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/.

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.

 

Generosity and seasonal cheer found in Diocesan Schools

The first weeks of Advent proved quite busy for the students at Catholic Schools throughout the Diocese of Venice as they lived the call of the Season by committing to making a daily sacrifice for the good of others while also getting into the Christmas spirit with lots of fun activities.

The lesson of Advent, making a sacrifice for others, was found in so many different ways at each of the 15 Catholic Schools. Toy, gift and food drives were held with thousands of items given with love and the joy of the Season to those less fortunate in the region.

December was a busy time at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples. The amazing YACHT (Youth And Christ Helping Together) Club gathered weeks ago to make homemade Christmas cards for military men and women serving overseas that will not make it home for the holidays. The YACHT Club also sponsored a Neumann Fun Night and gave some of the hard-working students a chance to take in the Victoria Park Christmas Lights via the “Neumann Express,” driven by one of the teachers. The night also included adoration in the chapel and a visit to the convent for a cookie decorating competition, a festive holiday wear contest, and Christmas Jeopardy with the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco who serve at the school.

A spirited group of Neumann students also showed off their Christmas enthusiasm at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s Winterfest Holiday Walk at the Fairgrounds. The Neumann band performed Christmas songs while another group of students participated in a living nativity and several young alumni hosted games for participants of the Holiday Fest!

Of course, the Neumann generosity has been on display with collections for toys which were distributed to several different charities. The baseball team focused their attention on collecting gifts for 38 children who are assisted through Catholic Charities in Collier County.

Proverbs 22:9 states: “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share with the poor.” In Fort Myers, the National Junior Honor Society members from St. Francis Xavier Catholic School took that verse from Proverbs to heart by organizing a “Spread Your Christmas Joy” gift drive to benefit local migrant children served by Catholic Charities. In just more than two weeks, they collected more than 1,500 presents.

Throughout December the students continued to learn the lessons of Advent, preparing for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas.

Pre-kindergarten students at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota took part in a Christmas Novena. Each morning they prayed and heard the different stories that lead up to the Nativity and sang various Christmas songs. The final day included hearing the story of Baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph. Afterwards they had a giant marshmallow treat.

Part of the holiday fun often includes the making of gingerbread houses as the students at St. Andrew Catholic School did on Dec. 14 in Cape Coral. Meanwhile, at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples, the students celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas by finding treats inside their shoes. This which harkens back to the original story when children left their shoes out in hope of finding small gifts and treats on the Feast Day of this historical Saint.

Of course, the Season also brings about pageants, assemblies, and musical celebrations. Many such observances included a retelling of the Nativity and Epiphany in their performances of children of all ages. Some schools took their talents on the road such as the children’s choir of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte who did great job singing for the residents of Parkside Assisted Living and Memory Cottage. The Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School band also performed for shoppers at the University Town Center sharing the sounds of the season with earnest shoppers.

20th Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal seeks support

“Providing Help, Creating Hope, Serving All”

For more than 37 years, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc,. has provided food, clothing, shelter and a network of support services to people of all ages, all races and nationalities, and all religious backgrounds. The organization brings substantial relief and support to the most vulnerable populations in Southwest Florida. Every day, Catholic Charities strives to feed the hungry, comfort the brokenhearted, and shelter the homeless as it works to change lives through faith, hope, love, and goodwill.

This is accomplished through more than 35 programs in locations throughout the 10-county Diocese. These programs annually support more than 100,000 individuals and families in ways both large and small.

The 20th Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal is happening now through January 2022. A donation strengthens Catholic Charities to provide this much-needed support and be the voice for the voiceless. This is the largest fundraising effort for the organization which operates by the motto: “Providing Help, Creating Hope, Serving All.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane noted that the support of Catholic Charities by the faithful of Southwest Florida is inspiring and critical to ensure “our brothers and sisters in Christ continue to receive the help and support they need. Please remember that every number represents a child, family or individual who relies on the support of Catholic Charities to get through a crisis. Catholic Charities does a wonderful job in providing programs that not only help in a crisis but assist in improving daily the lives of those they reach.”

It should come as no surprise that Catholic Charities has been at the forefront of the regional response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The response has transitioned from crisis management to assist rural families wanting to receive their vaccinations, and helping the needy with the rapidly rising cost of food, clothing and housing.

Catholic Charities Interim CEO Eduardo Gloria said “Catholic Charities has continued to operate its programs to inspire meaningful change one individual at a time. A gift to the 20th Annual Christmas Appeal will offer hope in this season of comfort and joy.”

Here are some examples of the programs Catholic Charities has to offer:

  • Enhanced reading programming for children in DeSoto County;
  • Counseling for children at the invitation of the Collier and Lee County school systems;
  • Education and life skills for single mothers to increase self-sufficiency in Sarasota County;
  • Rapid Re-Housing for homeless persons and families in Lee and Sarasota counties;
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) support throughout the Diocese of Venice;
  • Transitional Housing for homeless families for up to two years in Charlotte County;
  • Transitional Housing for homeless persons who are HIV/AIDS affected in Sarasota County;
  • Disaster Recovery support for hurricane-affected homes in Lee, Hendry, and Glades counties;
  • Elderly support and resources in Lee and Collier counties;
  • Anti-Human Trafficking across all ten counties in the Diocese of Venice;
  • Social support services to the working poor which include a soup kitchen, showers, clothing exchange, and food pantry in Immokalee located in Collier County.

Gloria added that during the Christmas Appeal Campaign, people “have the opportunity to make a significant impact with a direct gift to children and families in need. Your generosity is deeply appreciated. Remember, no matter the amount of your gift, when combined with others, it will make a significant difference for those who turn to Catholic Charities in their time of need.”

To donate please mail a contribution to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285, or visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

Thanksgiving a time to give back

Throughout the Diocese of Venice, Thanksgiving 2021 was a time to reflect and be grateful for all of the bountiful blessings God has bestowed upon the world as uncertainty and turmoil continues to be ever present.

For many, expressing their gratitude was achieved by going to Mass, giving back to the community through donations of food or money, and by cooking Thanksgiving Day dinners for those who were in need of a hot meal or might otherwise be alone this holiday.

On Thanksgiving morning, Bishop Dewane celebrated Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch, something he has done for nearly a decade. Bishop Dewane spoke of how we all have so much for which to be thankful for, even during the continuing pandemic. “We gather together to be thankful for the graces God bestows upon us; for our presence here and for those around us. We must use that grace to express our gratitude to the Lord by being the leaven; going out into the world as the voice to change things through bringing Christ into the lives of all. Be the example to the world. Tell others where it is you find gratitude – in the Lord.”

Food distribution took place in the days leading up to Thanksgiving at multiple locations.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., distributed food and turkey at each of its food pantries and even delivered food to homes in Naples, Arcadia and Immokalee.

A partnership between St. Elizabeth Seton Parish and St. Matthew’s House in Naples meant that for two days vehicles lined up to receive food, including a frozen turkey. Bishop Dewane helped load turkeys on the first day, and over the two days some 700 turkeys and food for meals were distributed.

Meanwhile, at the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton, some 900 turkeys and bags of food were distributed in two days. This effort is an outreach of the Parish and takes place throughout the year. However, Thanksgiving week a special bag of food and a turkey are offered for all. Countless volunteers on the car line and in the background made the distribution a success.

Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers distributed extra food from its pantry and provided gift cards to families for the purchase of a turkey or other food that was appropriate for the large Hispanic community.

The Knights of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers went above and beyond the call of duty when they delivered 204 turkeys and all the trimmings to a local food pantry and then gave 129 turkeys to St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston and 380 turkeys to St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven.

The Sarasota Ministerial Association and St. Martha’s Church held the 21st Annual Thanksgiving Wednesday Community Luncheon Nov. 24, 2021, in the Father Fausto Parish Hall. Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School students were among the volunteers who assisted in making the event a success. The luncheon is the combined effort of many different groups in the area by providing hot food for the local homeless population.

On Thanksgiving Day, several groups hosted hot meals for the community.

One of the largest was the Knights of Columbus Our Lady of Victory Council 3358, which hosted its annual Thanksgiving Dinner at their Hall on Fruitville Road in Sarasota. This was open to anyone including those who are alone or in need a hot meal. Bishop Dewane helped plate the mashed potatoes and corn. Bishop Dewane frequently assists at this meal.

Before the meal, the Bishop blessed the Knights and all of the volunteers who made the meal possible. Some 250 boxed meals were delivered throughout the area to elder housing and low-income housing facilities, while at the same time there was a steady stream of grateful people arriving throughout the afternoon for a meal with all the trimmings, including pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. The leftovers were donated to help feed the homeless. The Knights in Sarasota have been hosting this annual meal with all of the trimmings since the late 1980s.

The Knights of Columbus of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice hosted their own Thanksgiving Dinner for the community with Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Rector of the Cathedral, helping to serve apple and pumpkin pie.

St. Peter the Apostles Parish in Naples also hosted its annual Thanksgiving Dinner for those who might otherwise be alone for the holiday, a tradition that goes back a number of years.

These were just a few of the ways the faithful of the Diocese lived their faith in celebration of Thanksgiving.

Giving back for Thanksgiving

Catholic schools and Parish youth groups across the Diocese of Venice learned a valuable lesson ahead of Thanksgiving: to be thankful for what they have and how wonderful it feels to give to others.

Thousands of cans of food and other non-perishable items were collected and then delivered to various Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. food banks or those of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

For example, at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers the students took part in the school’s annual “Share Your Blessings” canned food drive. The drive was led by the National Junior Honor Society in partnership with the Knights of Columbus and collected more than 3,500 items for the nearby St. Vincent de Paul Society which helps feed those in need. Top collecting classes earned a prize of holiday cookies.

This important lesson of giving back resonates with students of all ages and is a strong representation of the Catholic Social Teaching regarding charity, where one doesn’t just give but gives from the heart to everyone in need regardless of their race or religion because “Christ is all and in all.”

Although many world religions uphold charitable work, it is specially emphasized in the Christian Faith and is a central message found in the Gospels. For example, in Colossians 3:11 we are instructed to love our neighbors because they are the children of God as we are all part of the same human family and share the same nature, needs and dignity.

This is why the smiles on the student faces last a little bit longer as they learn to appreciate that their combined hard work translates into food on the table for many families in the community who are less fortunate.

When organizing food drives, many Catholic schools often have friendly competitions amongst the different classrooms and grade levels.

This went to an extreme level at Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria, where the whole school took part in a massive, canned food drive competition to help the Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee.

How massive? One local store had to stay open two extra hours as the students were buying so many cans. Then, when the stores ran out of cans, the students collected rice, pasta and more. This created a temporary counting problem as the faculty tried to figure out the equivalent value of a canned item versus a bag of rice or box of pasta.

The result was a massive 6,000 items of food. So much that it took more than one trip to deliver everything to the grateful staff of Catholic Charities.

The competition was also fierce at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers where students put their donated food items into large cans labeled with the name of favored teachers or faculty members. The name which had the most food was obligated to wear a turkey outfit after school on Nov. 19, 2021 – the start of the Thanksgiving break – and wave to all of the families and students. The “winner” was Matt Hiller, Assistant Dean of Students who gladly wore the outfit and held a sign as he waved and gobbled – “Save a TURKEY – Eat PIZZA!”

At St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples the students, faculty, and staff delivered a total of 6,474 items to Catholic Charities. In addition to the school-wide food drive, the Celtic baseball team decided to go above and beyond and host an additional food drive, donating more than 200 items to another area charity.

Nearby, St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School students collected over 1,000 pounds of food and over $250 from a dress down (non-uniform) day collection.

Not to be forgotten, the St. Columbkille Parish Youth Group & Faith Formation families came together to donate and assemble many large baskets of food. This was in addition to turkeys donated by the Knights of Columbus.

These were just a few examples of the generosity and charity from the students and youth of the Diocese of Venice leading up to Thanksgiving. The lessons of charity were well learned and countless families were the beneficiaries of their generosity.

News Briefs for the Week of Oct. 1, 2021

Scout 10 Commandment Hike held

The Knights of Columbus of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Council 15821, led by Grand Knight Anthony Hopfinger, presented a dialogue with the Cub Scouts about the Ten Commandments held on Sept. 25, 2021, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice. The Cub Scouts hiked around the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament to 10 different points to discuss the Commandment with the Knights. Patches were blessed and distributed by Father Lawton Lang, Diocesan Scout Chaplain. A light lunch was provided by the staff at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. All were pleased with the weather, the program, and the presentations.

Religious Sister dies

Sister Maria del Carmen Peña, Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco, died unexpectedly Sept. 25, 2021 in Haledon, New Jersey at the age of 87 and a Salesian Sister for 65 years. Sister Carmen retired at the age of 86 after six years of service in the finance office of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples. The high school posted a message of her passing on social media and stated: “She loved our school and we loved her even more.  She was small in stature, but captured a big piece of your heart once you met her. Her legacy will live on through all those who were blessed to know her.  May you rest in peace Sr. Carmen.  No doubt some of the first words she heard was, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’” Born in 1934 in Saltillo, Mexico, Sister Carmen served in various roles of leadership for more than 40 years, including Provincial Treasurer and Provincial Vicar and much more. A Mass of Christian Burial was held Sept. 27, 2021, at the St. Joseph Provincial Center in Haledon, New Jersey.

Latest Catholic Charities vaccination clinic a success

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. continues to reach out to underserved portions of the community by hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics throughout the Diocese. The latest clinic was hosted Sept. 25, 2021 at the Casa San Juan Bosco Farmworker Housing community in Arcadia. Representatives of the DeSoto County Department of Health and Florida Department of Health administered the vaccines with volunteers assisting and handing out gift bags of food and other essentials to all who came. Catholic Charities has hosted more than a dozen vaccination clinics throughout the region.

Interest in science blossoms in Chemistry Club

The after-school St. Catherine Catholic School Chemistry Club explored chemical changes in matter during various scientific experiments at their Sept. 27, 2021 meeting. Everyone in the club loves science.

Students donate care packages

Members of the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School St. Vincent de Paul Society in Sarasota donated more than 100 care packages to the families and clients of Bethesda House of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Venice, Inc. on Sept. 24, 2021.

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrated in school

Students at St. Ann Catholic School in Naples celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month by doing research on the different Spanish-speaking countries in the world. Students then created a presentation to share what they learned with the rest of the class on Sept. 21, 2021.

Students learn about Moses

The first grade students of Christine Macaluso at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers learned about the story of Moses in class the week of Sept. 20, 2021. They ended their week by creating colorful drawings of baby Moses in a basket.

Schools hold Boosterthon

St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Catholic Academy in Sarasota held a Boosterthon the week of Sept. 20-24, 2021. One of the highlights was a fun run and other games, topped off by ice cream at the end of the week. Money raised during the week will go toward various programs in the two schools.

Students celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day outside

Pre-K-3 and Pre-K-4 classes at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples celebrated Johnny Appleseed Day with an outdoor class on Sept. 27, 2021. Students sat on blankets while they learned about a man who not only introduced apples to North America but promoted conservation.

Parish helps dreams come true for youth

Over the years the parishioners of St. Leo the Great Parish have forged a strong bond with Catholic Charities programs in Bonita Springs.

“We proudly host their presence on our campus in the Juan Diego Center and constantly witness and support the good works provided by their staff and volunteers, many of whom are our own parishioners,” said Anne Bellows, Assistant to the Pastor.  “We partner in providing donations from our St. Leo Food Bank, as well as annual holiday food and gift drives at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. We receive the most delight in this relationship when it impacts our area children.”

The Positive Youth Development Program is one such Catholic Charities resource which helps area children and operates after-school tutoring and summer camps, explained Jose A. Perez, Positive Youth Development Program Manager.

Each of the 40 children who participated in the Program’s Summer Enrichment Camp received scholarships from parishioners of St. Leo the Great Parish. During the summer the children received tutoring in math and reading, as well as enjoying enriching activities during their seven weeks on campus including a number of day trips.

“This year we wanted to do something special for the youth we have the privilege of working with,” Perez said. “The last two years have been hard on everyone, but especially on youth who will look back and remember the Pandemic as a significant life event, and it has not been a very positive one.”

Perez figured that perhaps the Program could do something that will leave a positive memory for these challenging times in all this sadness.

“After much thought, I decided to reach out to the most magical place on earth (Disney World) since the kids have always asked about visiting since none had ever been,” Perez said. “Looking back on my first time at Disney, I remember what a fantastic experience it was, but it was also expensive.”

With this goal in mind, Perez worked tirelessly to put the pieces together to make this marvelous adventure happen within budget and without a hitch. The effort included reaching out to Disney for discounted tickets and to a local company for economical transportation.

“St. Leo Parish has always been there for our Positive Youth Development Program,” Perez said. “They help us with whatever comes up. Once the time came for us to meet about scholarships, they asked if we’re doing anything different this year, and I said ‘Yes!’ I explained what we were trying to accomplish making a lasting memory for the students, and they were on board. So, we came up with what we wanted to call the trip: ‘Making Dreams That Last Forever.’”

St. Leo the Great Parish covered the cost of nearly everything, including additional funding for t-shirts and money for souvenirs, Bellows noted. “’Making Dreams That Last Forever’ became a joyful reality made possible through the generosity of our parishioners.”

The parents were as excited as the kids were when they learned about the trip, Perez explained. One mother said: “Thank you for giving our children an opportunity we could never give them.”

Therefore, on the July 31, 2021, the group, including 40 youth, nine high school-aged volunteers, and Catholic Charities staff went on a trip of lifetime.

Upon entering the Magic Kingdom, a girl named Arianna said to Perez: “Mr. Jose, look, it’s the Castle! It’s real!”

Camper Briana described her experience this way: “This was amazing. I had always dreamed of going to Disney. I am so glad I was able to come to summer camp. Thank you!”

Other campers had similar reactions: “It was such a magical feeling when we entered the park.” “This is so cool!” “Thank you for making my dream come true!”  “This was the most fun I have ever had!”

Perez said the trip was “beyond what I thought possible, the kids had a fantastic time. Getting to see their faces as we entered the park as they were greeted with the sight and sounds was priceless.”

To learn more about the Catholic Charities Positive Youth Development Program please contact Lose Perez at 239-390-2928 ext. 2302 or email Jose.Perez@catholiccharitiesdov.org. To support the Program, visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

To learn about St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, please visit www.stleocatholicchurch.org/ or call 239-992-0901.

From Afghanistan to Southwest Florida

Susan Laielli – Special to the Florida Catholic

(Images courtesy of Catholic News Service)

From the latest bomb attacks outside of the Kabul Airport in Afghanistan to the Taliban and ISIS-K takeover of the region there is at least one new family in Southwest Florida who is grateful to be alive, and thankful to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. for their support.

Jamal, (not his real name) is a former Afghanistan resident who worked as a contractor for the U.S. Government helping to rebuild the country’s judicial system.  He arrived in the United States two years ago after qualifying for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). In June 2021, he was reunited with his wife and four children, after they escaped the southern Asian country just before the crisis started to worsen.

“I am so lucky to be alive because all of the contact information from Afghani residents who worked as contractors for the U.S. has been left behind and is now in the hands of the Taliban,” said Jamal, from his newly rented apartment. “They are sure to be killed if they are found.”

Since arriving in the United States Jamal has been assisted by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., after being referred from Gulf Coast Jewish Children’s Services, says Anna Solovyanchik, Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Case Manager.

“Catholic Charities initially helped with the family’s intake orientation, and I also met with them in their home to offer guidance on some of the cultural differences from country to country,” said Solovyanchik, who became involved when Jamal’s wife and children, ages seven, four, and two-year old twin boys, arrived in the United States in June.

Since then, Solovyanchik says a donor of Catholic Charities has also stepped in to help with food from a local food pantry and from his personal resources, to ensure the family has what they need as they navigate a new life in a country far away from his mother and other siblings who remain in danger. Jamal’s brother also worked for the U.S. Government but hasn’t been able to leave Afghanistan at this time, and Jamal has not had contact with him.

Jamal speaks English very well and is in the process of attending a university to obtain an advanced degree in construction management. Currently, he is working in a warehouse during the day and attends school in the evening. The couple’s seven-year-old son is already enrolled in school, which wasn’t easy for him at first due to language barriers, but his parents say it is getting better with each passing day.

During the Catholic Charities home visit, Solovyanchik assisted with paperwork for referral services for food and other necessary supplies.  She also discovered the family is sleeping on mattresses on the floor, but they are very, very happy to be in America.

“As they begin their new life, the family could use donations of a dinner table and chairs, bedroom sets for the children, and clothing for three boys and one girl,” said Solovyanchik, who was also deeply touched that the family insisted she have lunch with them, sharing the very little food they had to eat.

Philomena Pereira, CEO, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., admits that while many Afghani families are going to larger regions with broader language support and deeper familial ties, Catholic Charities was asked to assist this family.

“Catholic Charities welcomes Jamal and his family as we help them transition and settle into their new home; it is a reminder to us of Pope Francis’ message that to welcome the stranger, is to welcome Christ,” said Pereira.

Jamal says he and his family are forever grateful for the support they are receiving, but he can’t help worrying about his brother whose fingerprints are in the various U.S. systems now in Taliban control.

“They will not stop until they (Taliban) track all these people down – it’s very sad,” said Jamal.

If you are interested assisting Jamal’s family or learning more about Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., please call 941-488-5581 or visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/.

 

 

 

 

 

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