Growing closer to Jesus through His Mother – May, a month dedicated to Mary

The path of faith and hope that the Blessed Virgin Mary provides to the world is something which is celebrated during the month of May. This path brings us to a greater understanding of Christ, and a closer relationship with Him.

When Mary, the Immaculate handmaid of the Lord, said “yes” to the message of the Archangel, she followed the One who bestows universal favors, and the human race would never be the same. Mary trusted in the will of God to the fullest measure: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled (Luke 1:45).”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said through Mary’s example, “we learn the important lesson that ‘nothing will be impossible for God.’ Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Your word.’ Then the angel departed from her’ (Luke 1:37-38). Without God, we cannot fulfill His Mission. Our Lady understood that, so must each one of us. We must radically change our inner selves and have that same strength to do the will of the Lord.”

Pope Francis said Mary’s greatness does not consist in performing an extraordinary deed, but in silence and adoration, she placed Jesus at the center and bears witness to Him as Savior.

“She is Mother not only because she carried Jesus in her womb and gave birth to Him, but because she brings Him into the light, without occupying His place,” the Holy Father said. “She will remain silent even beneath the cross, in the darkest hour, and will continue to make room for Him and (make Him accessible) for us… With her silence and humility, Mary is God’s first ‘cathedral,’ the place where He and humanity can meet.”

During Advent 2017, Bishop Dewane, in unity with the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Venice, formally consecrated the Diocese to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. By this Act of Consecration, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, the faithful entrusted the Diocese and its good works to Our Lady so as to fulfill more readily the will of her Divine Son for His Church.

Honoring Mary in May

The Month of May serves as an opportunity to reflect upon the season of the Liturgical Year which largely corresponds with the 50 days of Easter. Therefore, time should be taken to reflect on Our Lady’s participation in the Paschal mystery and in Pentecost (May 19, 2024), which marks the beginning of the Church.

May is often when young Catholics receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion for the first time. In addition, at Parishes and Diocesan Catholic schools May Crowning ceremonies take place, during which a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is given a crown of flowers as a public commitment to pray for the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout the month.

This month, in which we honor Our Lady, is also a time to renew a commitment to praying the Mysteries of the Rosary (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous). Our Lady has 117 titles but selected this title at Fatima: “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” St. Francis de Sales said the greatest method of praying is to “Pray the Rosary.”

Our Lady is an important symbol throughout the Diocese of Venice. Our Lady of Mercy is the Patroness of the Diocese of Venice and is the name of a Parish in Boca Grande. Additionally, the Blessed Virgin is honored with numerous Parishes and other facilities named in her honor. These include: Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, Venice; St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Longboat Key; Our Lady of the Angels, Lakewood Ranch; Our Lady of Grace, Avon Park; Our Lady of Guadalupe, Immokalee; Our Lady of Light, Fort Myers; Our Lady of Miraculous Medal, Bokeelia; Our Lady of Lourdes, Venice; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Osprey; Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Sarasota; and Our Lady Queen of Heaven, LaBelle.

Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical in 1965 citing the Month of Mary devotion as a means of obtaining prayers for peace. May is the month during which the piety of the faithful is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and is also the time for a “moving tribute of faith and love which Catholics in every part of the world [pay] to the Queen of Heaven,” Pope Paul VI wrote “During this month Christians, both in church and in the privacy of the home, offer up to Mary from their hearts an especially fervent and loving homage of prayer and veneration. In this month, too, the benefits of God’s mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance.”

The Christian custom of dedicating the month of May to the Blessed Virgin arose at the end of the 13th century. In this way, the Church was able to Christianize the secular feasts which were taking place at that time. In the 16th century, books appeared and fostered this devotion, which continues to this day.

News Briefs for the week of May 3, 2024

Ascension Solemnity moved to Sunday, May 12

The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Sunday, will be celebrated in the Diocese of Venice on May 12, 2024 (moved from May 9). The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops voted in the year 2000 to transfer the Solemnity of the Ascension from the Thursday, 40 days after Easter, to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, in accord with an indult granted to the US. Conference of Catholic Bishops by the Holy See. Therefore, for the Catholic Churches in the State of Florida, the Seventh Sunday of Easter is replaced by the Solemnity of the Ascension.

Retired Venice priest dies

Father Richard John Beligotti, a retired priest who has served at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice for the past eight years, died April 26, 2024, at the age of 81. Born as an identical twin in Montour Falls, New York, on Sept. 8, 1942, Father Beligotti attended St. Andrew Minor Seminary and St. Bernard Major Seminary, Rochester.  He was Ordained to the Priesthood June 1, 1968, for the Diocese of Rochester. Later, Father Richard earned an advanced degree from St. Bernard Major Seminary and took two different sabbaticals, first at American College in Louvain, Belgium, and then at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. For the Diocese of Rochester, he served as a Parochial Vicar, Administrator or Pastor at Parishes in Irondequoit, Apalachin, Ithaca, Charlotte, Avon, Horseheads, Rochester, Newark, Chili, Elmira Heights, Leicester, Retsof, Bloomfield, Lima and Honeoye Falls. Father also served as a hospital chaplain in Auburn. Retired in 2013, Father Richard had been assisting at Epiphany Cathedral since 2016 alongside his twin brother, Father Robert Beligotti. A Memorial Mass was celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on May 1, 2024, at Epiphany Cathedral. A Mass of Christian Burial is scheduled for May 8, 2024, at St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish in Watkins Glen, New York, with burial to follow. Please pray for the repose of his soul and for the consolation of his family. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in eternal peace.

Students gets colorful during fun run

The St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School Color Run fundraiser took place April 19, 2024, in Naples. Students (and volunteers) had a wonderful time while helping raise funds for school improvements. During the event, students ran on the field and every lap they took, volunteers “colored” them with chalk. The top three participating classes won an ice cream party. The event was organized by the Home and School Association.

Donations of baby supplies needed

Community Pregnancy Centers Inc. is seeking donations of diapers and clothing to support the children of the women that are served each day. Items sought include new or gently used clothes (size 12 months to 3T); baby wipes; diapers (size 4-6); baby shampoo/lotion; new clothes for babies (0-3 months); pacifiers; pull ups/training diapers. Community Pregnancy Clinics has offices in Naples, Fort Myers and Sarasota. Please call 239-326-0453 or visit https://communitypregnancyclinic.com/ for locations.

Vocation Discernment Retreat May 11 in Cape Coral

A Vocations Discernment Retreat is taking place beginning at 10:30 a.m., May 11, 2024, at St. Katherine Drexel Parish, 1922 SW 20th Avenue, Cape Coral.  If you are of high school or college age, or a young adult, and wish to discover more about different vocations, plan to attend this one-day Retreat. The day will include breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and presentations regarding the different Vocations. Priests, as well as religious men and women will be present throughout the day. This retreat is co-sponsored by the Diocese of Venice Vocations Office and St. Katharine Drexel Parish. The cost for the day is $25. To register, visit https://www.venicevocations.org/events, or for additional information, please contact aileen@drexelcc.org or rose@drexelcc.org.

Calling all Pro-Life Advocates! 

If you’d like to volunteer to help educate people on the truth about the pro-abortion amendment on the November ballot, plan to attend a training opportunity within the Diocese of Venice in May (one of two). The first training is Monday, May 13, 2024, from 11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Leadership Institute, 2163 Main Street (downtown), Sarasota.  The second session is also from 11:45 a.m., Wednesday, May 15, at St. John XXIII Parish Center, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers. Lunch will be included at both sessions.  Register online at www.LeadershipInstitute.org/Florida for either session by May 8. If you have questions, please contact Jeanne Berdeaux at 941-374-1068 or Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org.

“Jesus, I trust in You”- Divine Mercy Sunday celebrated

The Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday, completes the Octave of Easter, a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the blessing of His continuing presence in our midst. The Gospel reading for Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2024, recalls the encounter between St. Thomas (the doubting Apostle) and Jesus after the Resurrection.

Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates the mercy of Jesus as reminded to us by St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a religious sister who lived a humble life, to whom Jesus appeared. St. Faustina was born in Krakow, Poland and lived from 1905-1938. She was canonized by St. John Paul II in 2000, who at that time also declared the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. This celebration also honors St. Faustina’s vision of Jesus Christ, and His message of love and peace for the world.

St. Faustina wrote in her diary from private revelation that Jesus told her: “I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy (1109). The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion will obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment (699).”

The image of the Divine Mercy was created by St. Faustina who was told to paint the image of Jesus as she saw Him. The painting has the saying at the bottom: “Jesus, I Trust in You.” The rays emanating from the Sacred Heart of Jesus represent water (white) – which makes souls righteous — and blood (red) — which is the life of souls, Jesus told St. Faustina.

Many Parishes throughout the Diocese hold Divine Mercy services and several have novenas of prayer leading up to the Sunday. The popularity of Divine Mercy has been embraced by many diverse communities throughout the Diocese.

At St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, Divine Mercy Sunday included the traditional afternoon prayer service in English and Spanish. This included the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a reflection from Father Pawel Kawalec, a recitation of the Divine Mercy Litany, singing of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Solemn Benediction.

The prayer service concluded when the faithful were invited to come forward and venerate the image of Divine Mercy which adorns the wall to the right of the altar and was decorated with flowers.

Alicia Torres attended the Divine Mercy prayer service with her two children and said her prayers were focused on seeking help for family members who need to have Christ in their life more. “This day is about seeking Jesus’ Mercy for ourself and our family and the whole world.”

At St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples, the Divine Mercy celebration included a presentation by Sister Teresa de la Fuente, Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (St. Faustina’s religious order).

Pope Francis, during the Regina Caeli on Divine Mercy Sunday, noted that the “fullness of life” comes not from the pursuit of transitory pleasure but is “realized in Jesus.”

In his address, Pope Francis drew upon the disciples, who were despondent and secluded in the Upper Room, “going through the most tragic moment in life,” to showcase how Christ’s coming to them was a deeply transformative moment, one that not only reveals His mercy but also promises a new life.

“The Risen One comes to them and shows them His wounds,” the Pope said. “They were the signs of suffering and pain, they could stir feelings of guilt, yet with Jesus they become channels of mercy and forgiveness.”

 

Annunciation of the Lord celebrated in Ave Maria

The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord is when we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary saying “Yes!” to God.

Usually celebrated on March 25, the Solemnity was transferred to April 8, 2024, because the original date fell during Holy Week. The Solemnity marks the Angel Gabriel’s appearance to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38), and his announcement that the Blessed Virgin had been chosen to be the Mother of Our Lord, and Mary’s willing acceptance of God’s Holy Plan.

For the faithful at Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria University, as well as the entire town, the Solemnity marks an important occasion as it is the Feast Day of the community and was celebrated this year on April 6.

The focus of the day was on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, with Bishop Frank J. Dewane as the principal celebrant.

Bishop Dewane said during the Mass that the faithful should learn from the example of Mary and apply Her willingness to be open to the call of the Lord in our own lives; as it is inspiring to know the Blessed Virgin Mary had the courage to say “yes.”

“Take the grace that the Lord gives each of us, and live it and go forward,” the Bishop said. “We learn the important lesson that nothing is ‘impossible for God.’ Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her’ (Luke 1:37-38). Without God, we cannot fulfill His Mission. Our Lady understood that, so must each one of us. We have to radically change our inner selves and have that same strength to do the will of the Lord.”

At the conclusion of Mass, the faithful recited a Prayer of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, followed by a public Eucharistic Procession through the university and town. Later in the day was an outdoor barbecue dinner and concert.

Filipino Catholics celebrate Feast Day in Sarasota

The third Sunday of January is set aside in the Philippines to celebrate the “Santo Niño” (or Holy Child Jesus), a symbol of the birth of Catholicism in the Philippines more than 500 years ago.

Incarnation Parish in Sarasota was host to the Diocese of Venice Santo Niño Festival on Jan. 21, 2024, the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. Organized by the local Filipino Catholic Community (Senor Santo Niño Devotees of Manasota Florida, Inc.), more than 500 people participated in the Mass and Festival which celebrates an important conversion story. This was the third year for this Festival in the Diocese.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane was the main celebrant for the Mass and said the Santo Niño Mass and Festival “is a wonderful example of a faith and culture coming together beautifully. You hear the call of Santo Niño to help fulfill your mission in life to serve the Lord.”

Bishop Dewane said the Diocese is richer for those who come from various countries and bring their faith and culture, and how celebrating the various important feast days serves as a bridge in one’s faith, connecting to their homeland.

The Feast Day celebration reminds Filipinos of the Christianization of their homeland in the 16th century but also enables them to see the relevance that this devotion to the Santo Niño has for people to this day, whether they are living in the Philippines or in elsewhere. The Feast places a special emphasis on the children and youth, with all the hopes they raise.

The Mass opened with the traditional presentation of the Santo Niño statue to Bishop Dewane. In addition, the faithful are encouraged to bring their own Santo Niño statue, or one purchased in the past year, to be blessed. This was also done at the opening of the Mass.

This builds upon the tradition of Filipino immigrants who brought their Santo Niño statues with them to the United States to be their spiritual recourse, assistant and protector.

Following the Mass, the celebration continued in the Parish Hall.

Our Lady of Guadalupe feast celebrated throughout Diocese

Prayer, reverence, and music marked the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, throughout the Diocese of Venice.

Celebrated on Dec. 12, the Feast is often linked to the Dec. 9 Feast of St. Juan Diego, the day in 1531 when Our Lady first appeared to the saint near modern day Mexico City.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day celebrations are a longstanding tradition in the Diocese of Venice. Parishes throughout the Diocese celebrated this special day with Masses. In addition, there were a variety of other events, including overnight vigils, large processions, early morning prayer celebrations, as well as outdoor festivities. Many of these celebrations included a variety of dancers dressed in elaborate costumes or traditional garb.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe means so much to me and for so many others,” said Isabella Cruz of St. Paul Parish in Arcadia who brought a large image of Our Lady to be blessed after Mass on Dec. 10, 2023. “It is a devotion I grew up with and learned about from my grandparents and parents. My mother prayed to the Blessed Virgin when I was sick as a child, and she told me to do so every day. I do pray to her all the time. Our Lady gives me great comfort. On this Feast Day, in a special way, we all join together to give thanks to Her and to honor Her.”

For Diego Reyes, of St. Peter the Apostles Parish in Naples, the celebration is “every holiday wrapped into one. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the acceptance of the Hispanic people into the Universal Catholic Church. We were welcomed by the Blessed Virgin Mary with open arms. What an honor and important moment that deserves our prayerful thanks and a true celebration.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass in a field behind the religious education building at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia on Dec. 10. Concelebrating the Mass were Parish Administrator Father Luis Pacheco and Parochial Vicar Remigious Ssekiranda. The Mass was celebrated ahead of the Feast Day to accommodate the maximum number of families. As a result, more than 1,500 took part in the St. Paul Mass and celebration.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Dewane blessed a large number of religious articles which were placed before a rose-laden statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  A festival followed the Mass with a wide variety of food as well as dancers. Many of the young girls were dressed as Our Lady, while the young boys dressed as St. Juan Diego, the peasant who saw the apparitions of Our Lady in Mexico City.

A large gathering of the faithful from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula and Holy Child Mission in Bowling Green also took place Dec. 10 at Pioneer Park in Zolfo Springs. The Mass was in three languages, Spanish, English, and Creole, representing the diversity of the Parish. Before Mass, a procession with a statue of Our Lady followed by children carrying flowers led to the park pavilion. A large cultural celebration followed.

Similar scenes were repeated at Parishes throughout the Diocese. Many Parishes held vigils, some lasting until dawn. These included a retelling of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, mariachi bands, the singing of songs to Our Lady as well as prayer and contemplation before the image of Our Lady.

Our Lady appeared, dressed like an Aztec princess, to St. Juan Diego, a poor widower who was on his way to Mass. She asked, in his native language, to have the Bishop of Mexico build a church in Her honor. Skeptical, the Bishop asked for a sign. Our Lady again appeared to St. Juan Diego who shared the request of the Bishop. So, in the middle of winter Our Lady provided beautiful roses to wrap in St. Juan Diego’s tilma, a cloak made of cactus fibers. When he opened the tilma for the Bishop, the roses fell to the floor and an impression of Our Lady appeared on the tilma in the form an indigenous woman.

This apparition led to the conversion of Mexico almost overnight, when up to that time Catholic missionaries from Europe had made very little headway. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City was built on the site of the apparitions and is one of the most visited religious shrines in the world. It is also home of the actual tilma of St. Juan Diego, which can still be seen, with the image clearly visible, nearly 500 years later.

Our Lady of Guadalupe was first declared “Patroness of the Americas” by Pope Pius XII in 1946, a title later reaffirmed by Saint John Paul II in 1999.

Feast Day celebration in Clewiston

St. Margaret of Scotland, patroness and eponym of the Catholic Parish in Clewiston, was canonized for her concern with and ministry to the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, and the sick. She built schools and hospitals and spent time each day listening to the needs of the people in the outer court of the castle where she reigned as queen with her husband, Malcolm III.

“The history of St. Margaret Parish has continued the witness of St. Margaret,” Bishop Dewane said during a Mass honoring the Saint on Nov. 19, 2023. “I am pleased and honored to be here with all of you today as you honor your patroness, someone who lived a long time ago and far away. You do honor St. Margaret today, but you also do this in how you live your lives, responding to the needs of the community with compassion.”

The celebration included a bilingual Mass (English and Spanish), and this was followed in the Parish Hall with a feast.

Father Jean Woady Louis, Administrator of St. Margaret Parish, expressed his gratitude for the presence of Bishop Dewane and explained that the Parish is proud of its heritage, serving the faithful in Hendry County since 1932.

The Feast of St. Margaret is celebrated on Nov. 16, and honors a Saint who was born in Hungary in 1045 and died in 1093. She was canonized in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV as a Saint, acknowledging her life of holiness and extraordinary virtue. She was honored for her work for reform of the Church and her personal holiness.

St. Margaret is best remembered for her love of the poor. When she walked or rode out in public, crowds of the needy flocked to her, and none left her without being comforted.

Although very generous with material gifts, St. Margaret also visited the sick and nursed them with her own hands. She and her husband were also renowned for serving orphans and the poor on their knees during Advent and Lent.

News Briefs for the week of November 24, 2023

Bishop to speak at Theology on Tap in December

Each month, on the third Thursday, young adults gather for faith, fellowship and fun at the Mandeville Beer Garden in Sarasota. Theology on Tap is presented by the Diocese Office of Evangelization, and the Dec. 21, 2023, guest speaker will be Bishop Frank J. Dewane. The Mandeville Beer Garden is located at 428 N. Lemon, Ave., and the gathering begins at 7 p.m. The Nov. 16, presentation was led by Father Anthony Armstrong, O. Carm., Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Osprey. Father Armstrong spoke to the group of young adults about “Prayer and Practicing the Presence of God.”

Families clean up neighborhood road

Incarnation Catholic School families from Sarasota took to the streets as part of an Adopt-A-Road cleanup crew on Nov. 18, 2023. The team helped clear the streets of garbage between Tuttle Avenue and Bahia Vista Street, just north of the school. This was a great way to give back to the community and help keep Sarasota clean.

Junior Thespians compete regionally

Junior Thespians from St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton competed in nine performance events and one technical event at the District Jr. Thespians Competition at Blake High School in Tampa on Nov. 18, 2023. The St. Joseph students received seven “Superiors” and three “Excellents.” This is outstanding! What an amazing accomplishment. A special thanks goes to Paul Mahoney who coaches these young artists.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is Holy Day of Obligation

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, observed Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, is the patronal feast day of the United States and is a Holy Day of Obligation. The Solemnity celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary in her mother, St. Anne. The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the original conception and birth of Christ, as is often thought, but rather to the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was conceived without inheriting original sin. Note that Holy Days of Obligation are feast days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass and to avoid (to the extent that they are able) servile work. The observance of Holy Days of Obligation is part of the Sunday Duty, the first of the Precepts of the Church. To accommodate this obligation, many Parishes throughout the Diocese will offer vigils or extra Masses on the Solemnity.

Bereavement Outreach and Training coming in December

The Diocese of Venice Office of Family Life is holding two bereavement events in early December. One is a bereavement outreach, and the second is a training session for individuals or Parishes wishing to form bereavement volunteers.

The outreach is from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 4 at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 5265 Placida Road, Grove City; and again from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 5 at St. William Parish, 601 Seagate Drive, Naples. Entitled, “There is Hope”, these workshops focus on surviving the holidays after the loss of a loved one. There is no cost to attend, and registration is not required. Deacon Henry DeMena will facilitate the workshops.

The training is focused on forming and educating Parish bereavement volunteers and those who speak with the bereaved. This training takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dec. 6 and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 7 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, 1301 Center Road, Venice. The cost is $35.00 and includes lunch and materials. Registration is required at Bereavement Training (regfox.com). For further information please contact Carrie Harkey at harkey@dioceseofvenice.org or call 941-484-9543.

News Briefs for the Week of November 10, 2023

Parish joins Knights in supporting vocations

The 25th anniversary of the priestly ordination of Father Bob Kantor, Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples, was a cause for celebration on the weekend of Oct. 28-29, 2023. The celebration served the dual purpose of supporting vocations as well as honoring Father Kantor. A special second collection was held to raise funds for the Florida Knights of Columbus Charities Vocations Fund. The fifth Sunday of a month is used for charitable causes outside of the Parish. More than $8,000 was collected. The monies will be designated for use in support of seminarians studying for the Diocese of Venice. Father Kantor serves as State Chaplain for the Knights’ Florida State Council. The timing of the support coincides with National Vocations Awareness Week which was Nov. 5-11.

Students learn computer coding

Sixth-grade students at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral had an incomparable opportunity on Nov. 7, 2023, delving into the world of computer coding with the help of Jason Castaldo, a teacher from Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. Under the guidance, inspiration, and expertise of Castaldo, the students explored the fascinating realm of programming and problem-solving. It was a journey filled with creativity, logical thinking, and the excitement of building digital wonders. Enthusiastically delving into the “Hour of Code” is paving the way for the future of these talented students.

Tasting the World!

Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park hosted its annual International Food Festival on Nov. 5, 2023, in the Parish Center. Participants had the opportunity to “taste the world” in this culinary journey, sharing the flavors of their culture with food from many different countries, such as Colombia, Germany, Haiti, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and more. There were even hot dogs, ice cream, and popcorn for the little ones.

Students gather in the form of a Cross

Students at St. Ann Catholic School in Naples gathered Nov. 6, 2023, on the soccer field to stand in the form of a cross. This is an annual tradition at the school which is a fun day outside for the students as they gather in the form of an important symbol of the faith. The school has experienced rapid growth in recent years with enrollment topping 425, up 40 percent since 2020.

Parish celebrates All Saints’ Day with relics

For the second year in a row, Incarnation Parish in Sarasota had a special display set up for All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1, 2023). Saint relics, on loan from parishioners, were put on display for people to visit between Masses on the Solemnity. Many lined up to view the relics, touch rosaries to them, and pray for the powerful intercession of the Saints. The Second Vatican Council recalls that “the Saints have been traditionally honored in the Church, and their authentic relics and images held in veneration.” The term “relics of the Saints” principally signifies the bodies – or notable parts of the bodies – of the Saints who, as distinguished members of Christ’s mystical Body and as Temples of the Holy Spirit in virtue of their heroic sanctity, now dwell in Heaven, but who once lived on earth. Objects which belonged to the Saints, such as personal objects, clothes and manuscripts are also considered relics, as are objects which have touched their bodies or tombs such as oils, cloths, and images.

Equestrian Order reflects on Feast Day, violence in the Holy Land

The Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem are entrusted with an important mission from the Holy Father – to serve as witnesses to the Christian faith, and as supporters and protectors of the Church and the living Christian communities in the Holy Land.

While always important, this mission has a renewed urgency as violence in the Holy Land has increased since terrorists attacked Israel in early October, putting the entire region, including Christians and sacred sites, in peril.

Given the war in the Holy Land, the timing of the annual gathering of the Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order within the Diocese of Venice for the Order’s Patroness Feast Day, Our Lady of Palestine, was particularly poignant.

The Mass took place Oct. 28, 2023, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice, with Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education, standing in for Bishop Frank J. Dewane who was unable to participate.

Bishop Dewane did send his regrets for being unable to attend and shared a message of fraternity and support to the Knights and Dames and their continued mission through Father Belmonte.

Father Belmonte opened the Mass with a Prayer for Peace in the Holy Land, following the example of Pope Francis, who called the entire world to pray for peace in the Holy Land. In his message, Pope Francis called upon Catholics to take the side of peace in the conflict, not with words, but with “prayer and total dedication.”

“War solves no problems,” said Pope Francis. “It only sows death and destruction, increases hatred, multiplies revenge. War erases the future.”

During this time of shocking atrocities, Father Belmonte said the solitary voice of Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, made an incredible gesture of sacrifice. Cardinal Pizzaballa, who is Grand Prior of the Equestrian Order, in an act of “moral courage, in a living witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, offered himself as a living ransom for the children who are being held captive in Gaza by terrorists.”

“It is at a time like this when we turn to Our Lady for peace and comfort, as our devotion to Our Lady is truly limitless,” Father Belmonte said.

The Mass concluded with Father Belmonte leading the Knights and Dames in an additional Prayer for Peace in the Holy Land, written by fellow Jesuit Father David Neuhaus, Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, for Migrants and Hebrew-speaking Catholics.

Following the Mass, the Knights and Dames attended a luncheon which included an informal meeting.

Sir John J. DeStefano, KGCHS, the President of the Diocese of Venice Section of the Equestrian Order, who helped organize the gathering, expressed his gratitude to Father Belmonte for celebrating the Mass, and to Bishop Dewane for his continued support of the Knights and Dames of the Order.

DeStefano also updated the Knights and Dames about the ongoing mission to support those in need in the Holy Land. This is a shift from the direct support of building schools and maintaining churches in the region, as the humanitarian crisis is something that requires immediate attention.

The Order’s mandate originates from the time of the crusader knights who were responsible for protecting the Christian pilgrims traveling to the sacred sites. Today the Order’s members continue to aid the Church in the Holy Land and to strengthen the practice of Christian life amongst its members.

The Equestrian Order exists within the local Dioceses and works closely with the Universal Church in unity of prayer and communion of purpose. Members are chosen from “among persons of a deep and practical Catholic Faith and of unblemished moral conduct, who are particularly worthy of merit in respect to the Order and Catholic good works in the Holy Land.” The Order is present in nearly 40 countries worldwide and there are about 30,000 Knights and Dames of the Order.

The religious character of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre is obvious not only in its objectives and requirements for membership but also in the ceremonial investiture of its newly elected Knights. This ceremony combines a profession of faith with the ancient ritual used for the conferral of knighthood. The candidates do not take monastic vows but promise to live an upright Christian life in accordance with the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church, in absolute loyalty to the Supreme Pontiff, as true soldiers of Christ.

Prayer for Peace in the Holy Land

Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, extend your hand over the Holy Land and over all who live there: Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians, Palestinians, Israelis, migrant workers and refugees.

Our Lady, intercede for us all and especially for the Church, the Body of your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord. We have been sent to preach Good News to all in the land that is yours and His, the land of the patriarchs, kings, prophets, apostles and of the first community formed to walk in the way of your Son, the Mother Church of Jerusalem. This mission needs the courage and the perseverance, the wisdom and the faith that were yours, pray for us.

On your knees He, who was your Lord and Master, learnt to speak and to pray, to act and to obey. We ask you to teach us to speak and to pray, to act and to obey today in the land called to be holy.

In the midst of war and hatred, walls, occupation and discrimination, fear and rejection, instruct us how to be instruments of justice and peace, pardon and reconciliation.

We affirm with you that he is our peace. Show us the way to incarnate in our life as Church both fidelity to your Son and an embracing love for all in this land, especially for those who are the poorest and the most excluded, the homeless, the refugees, the prisoners, those who are maltreated, oppressed and are victims of injustice.

Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, you are our mother, given to us by your Son on the Cross. With you, we are called to be witnesses to the Resurrection that already heralds His Kingdom. Modeling ourselves on you, we ask Him to anoint us as Spirit filled proclaimers of the Good News that He has vanquished death by His death on the Cross and has given life to those in the tombs. May we, members of His Body the Church, be living signs that point to the Kingdom that is already among us.

Amen.

 

Mother Mary, Queen of Palestine, pray for us.
Father David Neuhaus, SJ, Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, for Migrants and Hebrew-speaking Catholics.