As the world slowly emerges from the global Pandemic, the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (VDCCW) took time out to recognize and honor the priests who serve throughout the Diocese.
During the first VDCCW Priest Appreciation Dinner on Sept. 17, 2021, at the Venetian River Club in Venice, the members pledged to focus on better supporting the priests as they continue to serve the people of God.
‘You have no idea what you mean to us,” said Brenda Dolan, Florida Council of Catholic Women President/Province Director-elect and immediate Past-Co-President of the VDCCW. “On behalf of the CCW, allow us, the people that love and support you, to minister to you. Let us know what you need. We really want to be there for you.”
Dolan shared a story from her youth when a group of friends would bring pizza to their Pastor’s home each Sunday evening after learning that it is the loneliest night of the week for all priests. “It is when everyone is with their families… After that we made sure he was never alone on a Sunday night.”
The who were present for the dinner, both active and retired, came forward to be individually recognized. Each shared their appreciation for the role the members of VDCCW play in support of them, their Parishes and the Diocese as a whole.
Father Mark Heuberger, Pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton thanked the CCW for all that they do, “so much takes place that could not happen without the dedication of the CCW.”
Father Ricky Varner, Pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral called the CCW an inspiration.
Ellen Bachman, immediate Past-Co-President of the VDCCW, spoke of how priests adapted to the changing world during the Pandemic. She highlighted that many did live-streaming Masses, counseling and consoling those who struggled all to ensure that the connection between the faithful and God was never severed even when everyone was physically separated.
“Thank you for all you did for God’s people during these trying times,” Bachman said. “You will never know how important you are in our lives. You are with us from birth until death. You are there when we receive the Sacraments, and you are there when we take our last breath… God spoke to us through you.”
While we all are called to serve the Lord through different vocations, Bachman said it is impossible to guess what it is like to be a priest.
“You are alone. We know it is difficult that when you make a decision and have no one to discuss it with,” Bachman added. “You weren’t ordained to be an architect, to be landscaper, to be janitor… These and other administrative duties make it difficult for you to devote your time to your priestly duties. I know all of you struggle with these kind of things…I speak on behalf of everyone when I thank you for what you do, for who you are and for the life you give to serve God’s people.”
Father Robert Beligotti, a retired priest who assists at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice with his twin brother Father Richard, reflected upon his 53 years of priesthood by paraphrasing a statement from St. John Vianney, Patron of Parish priests. “You are not there for yourself, you are there for your people. You don’t absolve yourself; you don’t minister the sacraments to yourself; you are there because of your people. This statement always reminds me that it is my purpose to serve God’s people – to make them more like the Lord. It has been a great honor to be among you and thank you for all of your support.”
Each priest received a framed poem honoring the Ministerial Priesthood.