my class to learn about everything.”

Students from other schools used words to describe their experience with phrases such as: “Fun!” “Cool!” “Awesome!” “Incredible!” “Great!”

One of the highlights for the students was seeing Shevin McCullough, of Studio 3:16, a multi-media Catholic curricular program promoting the Gospel and biblical themes to students in an engaging and relatable way.

McCullough, who has a popular social media channel geared toward middle school students, energized the students with music and key phrases to get the students excited about God, the Church and the Most Holy Eucharist. He used easy-to-remember tips to keep the youth focused on the Lord in their lives, specifically trust, honesty, prayer, and truth.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Education, opened by asking the students: “Do you love Jesus?” and the students responded with a resounding “Yes!” When asked “Do you love Our Lady?” the hall reveberated with a “Yes!” and finally they were asked “Do you love our Church?” and the hall boomed with “Yes!”

“That is what today is all about,” Father Belmonte said.

After hearing from McCullough, the students were split into smaller groups for breakout sessions. There they took part in a rotation of presentations, including: Catholic trivia; a talk from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Diocese of Venice seminarians; and finally they heard from the Sister Servants of the Pierced Heart of Jesus and Mary of Miami.

The day also included hearing music and worship from The Vigil Project.

Earlier in the day, Bishop Dewane recognized an ongoing Devotional Project taking place this academic year in the Diocesan Catholic Schools. This project calls for an increased understanding of the Most Holy Eucharist, which has a component that encourages students to visit the Blessed Sacrament.

“So far, 50,073 is the number of times you and your classmates have visited the Blessed Sacrament in all of your schools,” the Bishop said. “I’m proud of that number, and I’m proud of you.”

Bishop Dewane said the students were “a late addition” to the Eucharistic Congress, but No. 1 in his book, as they were the first group to participate and the first to carry the power of what they learned about the Most Holy Eucharist forward in their daily life.