Mary, the example for all to follow

When it comes time to reflect upon Mother’s Day, there is no greater example than the Mother of Jesus.

Pope Francis said to be a mother is a great treasure through an unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, which was shown so clearly when the Blessed Virgin Mary presented Jesus at Christmas, a gift to the world.

Mary’s example provides an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the role of all mothers in society and the Church, the Pope explained, noting how despite all of the “symbolic glorification” we give to motherhood, it is still under-valued.

To be a mother is a gift, the Pope said, and explained that through their sacrifices, mothers assist in helping society to overcome its self-centered tendencies, as well as its lack of openness, generosity and concern for others.

“In this sense motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society,” he said.

Reflecting upon the motherhood of Mary, Bishop Frank J. Dewane recently devoted the April 2022 Relevant Radio show “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“We must look to the faith of Our Lady,” Bishop Dewane said. “Our Blessed Mother had to do some very difficult things to stay under the cross as her Son hung there. I don’t know what more can be asked of a mother than to have to observe the death of her child.”

It is appropriate that Mother’s Day falls in the month of May, many of the Marian apparitions are linked to the month, which is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church opted to dedicate the month to Mary.

Bishop Dewane stressed that the Faithful must look at radically changing their life, but with a certain zeal, or fire, welling up from within, similar to how the Blessed Virgin answered “Yes!” to the call of the Lord at the Annunciation.

“Our human nature doesn’t always drive us to do these things,” the Bishop continued. “But when we take the time to spiritually reflect and allow the Lord to enter in, and allow Our Lady to be our guide, we can make a big difference.”

During the radio show, Bishop Dewane and special guest Father Tom Carzon, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, Parochial Vicar at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, reflected upon the different Marian apparitions.

“Our Lady is always calling us to repentance,” Father Carzon said. “She’s preparing us. She’s calling us back to the Gospel.  And in the midst of things – even when suffering comes – just as she was standing by Jesus at the Cross – she’s standing with us.”

Marian apparitions in the Ukraine, Rwanda and other places of conflict and oppression, serve as not just a warning, but a comfort that Our Lady is always present, Father added.

“It’s like these things, tragic as they are, they are not beyond God’s reach, or outside of God’s hands,” Father Carzon said. “Mary helps us by that presence. It is so powerful – she shows up as we need her.”

Bishop Dewane noted that some apparitions are witnessed by many or some are by a few, but the messages are clear, bringing comfort and healing. “When something brings people together in Faith, it has to be recognized that something good is happening.”

The Patroness of the Diocese of Venice is Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is also the name of the Diocese’s primary retreat center in Venice. In addition, there are a dozen Parishes dedicated to Our Lady. In the coming weeks, there are two major celebrations of Mary, including the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima (May 13), as well as the newly instituted Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, on June 6, the Monday after Pentecost, which was recently created by Pope Francis.

If you would like to listen to the April “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” radio show, the program is available at https://dioceseofvenice.org/our-bishop/relevant-radio-podcasts.

The monthly radio program on Relevant Radio can be heard at 8:30 a.m. on the last Friday of each month (May 27, 2022), at 106.7 FM and 1410 AM in Fort Myers and 93.3 FM and 1660 AM in Naples.

Divine Mercy Sunday – “Jesus, I trust in You”

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 24, 2022, recalls the encounter between St. Thomas and Jesus after the Resurrection.

Dedicated by St. John Paul II, Divine Mercy Sunday honors St. Faustina’s vision of Jesus Christ – His message of love and peace for the world. For many in the Diocese of Venice, the Feast of Divine Mercy takes on a powerful meaning when they participate in a private or public prayer called the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates the mercy of Jesus as reminded 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 being canonized by St. John Paul II in 2000, who at that time declared the Second Sunday of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday.

St. Faustina wrote in her diary what Jesus told her: “I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls but especially for poor sinners. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon these souls who approach the fount of My Mercy… let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be many.”

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. The 2022 commemoration of Divine Mercy Sunday marked a return of the devotion to near its pre-pandemic peak.

At St. William Parish in Naples, Divine Mercy Sunday included the traditional afternoon prayer service. This opened with a procession with the Color Corps of the Knights of Columbus followed by children and adults who placed red and white flowers before the image, then the image was blessed with holy water. Next, was an Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a reflection from Father Steven Clemente, a recitation of the Divine Mercy Litany, and singing of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The prayer service concluded with a veneration of the image of Divine Mercy. A large painting of the Divine Mercy image, created in 2019 for the Parish by Rosalie Polivika Ramstead, was on display during the prayer service.

During the prayer service, Father Clemente said we all need to show mercy to everyone in our lives, whether they are a family member, neighbor, friend, coworker, or a stranger.

“Are we looking at them as Jesus looks at them? Mercy enables us to forgive and to remember,” Father Clemente said. “Not merely to forgive and forget, but we must remember as we do Christ’s Resurrection, but we must also remember His persecution on the cross.”

Father Clemente added that we must all learn from our mistakes and take the past and “convert the garbage into compost” and let it grow into something new and good.

“It is the renewing process of Divine Mercy that enables each of us to grow,” Father continued. “View it as an opportunity to get better, to say ‘From this day forward I am going to show mercy and love that God is calling me to.’ To not point out imperfections. It’s all about mercy.”

During the prayer service at St. William Parish several reflections and passages from the diary of St. Faustina were read. At the conclusion, the faithful were invited to come forward and pray before the image of Divine Mercy.

Fred and Barb Goduti organized the St. William Parish observance and were pleased that people returned to this important prayer service after a long absence. The intentions for the prayer service were for the Lord’s Mercy to come upon all, as well as for peace in the troubled world.

From the Vatican, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to remember in their lives when they have experienced God’s forgiveness and the joy and peace that forgiveness brings.

“It is good for us to remember those moments. Let us put the memory of God’s warm embrace before the memory of our own mistakes and failings. In this way, we will grow in joy,” Pope Francis said.

Noting the Gospel reading of the day, when Thomas demands to see proof of Christ’s Resurrection before he believes, Pope Francis said it is in those moments of crisis “when we need to touch and see. Like Thomas, it is precisely in those moments that we rediscover the heart of Christ, the Lord’s mercy. In those situations, Jesus does not approach us in triumph and with overwhelming proofs. He does not perform earth-shattering miracles, but instead offers us heartwarming signs of his mercy. He comforts us in the same way he did in today’s Gospel: He offers us His wounds.”

Community celebrates the Annunciation of the Lord

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

Celebrated on March 25, 2022, the Solemnity marks the Angel Gabriel’s appearance to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38), and his announcement that the Blessed Virgin has been chosen to be the Mother of Our Lord, and Mary’s willing acceptance of God’s Holy Plan.

To mark this Solemnity, Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria University, as well as the entire town took part in various activities throughout the day.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided at the inauguration of the new Ave Maria University President Mark Middendorf, and was the principal celebrant for a Solemnity Mass.

Other events incorporated into the day included the Prayer of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an outdoor barbecue dinner, concert and fireworks.

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 continued. “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 have to radically change our inner selves and have that same strength to do the will of the Lord.”

President inauguration

As part of the inauguration of Middendorf as the fourth President of Ave Maria University, Bishop Dewane presided over the Oath of Fidelity and Profession of Faith.

Following the Oath of Fidelity and Profession of Faith, an Investiture Ceremony took place wherein Middendorf was bestowed with the Seal of the Office of the President of Ave Maria University by Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick Rainey. Prior to this, Father David Vidal, Pastor of Ave Maria Parish, and others representing the students, faculty, alumni and Board of Trustees, spoke highly of the appointment of Middendorf as the new President of the University.

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Middendorf was educated at Northern Illinois University and DePaul University and had a successful corporate marketing and management career before discerning a special call to the New Evangelization. Middendorf founded a lay apostolate, Lighthouse Catholic Media (LCM), then the largest producer of Catholic audio talks in the world, reaching millions. Upon its merger with the Augustine Institute in 2015, Middendorf became the Institute’s Executive Vice President for Mission Expansion, and led the launch of formed.org platform. Middendorf also serves on the boards of 5 Stones, Ignatius Press, and the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy, and has been a long-standing member of Legatus.

Middendorf and his wife, Christine, are the parents of four children, one already a graduate of Ave Maria University and another currently enrolled.

When asked what his first priority would be as University President, Middendorf stated that he will be inviting all staff, students, and friends of Ave Maria to join him in entrusting themselves and the University to the care of our Immaculate Mother. He then added, “The University belongs to her. It has her name on it. As President, I see this as foundational.”

Saints honored in varied ways

Not one word of St. Joseph is ever used in the Bible, yet the foster-father of Jesus is one of the most adored saints of the Church; in fact he is the Patron Saint of the Universal Church. On the other hand, St. Patrick was an iconic figure; through his words and actions, he brought Christianity to Ireland and used a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity.

Both saints are celebrated in particular ways in mid-March, with the Feast Day of St. Patrick celebrated on March 17 and the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19. During that week, Parishes and schools throughout the Diocese of Venice held a variety of celebrations in honor of each saint.

A St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Naples featured participation from each Catholic School in Collier County. Other schools in the Diocese held Leprechaun Days and other fun events to honor the Irish saint who is credited with converting Ireland to Christianity.

Epiphany Cathedral in Venice hosted a Mass for the Solemnity of St. Joseph which was celebrated in Italian and included the active involvement of the Italian-American Club of Venice. Following the March 18, 2022 Mass, the statue of St. Joseph was carried to the Parish Hall in a procession led by the Knights of Columbus. There, Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Cathedral Rector, blessed the traditional St. Joseph’s table of bread and sweets, which was later distributed.

Msgr. Dubois explained that saints are made through living the fulfillment of God’s will on earth. This was affirmed by Jesus, who said: “Whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven, is my brother, my sister and my mother.”

It is a challenge for all to listen and respond to the call of the Lord in our own lives; the saints provide clear examples to follow.

Maria Russo said her devotion to St. Joseph comes from her family, who emigrated to the U.S. decades ago. Among their meager belongings were icons of St. Joseph, including several images.

“We always said our prayers and sought the intercessions of St. Joseph, in both times of joy and times of sorrow, always there to hear our prayers and thanks,” Russo said.

St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers got into the spirit of both Feast Days, first with a St. Patrick’s Dinner Dance and then an Italia Festa two days later. While the favored colors representing the two saints differed (green for St. Patrick and red and white for St. Joseph), both gatherings involved lots of tasty food, ethnic music and fun.

Filipino Catholics celebrate important Feast Day

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 first ever Diocese of Venice Santo Niño Festival on Jan. 16, 2022. Organized by the local Filipino Catholic Community and the Couples for Christ group, more than 250 people participated in the Mass and Festival which recounts an important conversion story.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane was the main celebrant for the Mass and said it was an honor to have the Santo Niño Mass and Festival in the Diocese of Venice. “This is a wonderful example of a faith and culture coming together beautifully.”

The Filipino devotion to the Santo Niño are connected to historical accounts which showed that explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived on the shores of Cebu on March 16, 1521. Soon, Magellan presented the image (a wooden statue about 12 inches tall that bears a golden crown and imperial regalia) of the Child Jesus to Queen Juana, the wife of Rajah Humabon as a baptismal gift, when she, together with other rulers and natives, converted to the Catholic Faith.

Conflict in the region soon followed during which Magellan was killed and his Spanish colleagues left. The next Spanish expedition occurred in 1565 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi who conquered Cebu and after pillaging the villages, the original Magellan Santo Niño was found safe and unscathed from the fires. The Franciscan Friars who witnessed this proclaimed the statue miraculous and built a church on the site, which is now the “Basílica Menor del Santo Niño in Cebu.”

The Mass opened with the traditional presentation to the Bishop of the Santo Niño statue which was then placed on a flower-draped pedestal in front of the altar.

Father Lino Estadilla, OMV, of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice, gave the homily and explained that the presentation and dance is symbolic of the conversion of faith for the Filipino people. The presenter dances two steps forward and one step back. This symbolizes the initial conversion of the Filipino people to Catholicism, one step back representing the intervening turmoil, and finally the discovery of the Santo Niño statue which immediately solidified the conversion of the entire island nation nearly overnight.

It was explained that this Feast Day celebration reminds Filipinos of the Christianization of their homeland but also enables them to see the relevance this devotion to the Santo Niño has for people to this day. It forces us to focus on the children and youth, with all the problems they may pose and the hopes they raise.

Lars Sison, a youth from Bradenton, shared his devotion to Santo Niño by recounting the story of how his 1 ½ year old sister nearly drowned in a pool during a family get together on the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6). While a nurse was present and helped as much as she could, while they waited for an ambulance to arrive a Santo Niño was brought from the house and placed next to the child, and everyone joined in prayer for the intervention of Santo Niño. The child was transported to the local hospital and then flown to All Children’s Hospital in Tampa. While she was in the pediatric ICU the family continued to pray for the intercession of Santo Niño for the girl. A Parish priest from Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish went at the request of the family to the hospital to bless the child and a Santo Niño prayer group based in Tampa was asked to pray for her recovery.

Lars explained how virtually overnight his sister began to make a miraculous recovery and was released from the hospital on the day before the third Sunday of January, the Vigil of the Feast of Santo Niño. While it was unclear how long the little girl was in the water, she was found floating face down, she survived and has thrived with no lasting impacts from the near-drowning.

As part of Festival tradition, the faithful are encouraged to bring their own Santo Niño statue, or one purchased in the past year, to be blessed. Father Estadilla did this at the conclusion 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, assistance and protector.

With the conclusion of the Mass, another part of the tradition was witnessed – the Sinulog procession. This is where the statue of Santo Niño was carried in a musical procession from the Church to the Parish Hall. At the conclusion of the day, each person and family present were given a rose from the temporary pedestal created for the Santo Niño statue.

Celebrating independence and fraternity

On the 218th Anniversary of the first Independent Republic in the Caribbean in Haiti, the Diocese of Venice, in conjunction with the Haitian Catholic Community, celebrated a Mass at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs on Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God.

Faithful people from throughout the Diocese of Venice attended the Mass which was celebrated by Most Rev. Pierre-André Dumas, Bishop of the Diocese of Anse-a-Veau and Miragoane, with Bishop Frank J. Dewane concelebrating. There were several additional priests from the Diocese of Venice who also concelebrated.

Bishop Dumas spoke about the celebration of the independence of Haiti and how it importantly falls upon a major celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the World Day of Peace. This is particularly poignant as in Haiti there has been great turmoil in recent months following the assassination of the Haitian president and continued unrest due to fuel and food shortages and corruption in the government.

Bishop Dumas encouraged those gathered regarding unity and fraternity as well as how they should be proud of their roots in Haiti, reminding them they will always be Haitian. With this in mind, Bishop Dumas encouraged everyone to keep a connection to their homeland as well as with their Faith which will serve them well in whatever obstacles they may face in the future.

In a gesture of gratitude toward Bishop Dewane, Bishop Dumas noted that the Haitian Catholic Community within the Diocese of Venice is in good and capable hands and thanked Bishop Dewane for his support.

Bishop Dewane thanked Bishop Dumas for accepting his invitation to be a guest of the Diocese and for sharing his time, wisdom and faith with the Haitian Catholic Community in their native language. He also said it was an honor and privilege to participate in such an important cultural and religious celebration for the growing Haitian Catholic Community in the Diocese of Venice.

Bishop Dewane also thanked and recognized the Haitian priests serving in the Diocese for their continued dedication and passion for caring for the faithful, in particular those in the Haitian community. “The work you do does not go unnoticed,” the Bishop added. Further, he went on to thank St. Leo Parish for hosting the event.

There are currently Masses celebrated each weekend in Haitian Creole at the following Parishes: St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte; St. Francis Xavier in Fort Myers; St. Michael in Wauchula; Sacred Heart in Bradenton; Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee; and St. Peter the Apostle in Naples. The New Year’s Day celebration is one of the few times the entire community can gather in one place.

For the Haitian community, Jan. 1 is both a spiritual day, and an emotional day commemorating such an important day in their homeland. The Haitians defeated the largest and most powerful army at the time, the army of Napoleon, in Cap-Haitien, and Haiti became the second country in the Americas to declare its Independence on Jan. 1, 1804.

When the French were in control, they enacted a law that said the French were the only ones who could eat soup joumou. Prior to that revolution, joumou was considered a delicacy and slaves there were forbidden from eating it. When Haiti proclaimed its independence, revolutionary leaders decided the very first thing they would do would be a symbolic gesture –- eating the soup that was once forbidden to them. Thus, began the Haitian custom of cooking and eating soup on New Year’s Day in celebration of freedom.

In honor of this unique tradition, soup was offered at the meal that followed the Mass in Bonita Springs. Before that meal, Bishop Dumas led everyone in singing the Haitian National Anthem.

News Briefs for the Week of December 24, 2021

2021 Christmas Mass times

The 2021 Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Mass times for Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice can be found on the Diocese of Venice homepage at https://dioceseofvenice.org/2021-diocesan-parish-christmas-mass-times/. The listings are in alphabetical order by the city the Parish is located. For details on youth choirs or musical accompaniment, please contact the Parish via the phone number or website listed for further information.

As a reminder, the televised Christmas Day Mass for the Homebound with Celebrant Bishop Frank J. Dewane will air for a full hour on Christmas Day. For viewers in the northern portions of the Diocese (DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Manatee, and Sarasota counties), the Mass will air at 10 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee counties), the Mass will air at 6 a.m. on WFTX-TV (FOX-4). Please check your cable provider for channel listings.

The Mass will also be available on the Diocesan website at www.dioceseofvenice.org/televisedmass. Leaflet missals are available upon request by calling Gail Ardy at 941-486-4714 or by writing: TV Mass, Diocese of Venice, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285. For more information email ardy@dioceseofvenice.org.

Mass Celebrating Haitian Independence

Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites everyone to participate in the Annual Mass celebrating the 218th Anniversary of Haitian Independence on Saturday, January 1, 2022, at St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs. The 10:30 a.m. Mass, which takes place on the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, brings together the various Haitian communities within the Diocese of Venice for one celebration. Bishop Frank J. Dewane and priests serving the Haitian Catholic community of the Diocese welcome Most Rev. Pierre-Andre Dumas, Bishop of the Diocese of d’Anse-a-Veaux and Miragoane, who will be the Principal Celebrant and Homilist. There is a reception after the Mass in the Parish Hall.

Naples school helps tornado victims

St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples is known for its generosity to local charities through the years. Having been the recipient of outside help following Hurricane Irma in 2017, the students and faculty are cognizant of the need to give back when other communities are ravaged by storms. This is why the students chose to split a collection with a local charity and to Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, for disaster relief in one of the worst areas impacted by recent tornadoes.

Science experiments equal fun

The students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers are blessed to have many opportunities to test their science and engineering skills in unique and fun ways through a comprehensive STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) curriculum. On Dec. 14, 2021, the fourth-grade science students used the skills they have been learning about potential and kinetic energy to the test by making a roller coaster using pool noodles and marbles. This is engineering excitement mixed with teamwork at its best. Meanwhile, the sixth-grade students wrapped up their Space Unit in their curriculum on Dec. 17. The went outside onto the soccer field and put their unique designs to the test, by launching homemade water bottle rockets. The added benefit was that the “exhaust” from the “engines” was nice cool water on the hot and muggy day which is why the students didn’t mind getting wet.

School “news crew” preparing to go livestream in 2022

The Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School Tiger Talk News Crew is in final preparations to go live starting in early 2022. The Venice-based crew performed a test run the week of Dec. 13, 2021, for the newly formed Tiger Talk. The goal is to have the morning school announcements made available via a livestream to the school and parents from the Tiger Talk newsroom. As part of the test, the students prepared their equipment and lighting and made sure the sound was working and that the image going out was in focus and clear. The news crew is learning valuable lessons on the use of technology, public speaking skills, as well as the proper use of social media.

Boosterthon fun day in Port Charlotte

The students at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte took part in a Boosterthon on Dec. 13, 2021. The Boosterthon included a variety of fun games and competitions. One of the highlights of the entire event was when students had the opportunity to put pies in the face of Principal Tonya Peters and Vice Principal Chris Mullins. As pies were being put in their faces, some of the older students would release colored powder making for an exciting mix of colors on the two school leaders and on many of the students.

Pets help students relax for exams

Taking exams at a prestigious school such as Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers can be very stressful for students. Staff members know this, so to help alleviate some of the stress, they brought their pet dogs to the school to help the students cope on Dec. 15, 2021. Judging by the reaction of the students, and the dogs, the mission was accomplished. Smiles abounded as the students appreciated a few minutes or furry stress relief and the canines enjoyed the attention of petting and belly rubs.

Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrated in Diocese

The Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, was honored across the Diocese of Venice with a variety of different celebrations including processions, prayer services and Masses on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12, 2021. Some Parish separated their celebration from the observance of the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, while others incorporated the Feast Day into the traditional, more low-key Advent Mass.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most revered patronesses within the Catholic Faith, and this is particularly so in the Hispanic community. The Feast Day, Dec. 12, is often described as all other holidays wrapped up into one.

The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in 1531 to St. Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac, in what is now modern-day Mexico City, during a time of conflict between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples. Our Lady asked St. Juan Diego to appeal to the local Bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, indicating how she wanted a place where she could reveal to the people the compassion of her Son. Initially turned away, Diego returned to the site asking Our Lady for a sign to prove the authenticity of her message.

The Blessed Virgin instructed St. Juan Diego to gather the Castilian roses that he found blooming on the hillside, despite the fact that it was winter, and present them to the Spanish Bishop. St. Juan Diego filled his cloak – known as a tilma – with the flowers. When he presented them to the Bishop and the roses spilled upon the floor, an image of Our Lady was miraculously imprinted upon his tilma. Nearly 500 years later, Diego’s tilma with the miraculous image is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and visited by millions of pilgrims each year.

The significance of the moment was crucial as Mary took the appearance of a pregnant native woman, wore clothing in the style of the indigenous community, and spoke to Juan Diego in his native language, Nahuatl. The subsequent encounters paved the way for the rapid conversion of the people of Mexico to Catholicism and a passionate devotion to Our Lady lasts to the present day.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane led the celebration at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, where he had dedicated the new Parish Church on March 21. This Mass brought together a massive crowd which was followed by an 1/3-mile procession to an outdoor festival that lasted into the night.

Bishop Dewane noted how the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe personally resonates with him. Partially for having visited the Basilica in Mexico City, but also knowing what it is like as a Bishop to be asked to build a church and how difficult the process is, something the faithful heartily appreciated with laughter.

Explaining how Advent is about anticipating the second coming of Christ, the Bishop stressed the need to hold Jesus in our hearts. He remarked how strongly he could see that in the faithful of St. Paul Parish as evidence by their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and to Her Son.

“The evidence you give to the love of Her Son, Jesus Christ. To carry Him with you. To be the Disciples of Christ. That is the beauty here in Arcadia. That discipleship you evidence by your presence here.”

Father Luis Pacheco, Pastor of St. Paul, delivered the homily in English and Spanish. He expressed the power that the image of Our Lady was for the people of Mexico, appearing as a pregnant indigenous princess bearing a message of love and hope for an oppressed people.

“Our Lady is a symbol of God’s love for us all,” said Maria Valenzuela of St. Paul. “God sent Mary to spread His Grace upon Mexico and the world. Beautiful Mary is a special gift to celebrate and honor.”

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee, a triduum of evening Masses preceded an overnight pray vigil, sunrise Mass and a larger Feast Day celebration.

St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples served as host for a combined celebration with the Hispanic faithful of St. Agnes Parish. Father Carlos Encinas was the celebrant and serves the Spanish-speaking population of both communities. The Mass was the largest in the history with an estimated 1,500 participating. Following Mass, youth participated in a play which retold the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady, something which takes place at many Parish celebrations. Outside, Aztec dancers performed under the lights in the parking lot while a festival of food took place.

Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers had two shrines to Our Lady. One was in the main church, below the permanent Our Lady of Guadalupe image on the wall, left of the altar. There, the faithful placed hundreds of flowers and other religious articles. A temporary shrine was constructed outside. The celebration began with singing in the church and continued overnight and into the next day.

The faithful at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula and Holy Child Mission in Bowling Green gathered at the Frontier Park pavilion in Zolfo Spring for a trilingual Mass (Spanish, Creole and English). The Mass was preceded by a procession of children and families behind a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Mass was followed by a crowning of Our Lady which led into a fiesta.

The events at the locations noted above were just a small sample of the many activities which took place in celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the Diocese.

Parishes, schools help bring Saints to life

In the days leading up to and following Nov. 1, 2021, the Solemnity of All Saints, Parishes and Diocesan Catholic schools took time out to put a special emphasis on the Saints.

At some Masses children dressed as their favorite Saint. In some schools, presentations were made to allow the young “Saints” to share the story of these holy men and women of God.

The most popular activity this year was the Trunk-or-Treat which provided a safe environment for the little ones to come and get candy and have a little fun.

Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Parish in Bokeelia supported the Pine Island event by supplying 162 kids prepackaged bags of candy that had a label that said “Never Stop FALL-O-WEEN Jesus for Heavenly Treats. Have a Happy Halloween from OLMM Catholic Church.” The parishioners donated the candy for the event as the Parish Trunk-or-Treat Theme was: “FALL for Jesus, He Never LEAVES.”

Meanwhile, St. Michael Parish in Wauchula decided to host a carnival/trick-or-treat event in the field behind the Parish. Children dressed as priests, angels and a variety of superheroes and other characters each had to complete a carnival game to receive candy. One game had children try to identify images of saints with only a small hint to help. All the candy was donated by the faithful at St. Raphael Parish in Englewood.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane often describes the saints as women and men who do ordinary things extraordinarily well.

An example of this occurred in Bradenton, where second graders from St. Joseph Catholic School shared candy, homemade cards, and sang their favorite songs for the residents at nearby Truewood Assisted Living. Thanks to a donor who supplied candy, the students also enjoyed Trick or Treating throughout the facility.

The Beta Club of St. John Neumann Catholic School in Naples also did a little thing well when they delivered treats to the faculty and teachers at St. Ann Catholic School in Naples in thanks for their dedication to education. Each bag also featured a bible verse chosen by the Beta Club – “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” James 1:12.

Back at the high school, the seniors escorted pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students from St. Ann and St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Schools for trick-or-treating to each of the classrooms.

Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers hosted kindergarten students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral and St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers on Oct. 28 for pumpkin decorating and a few treats.

At Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria the children in grades Pre-k through third came to Mass on Oct. 29 dressed as their favorite saint. After Mass had concluded, the costumed children took turns announcing to the assembled students, teachers, parents and visitors which saint they were.

On the Solemnity, Nov. 1, St. Andrew Catholic School students wore a wide variety of “saint” costumes to Mass with many Blessed Virgin Mary’s, several angels, and a few Popes.

Pope Francis said true happiness does not come from being young, rich, or successful, as the world thinks, but from the counter-cultural idea to follow Jesus Christ. The Holy Father made his remarks during a special Angelus address for the Solemnity of All Saints, celebrated by the Catholic Church on Nov. 1, 2021. This year the obligation to attend Mass was abrogated in the United States because the Solemnity fell on a Monday.

In addition, schools also took time out on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2, to pause to remember deceased family and friends. Middle school-aged students at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton created images made from sugar with prayers for deceased relatives and friends written on the back of each one. This was part of a special Family Night celebrating Día de los Muertos on Oct. 29.

At Bishop Verot, for many years Fathers Joe and John Beattie, Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, would have a book for staff and students to record the names of loved ones to remember on All Souls Day. That tradition continues to this day with students and staff invited to participate this year.

Parishes also did the same with several dedicating evening Masses to the reading of the names of deceased parishioners from the previous year. The entire month of November is dedicated to all the Souls in Purgatory.

Equestrian Order celebrates Feast Day

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for the Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem on Oct. 25, 2021, the Feast of Our Lady of Palestine, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

Bishop Dewane praised the Knights and Dames for their commitment to the protection of the Holy Land and for having the courage to stand up as examples of men and women of faith who through their thoughts and hearts commit to service in response to the call of the Lord.

The Bishop spoke about the continuing struggles of Christians in the Holy Land, something the Knights and Dames of the Order are very familiar with. Of particular concern is the loss of faith among the younger generations which has created a disconnection from the peaceful teachings of Jesus Christ. The Bishop urged the Knights and Dames to be part of the greater solution of inspiring the younger generations to remain in Holy Land.

The annual Mass fell on the Order’s Patroness Feast Day, Our Lady of Palestine, which was approved by the Holy See in 1933. The Feast Day asks all to join in praying to the Virgin Mary for special protection of Palestine and the Holy City of Jerusalem.

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

The Equestrian Order is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and for all the activities and initiatives which are necessary to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The Order is present in nearly 40 countries worldwide.

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre exists within the local Dioceses and works closely with the Universal Church in unity of prayer and communion of purpose. Knights and Dames of the Order care greatly for the fate of this land, and endeavor to sustain and aid the charitable, cultural and social works and institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

In exercising its mission in support of the Christians in the Holy Land, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre spiritually and financially supports structures pertaining to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (schools, seminars, centers), both through stable and continuous projects as well as projects that can vary from year to year depending on the needs.

Worldwide there are about 22,000 Knights and Dames of the Order in 52 countries. In 1926 the Order was founded in the United States of America, and has today grown to 10 lieutenancies, with the Southeastern Lieutenancy comprising of Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.

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