Diocesan Eucharistic Congress March 25

The Diocese of Venice will host a historic Eucharistic Congress March 25, 2023, at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center and Luminary Hotel, 1375 Monroe St., Fort Myers, and time is running out to register.

Organizers with the Diocese Office of Evangelization said that the venue is nearing capacity, with few spots left, so if you are planning to attend, but haven’t registered yet, do so today! Registration can be found at https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-congress/.

The Eucharistic Congress, with a theme “The Word Became Flesh,” will encompass several parts, including three unique sessions. The first is for Diocesan Catholic middle school students; the second part is a Youth Rally for high-school aged teens (both on March 24); and the showcase event is for men and women and features special breakout sessions in English and Spanish as well as for both genders.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane called for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress as part of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The U.S Bishops believe that God wants to see a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed, and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist—and sent out in mission “for the life of the world.”

The National Eucharistic Revival is to serve as a reminder that Catholics around the world are raised to be aware of the transforming power and mercy of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist – the Source and Summit of the Faith.

“The Diocesan Eucharistic Congress is an opportunity for the faithful of the Diocese to come together as one to jointly rekindle a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist,” Bishop Dewane said. “This is a time to grow deeply in your faith, along with others from the Diocese, accompanied by Jesus Christ.”

Elements of the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress include a procession with the Eucharist in a public setting, time for Eucharistic Adoration, availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, talks and catechesis on important matters of faith – especially the Holy Eucharist – and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with Bishop Dewane.

The schedule for the Congress and line-up of internationally acclaimed speakers, which includes – Father Donald Calloway, MIC; Teresa Tomeo; Hector Molina; Mallory Smith; Mary Ann Weisinger-Puig; Joel de Loera; and Martha Fernandez-Sardina, can be found at https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-congress/.

Each speaker will allow the faithful the opportunity to become part of the greater National Eucharistic Revival and to leave with their hearts and minds aflame for the love of Jesus, His Catholic Church, and especially the Most Holy Eucharist.

As Pope Francis has stated many times during his Papacy, each time we are present before the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ it is “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.”

Don’t let this opportunity pass you by! Register today.

For more information about the schedule, and to register for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-congress/.

Hundreds of couples recognized for giving hope to society

During a time when society is trying to redefine what marriage is, hundreds of couples were honored during a Feb. 18, 2023, Diocese of Venice celebration of their lasting witness to Sacramental Marriage.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice recognizing 360 couples, who were celebrating a combined 18,403 years of marriage, for their accomplishment which brings hope to their families, to the community, to society and to the Universal Church.

“Think of the accomplishment of who you are as a group; but also think of it as individuals and couples, as children of God, made in the image and likeness of God,” Bishop Dewane said. “You were the minister of the Sacrament – one to the other. You stood there together then and are here together today. The number of years you have lived by the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is a real achievement. See yourselves as the goodness that you are.”

The Bishop described the couples as both radical and countercultural, but also a true inspiration for others to follow and emulate.

“You don’t see it, but your commitment to each other is seen by younger generations, perhaps by your grandchildren or great-granchildren,” Bishop Dewane said. “That is a lasting testimony to the vows you took, committing to each other before God those many years ago.”

The 360 couples present for the Mass represented 41 Parishes and included 58 couples which have been married for 50 years. One of those couples, John and Janet Johannsen, celebrated their 50th on the day of the Mass. Also celebrating their 45th anniversary during the Mass were Louis and Maria Gomes. Both of these couples are from San Pedro Parish in North Port.

The couple recognized as being present with the longest marriage was John and Rita Riebel, who celebrate 72 years of marriage on April 7. They moved to Florida 27 years ago and attend Epiphany Cathedral. They met in New Jersey on a blind date. As newlyweds, John served in the Army and later in construction, sometimes working three jobs to provide for their 5 children, a true testimony to their love and commitment to each other and as a family.

Other couples recognized during the Mass were Thomas and Dolores Martorana, 72 years, from Epiphany Cathedral; Carl and Natalie Pensak, 71 years, from Epiphany Cathedral; and Marvin and Carol Peschel, 70 years, from St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Port Charlotte.

The Peschel’s met in high school when she was a junior and he a senior needing a tutor so he could graduate. “She was always smarter than me,” Marvin Peschel explained. “That is why it was always easy to just say “Yes dear” whenever we had a discussion.”

Of course, the couple credits their strong faith and belief in a commitment to loving each other through good times and bad. This is particularly true now that he is 90 and she is 89. “We have something special,” Carol Peschel said.

During the Mass, the married couples renewed their wedding vows. In addition, each couple was presented with commemorative certificates, signed by the Bishop, for their enduring commitment to marriage.

A reception followed the Mass with lunch and the opportunity to have complimentary pictures taken with the Bishop.

Masses are celebrated each year in the northern and southern sections of the Diocese of Venice to accommodate those wanting to attend. The first Mass was Feb. 11 at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, bringing together 270 couples representing a combined 14,002 years of marriage.

Teresa Tomeo, a featured speaker at Diocesan Eucharistic Congress

Teresa Tomeo, author and Catholic talk show host, is one of the featured speakers at the Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Congress on March 25, 2023, at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center and Luminary Hotel, 1375 Monroe St., Fort Myers. Tomeo is scheduled to speak twice during the Eucharistic Congress. The first talk is titled, “Rediscovering the Eucharist on my Journey,” and the second is “Becoming a True Daughter of the King by Way of the Eucharist.”

In addition to being an author and syndicated Catholic talk show host, Tomeo is also motivational speaker with decades of experience in TV, radio, and newspapers. In the year 2000, Teresa left the secular media to start her own speaking and communications company, Teresa Tomeo Communications, LLC. Her weekday morning radio program, Catholic Connection, is heard on over 500 Catholic radio stations worldwide and on the Sirius Satellite Network.

Many may know Tomeo from her frequent appearances on the EWTN TV network, where she co-hosts the series, The Catholic View for Women. Tomeo has written more than 10 books and is an international speaker, where she addresses media awareness and activism, as well as sharing her reversion to the Catholic Church. She resides in Southeastern Michigan with her husband, Deacon Dominick Pastore. They travel the world giving marriage and diaconate couples’ retreats.

The theme for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress is: “The Word Became Flesh” John 1:14. Bishop Frank J. Dewane said the “Congress is an opportunity for all the faithful of the Diocese to come together as one, to jointly rekindle a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.”

The event corresponds to the larger, ongoing, National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Doors open at 8 a.m. with the opening prayer at 9 a.m. A portion of this event will be in English and Spanish. In addition, the afternoon will include breakout sessions geared toward men and women. There will be a Eucharistic Procession and the day will conclude with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at 5 p.m. Registration is requested by March 3 at https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-congress/.

Sacrament of Holy Matrimony – Icons of God

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is a sacred bond between a man and a woman which reflects the honor, love, commitment and fidelity each demonstrates for the other.

In celebration of that commitment, each year Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites couples married 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50+ years to a Mass in their honor as witnesses to a beautiful vocation for younger generations to see and admire. This first such Mass in 2023 was Feb. 4 at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs. Present were 270 couples representing a combined 14,002 years of marriage.

“What a beautiful sight from up here,” Bishop Dewane said. “We are here to celebrate the love and commitment you and your spouse made all those years ago. We gather here to give thanks to the Lord, and we gather to recognize all of you at the table of the Lord, for the marriage that you have, for your fidelity, as well as for your entering into the Sacrament accompanied by God.”

Bishop Dewane noted how Pope Francis described married couples as Icons of God – neither being more than the other, but only together do they combine to make the image of God complete. For this reason, the Bishop said it is right that the Mass is celebrated and acknowledges the couples for the life and commitment they made before God, to each other.

“You are a gift to the Diocese, to your children, to your grandchildren and to the younger people in the Diocese, you offer them great hope,” Bishop Dewane said. “You offer them a future. You are an example for others to follow. The life that you as married couples live – in kindness and fruitfulness – is unique in what it contributes to society. What a wonderful gift you give to the world.”

The couple recognized as being present with the longest marriage were David and Peggy Hiller, who will be marking 72 years on May 4. They attend Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Fort Myers and grew up in Ohio, first meeting on an ice rink. They spent their life working together in farming: cows, chickens, pigs.  Peggy helped David drive the tractors so now he says he returns the favor by washing the dishes. They raised four children and eventually bought a home in Fort Myers 40 years ago and now split their time between Florida and Ohio.

The 270 couples present for the Mass represented 25 Parishes and included 30 couples which have been married 50 years. Three couples celebrated their actual anniversary on the day of the Mass. They included: Gerald and Sharon Allen, 62 years, St. Therese Parish, North Fort Myers; Morris and Christina Cirlincione, 56 years, St. Ann Parish, Naples; and Charles and Colleen Faris, 50 years, St. Finbarr Parish, Naples.

John and Paulette Donlon of St. Leo the Great Parish have been married 63 years. They met in high school and built a life together in Michigan. They said the ability to have Christ at the heart of their marriage has helped them overcome any challenges.

“Marriage is about being there for each other, no matter what,” Paulette Donlon said. “You love each other. You get through struggles because you remember that you made a commitment at your wedding before God. That is real. That is serious. That puts everything in perspective.”

During the Mass, the married couples renewed their wedding vows. In addition, each couple was presented with commemorative certificates, signed by the Bishop, for their enduring commitment to marriage.

A reception followed the Mass with lunch and the opportunity to have complimentary pictures taken with the Bishop.

Masses are celebrated each year in the northern and southern sections of the Diocese of Venice so as to accommodate those wanting to attend. The second Mass is 11 a.m. Feb. 18, at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave., Venice (registration is through your Parish and walk-ins are welcome).

News Briefs for the Week of Feb. 10, 2023


After consultation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announces the following appointments:

Father John Nghia Hoang, as Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, Sarasota, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, Sarasota.

Father Robert M. Murphy, as Pastor of St. Raphael Parish, Englewood, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of St. Raphael Parish, Englewood.

Father Paul Nguyen, as Pastor of Church of St. Patrick Parish, Sarasota, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of Church of St. Patrick Parish, Sarasota.

Father Sebastian Szczawinski, as Pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of Church of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch.

Father Michal Szyszka, as Pastor of St. Raphael Parish, Lehigh Acres, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of St. Raphael Parish, Lehigh Acres.

Father Luis Albarracin, retired as Parochial Vicar of St. Leo the Great, Bonita Springs, effective Jan. 1, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of St. Leo the Great Parish.

Retired Sarasota priest dies

Father R. Patrick Wilson, Society of Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines), who served in the Diocese of Venice for 17 years, passed away Feb. 2, 2023, in Sarasota at the age of 76. Father Wilson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and graduated from Pittsburg State University in Kansas and upon graduation in 1973 he joined the Brothers of Christian Service. As a religious brother, Father Wilson served adult men with special needs in Ohio. He earned advanced degrees from the University of Cincinnati before he was relocated to Sarasota in 1992. In Sarasota, he served as Director of Religious Education at St. Martha Parish and later sought to join the Pallottine religious order. He was ordained to the priesthood on Nov. 27, 2005, into the Society of the Catholic Apostolate in Rome. From that point, Father Wilson served as a Parochial Vicar until his retirement on July 1, 2022. Father Wilson continued to assist at St. Martha Parish after his retirement. Father Wilson was active in his support of the youth outreach, going to several World Youth Days and National Marches for Life, and was active in prison outreach as well. He loved traveling, tap dancing and musical theater and was a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. A Mass of Christian Burial is 10 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 9, at St. Martha Church, 200 N. Orange St., Sarasota. Please pray for the family of Father Wilson and the repose of his soul.

Seminarian instituted as Lector

William Patrick Long, a Diocese of Venice Seminarian studying at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, Weston, Massachusetts, was among 11 men who were instituted to the Ministry of Lector on Feb. 1, 2023. Bishop William D. Byrne, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, presided over the Mass. Those who are in formation to be ordained as Catholic priests must serve in the Ministry of Lector in order to prepare them for their future role as proclaimers of the Word of God through their work in the community and through the celebration of Mass and other Liturgical Rites. The principal duties of the lector at a Sunday Mass are to proclaim the first and/or second readings. In the absence of a deacon, the lector may carry the Gospel Book to the altar in the entrance procession and proclaim the petitions for the Universal Prayer. The lector may also lead the responsorial psalm in the absence of a cantor. Please pray for Seminarian Long as well as for all seminarians as they further prepare to become priests and serve the faithful.

2022 Sarasota Charity Ball

The Catholic Charities Ball “Creating Hope” took place Feb. 4, 2023, at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota. The event benefitted the programs of Catholic Charities in Sarasota and Manatee Counties including the continuing recovery from Hurricane Ian, as well as support for Our Mother’s House, Bethesda House, and the St. Martha Early Learning Center. The Ball Chairperson was Bridget Spiess, and Bishop Frank J. Dewane was the guest of honor. A success story was shared about a family that overcame many heartbreaks and setbacks only to be aided by the staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities in finding housing that provided a room for each of their children. The elegant evening included a wine pull, silent auction, live auction, and live music. If you would like to support the programs of Catholic Charities, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

Annual Mass held for circus and traveling show workers

Each year the circus and travelling show workers of the United States gather for three days to thank God for their continued blessings. This retreat was Feb. 3 to 5, 2023, at St. Martha Parish in downtown Sarasota, which is designated the “National Circus Parish.” The pastoral workers, who ensure that the Sacraments are available and maintained for travelling show people, function under the direction of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Cultural Diversity’s Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT). Bishop Frank J. Dewane is the Episcopal Liaison of the PCMRT. Bishop Dewane celebrated the closing Mass on Feb. 5, and he was assisted by several of the priests who serve the circus and traveling show workers.

Regional Order of Malta retreat held in Naples

Regional members of the Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta took part in a retreat which began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Feb. 3, 2023, at St. William Parish in Naples. Also known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the Order is a lay religious order of the Roman Catholic Church that seeks to glorify God by promoting the sanctification of each member through witness to the Catholic Faith and service to the sick and the poor. Bishop Dewane lauded the Knights and Dames for their continued charity and service to the Universal Church.

Eucharist Conference held at Ave Maria University

The Aquinas Center and the St. Paul Center hosted “The Holiness of God and the Mystery of the Eucharist” Conference from Feb. 2 to Feb. 4, 2023, at Ave Maria University. Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for the Conference on Feb. 3, in the Ave Maria Parish Church. Bishop Dewane praised the Conference organizers and the attendees for taking time to focus on the Holy Eucharist during the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. As part of the effort, the Diocese of Venice is hosting a Eucharistic Congress on March 25, 2023, in Fort Myers. This daylong event will include nationally renowned speakers, breakouts for men and women, sessions in English and Spanish. There will be a Eucharistic Procession and the day will conclude with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Registration is requested at https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-congress/.

Blessing of the throats

On the Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, Feb. 3, 2023, the Blessing the Throats is common. This is done by a Bishop or Priest who holds a pair of crossed candles held by a red ribbon (representing the blood of martyrs), which are placed at the throat and a prayer of healing is recited. Bishop Frank J. Dewane joined other priests in offering this prayer following a Mass at Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria and then later at St. William Parish in Naples. St. Blaise, who was martyred in 316, saved the life of a boy who had a fishbone stuck in his throat by ordering the child to cough it up.

Parish hosts international food festival

To celebrate the varied backgrounds of the faithful at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, the 11th Annual International Festival made a tasty return on Feb. 5, 2023, after a hiatus of several years. Unique cuisine of more than 20 countries was represented. In addition to the food and drink, there was entertainment that included music and dance from a number of countries.

Migrant Care Grants application period open

Grant requests for funding of projects in 2023 are available from the Foundation for the Care of the Migrant Poor and need to be submitted no later than Friday, March 31, 2023. To be considered by the Board of Directors for a Grant, the project must clearly be seen as a service to the migrant poor or new immigrants. Preference will be given to those projects under Catholic auspices. Applications can be submitted by visiting https://dioceseofvenice.org/offices/organizations/foundation-for-the-care-of-the-migrant-poor/.

New Youth and Young Adult Director settles in

Marthamaria Morales considers herself blessed to be a “Missionary in Paradise.”

Morales is the new Diocese of Venice Director of Youth and Youth Adult Outreach which means she will be journeying with young people in the Catholic Faith, a post she describes as one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences for a Church leader.

“My passion is to accompany those who serve the young people,” Morales said. “To provide opportunities for inspiration and faith sharing that models love, mercy, service, and solidarity. This means facilitating an encounter with Jesus in the other. You hope to offer opportunities for them to learn about their faith and be engaged, challenged and feel called by the love of Jesus to serve in the community and be peacemakers that inspire a whole new generation of Catholics with joy.”

Morales is still finding her way in the Diocese, visiting Parishes, meeting priests, religious, youth leaders, as well as youth and young adults all to create a plan under the leadership and vision of Bishop Frank J. Dewane.

“With their help and key input, a holistic action plan can be drafted,” Morales continued. “This will require hard work, commitment, determination, a common vision, and passion. I know that together we can accomplish a lot. I put all this in prayer, trusting in the Holy Spirit!”

An important aspect of Morales’ focus will be to help reconnect young adults to the faith, particularly those who disengage themselves when they complete the Sacraments, go off to college or enter the workforce.

“We cannot leave them to find a connection to the Church; we need to accompany them as they make the transition to this time in their lives,” Morales explained. This connection is essential and would be an extension of the work of Parish youth groups and an increased Catholic presence on local college campuses.

Born in California, Morales was raised by her grandparents in Guatemala. She is a graduate of the University of San Carlos de Guatemala and has many years of experience in the field of youth and young adult outreach and programs. Previously, she served as the Hispanic Ministry Director and Youth and Young Adult Director in the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama. Her prior work experience includes time at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where she was a Poverty Education and Outreach Manager, as well as a producer and on-air talent for EWTN.

“I believe in the mission, and trust wholeheartedly that God is leading us,” Morales said. “My work allows me to dream big, empower and cultivate potential in others, while identifying their God-given gifts to work collaboratively.”

To accomplish this, Morales first led a Diocesan group to the National March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19-20, 2023. She is also currently focusing right now on the Eucharistic Congress Youth Rally (high schoolers) on March 24 in Fort Myers. Looking ahead, she is coordinating the return of Totus Tuus (for elementary school kids and teens, in 12 different Parishes) and World Youth Day in Portugal this summer, taking a delegation of around 40 people representing the Diocese.

On the young adult side of her work, Morales is becoming actively involved in the Theology on Tap in Sarasota every third Thursday of the month and is in contact with young adult groups at Parishes in Lee and Collier counties.

Marthamaria Morales can be contacted at the Catholic Center in Venice at 941-484-9543 or at morales@dioceseofvenice.org.

Father Calloway a keynote at Diocesan Eucharistic Congress

Father Donald Calloway, a convert to Catholicism, and a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, is one of the keynote speakers at the Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Congress on March 25, 2023, at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center and Luminary Hotel, 1375 Monroe St., Fort Myers. Father Calloway is scheduled to speak twice during the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress. The first talk is titled, “Conversion and the Holy Eucharist,” and the second is “St. Joseph and the Eucharist.”

Before his conversion, Father Calloway was a high school dropout who had been kicked out of a foreign country, institutionalized twice, and thrown in jail multiple times. After his radical conversion, he earned a BA in philosophy and theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio; MDiv and STB degrees from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.; and an STL in Mariology from the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio. He leads pilgrimages to Marian Shrines around the world and is the author of 15 books. His latest best-selling book is “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.”

The theme for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress is: “The Word Became Flesh” John 1:14. Bishop Frank J. Dewane said the “Congress is an opportunity for all the faithful of the Diocese to come together as one to jointly rekindle a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.”

The event corresponds to the larger, ongoing, National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Doors open at 8 a.m. with the opening prayer at 9 a.m. A portion of this event will have English and Spanish tracks. In addition, the afternoon will include breakout sessions geared toward men and women. There will be a Eucharistic Procession and the day will conclude with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at 5 p.m. Registration is required at https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-congress/.

Advent: Season of Preparation and Expectation

Ordinary Time has come to an end and the Season of Advent is upon us. This Season, which marks the beginning of the Liturgical Year of the Church, commences on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, and will come to an end on Christmas Eve.

Advent is a time of preparation and expectation, a time leading to Christmas which Pope Francis calls beautiful when we repeatedly pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

“It is a time where we have to live by that phrase, not just say it,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is the essence of the Season which is truly an invitation to pause in silence to recognize the signs of the coming of the presence of the Lord.”

The Advent Season has a two-fold characteristic, the First Coming of the Son of God, which we know as Christmas or the Nativity, and we prepare for that, Bishop Dewane explained. Also, in this Advent journey we prepare for the Second Coming of Our Lord.

“Advent is a time of devout and expectant delight,” the Bishop added. “We don’t usually think of it as delight, we have delight in who the Lord is as our Savior comes into our life.”

The Advent Season in the Church is different from the Christmas Season. The Advent Season is from Nov. 27 through the vigil of the Nativity of the Lord. The Christmas Season in the Church runs from First Vespers of the Nativity of the Lord up to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 9, 2023.

After the annual celebration of the Paschal Mystery, the Church has no more ancient custom than celebrating the memorial of the Nativity of the Lord and his first manifestations.

The main focus of the Advent Season is preparation through prayer, quiet reflection, weekday Mass attendance and even fasting, Bishop Dewane explained. Taking time to quietly reflect and grow in Faith can be a challenge, but we are called to put distractions aside, even for a few minutes a day, which allows the love of God to fill one’s life with joy.

One key symbol in Churches for this Season is the Advent Wreath. The lights of the candles on the Advent Wreath serve to break through the darkness, reminding us of the Light of Christ that we anticipate during this Holy Season. The liturgical color of Advent is a particular shade of purple, a color which is most often associated with royalty. This color is used to symbolize the anticipation of the birth of Christ, who is our King and Savior.

Each Sunday of Advent, an additional candle of the wreath is lit, with the rose-colored candle lit on the Third Sunday of Advent. Best known as Gaudete Sunday, this celebration derives its name from Scripture: “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”) and marks the mid-point in the Season. Bishop Dewane said that the change in color provides encouragement to rejoice during a Season of penance, as we continue our spiritual preparation for Christmas.

Aside from the Sundays of Advent, the Church also celebrates two important Marian feasts, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, which is observed as a Holy Day of Obligation, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, on Dec. 12. We are also called to seek the intercession of the saints as we make this journey towards Christmas, particularly those saints whose feasts we celebrate during Advent, such as St. Francis Xavier, St. Nicholas, St. Juan Diego, St. Lucy, and St. John of the Cross. They modeled for us the way to salvation and assist us in our own pilgrimage to Heaven.

The First Sunday of Advent also marks the start of the new Liturgical Year of the Church. In it, the Church marks the passage of time with the celebration of the main events in the life of Jesus and the story of Salvation. In so doing, Pope Francis said the Church illuminates the path of our existence, which supports us in our daily occupations and guides us towards the final encounter with Christ.

The Pope invites everyone to live this time of preparation in the Season of Hope with “great sobriety” and simple moments of family prayer. “Advent is a continuous call to hope: it reminds us that God is present in history to lead it to its ultimate goal, to lead it to its fullness, which is the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Dewane said, “Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. Let us resolve to help bring Him into the hearts of those we encounter throughout each day. Let us take advantage of what is new in the Advent Season as the Universal Church prepares for the birth of Christ. And let us grow in Faith during this portion of the Liturgical Year on our journey toward Salvation.”

Solemnity of Christ the King Nov. 20

On the last Sunday of each liturgical year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or Christ the King.

Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 with his encyclical Quas primas (“In the first”) to respond to growing secularism and atheism. He recognized that attempting to “thrust Jesus Christ and His holy law” out of public life would result in continuing discord among people and nations. This solemnity reminds us that while governments come and go, Christ reigns as King forever.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes that this Solemnity is a fitting moment in the liturgical year to promote the Church’s teaching on religious freedom. The USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty “urge[d] that the Solemnity of Christ the King – a feast born out of resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty – be a day specifically employed by Bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said this year’s commemoration of Christ the King Sunday has a special meaning for the people of the Diocese of Venice.

“On the Solemnity of Christ the King, in these trying times in which so many still suffer from the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, let us be mindful of hope,” Bishop Dewane said. “Hope, like faith, is a gift from God. On this day, we can ask Christ the King, the first to rise from the dead and head of the Church, to strengthen in us the hope that is essential to our faith, the hope that pushes us forward even when facing difficulty. In prayer, let us acknowledge that Christ is our King, and with Christ all things are possible. By truly knowing that our origin and end is in Jesus Christ Our King, we find hope, peace, justice, freedom, and happiness.”

Pope Francis said in a 2021 address about Christ the King, “His kingship is truly beyond human parameters. We could say that he is not like other kings, but he is a King for others.”

The Holy Father said that Jesus was a king who liberated His followers, freeing us from being subject to evil.

“His Kingdom is liberating, there is nothing oppressive about it,” Pope Francis continued. “He treats every disciple as a friend, not as a subject… Christ wants to have brothers and sisters with whom to share His joy… We do not lose anything in following Him — nothing is lost, no — but we acquire dignity because Christ does not want servility around Him, but people who are free.”

As stated by Pope Pius XI, Christ’s kingship is rooted in the Church’s teaching on the Incarnation. Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is both the divine Lord and the man who suffered and died on the Cross. One person of the Trinity unites Himself to human nature and reigns over all creation as the Incarnate Son of God. “From this it follows not only that Christ is to be adored by angels and men, but that to him as man angels and men are subject, and must recognize his empire; by reason of the hypostatic union Christ has power over all creatures” (Quas primas, 13).

For more information and resources about the Solemnity of Christ the King, please visit https://www.usccb.org/christtheking.

Diocesan Synod report available, synthesized into national report

By Karen Barry Schwarz, Special to the Florida Catholic

The faithful talked; the Diocese of Venice listened. From January to May of 2022, the Diocese of Venice hosted 12 Listening Sessions, including 11 live sessions at various Parishes throughout the Diocese and one virtual session. The events, most of which were attended by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, were fruitful, and inspiring.

These sessions were part of the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” as requested by His Holiness Pope Francis.

The passion expressed during the Listening Sessions for the Catholic Faith was ubiquitous, as was the enthusiasm for the synodal process.

Some were surprised that the Church was asking for their input, as this has not been the case historically. Some were even, at first, reluctant to share, feeling it was not their place to do so.  But Pope Francis has called on the faithful to come forward, explaining synodality as “a way of being the Church today according to the will of God, in a dynamic of discerning and listening together to the voice of the Holy Spirit.”

“The Diocese found the participating faithful to be inspired and thoughtful in their responses to questions posed during the Listening Sessions, and in the open forum discussions when time allowed,” said Bishop Dewane.  “Many also participated via the Diocese’s dedicated synod email address, sending in their thoughts. All comments were heard and appreciated.”

Overall, more than 1,000 of the faithful participated in the synodal process, including both young and old, women and men, English and Spanish-speaking. Findings were compiled in a detailed report shared with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in June. Similar sessions to those held in the Diocese of Venice were held around the country and around the globe; a synthesis of all Diocesan reports will be shared with the Vatican.

The Diocesan Synthesis Synod Report (a brief version of the full report) and the U.S. National Synthesis Synod Report were both made available in September 2022 and are available for review on the Diocese website at https://dioceseofvenice.org/offices/offices-departments/evangelization/diocesan-phase-of-the-synod-on-synodality/.

Diocesan Synod Synthesis

Within the Diocese of Venice, several themes emerged during the synodal process.

Participants were happy to report that they are proud to be Catholic and are eager to evangelize, but many felt they lacked the tools to do so. There was a general hunger for more catechesis and formation among all.  Great interest was expressed in more detailed “refresher course” type information surrounding the celebration of the Mass, and many expressed great interest in the celebration of the Latin Mass, especially as it relates to reverence. Some saw the traditional Latin Mass as a “way back to reverence,” which many saw as missing from the Church today.

Concern was also shared regarding the centrality of and belief in the Holy Eucharist, and it was expressed that this tenet of the Church needs to be reinvigorated. Many also expressed the need for powerful homilies during Mass, explaining that a good homily can provide inspiration for the week ahead. Some put forth the idea that priests ought to marry, as this may spark more interest in the vocation among young men. Others expressed a concern that this would present a dilemma for priests, as they are already married to the Church. Some suggested that women play more of a role in the Mass, and the Church in general, raising the question of women as deacons, or even priests. Many pointed out that women already play a large role in the Church, leading many ministries.

There was concern expressed about several groups who likely feel marginalized by the Church, including women. Other groups identified as possibly being marginalized by the Church included those who identify as LGBT, those who are divorced, those who work full-time, and those who are not necessarily part of any well-established “group” or “clique” in their local parish. It was suggested, for example, that the process for welcoming divorced Catholics back to the Church be made clearer, and that there be more convenient daily Mass times for working people.

Although some felt those living in poverty were marginalized by the Church, the majority felt that the Catholic Church does a good job helping the poor, mentioning Catholic Charities and the fact that the Catholic Church is the largest private social service organization in the country.

The need to reach and engage young people was identified, with many feeling that young people drift away from the Church sometime between the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Sacrament of Marriage. Many felt that young people do not come back until it is time to baptize their own children, and then it may be too late to get them back.

There was a repeated call for continued and increased transparency in the Church, especially as it relates to sexual abuse and the wounds of the past.

Of interest, the U.S. Synthesis also had many of the same findings the Diocese found in its sessions/feedback and many of the same things emerged worldwide.

The Vatican recently published a document that highlights the results of the Synod worldwide and will guide the next stage of discussions in the Synod on Synodality.

The working document, titled “Enlarge the space of your tent,” covers issues across a broad spectrum, from the clergy sexual abuse crisis to Christian unity. The text calls for “a Church capable of radical inclusion” and says that many Synod reports from around the world raised questions about the inclusion and role of women, young people, the poor, people identifying as LGBTQ, and the divorced and remarried.

The 44-page working document is officially called the DCS (Document for the Continental Stage). It summarizes the reports shared with the Vatican by bishops’ conferences, religious congregations, departments of the Roman Curia, lay movements, and other groups and individuals.

Published on Oct. 27, the document aims to be “the privileged instrument through which the dialogue of the local Churches among themselves and with the universal Church can take place during the Continental Stage.”

Catholic News Service provided information for this report.