Catholic Charities on the front line of pandemic response

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. food pantries have become a beacon of hope in a storm of darkness – serving ever-increasing numbers of desperate families each week in response to the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

A long line of vehicles was waiting before the first bags of food were distributed on April 17, 2020, at the Elizabeth Kay Galeana (EKG) Center in Fort Myers.

Unlike when a hurricane strikes, a time when help comes from outside the region, no help can be found, except from Catholic Charities.

The story from individuals and families in the vehicles was a common one – sudden job loss and no idea when work will be found. Words like “challenging” “hard” “difficult” and “overwhelming” were frequently used to describe how they are currently feeling. With restricted income, families must make difficult choices as many large bills for shelter and transportation come due each month.

As they received their food, a bag filled with basic necessities that was previously taken for granted by many, the kindness and appreciation expressed was moving and genuine with many saying, “God bless you!” and from others a simple “Thank you!” came across with great feeling and meaning.

One woman, who walked to the facility with her two grandchildren, said she was in desperate need for food as there is no money coming in and her grandchildren are home from school. This added burden is impacting many families who would normally rely on school lunch programs for children to account for at least one meal a day.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane visited the EKG Center on April 17, 2020, assisting with the loading of vehicles as a part of the distribution operation. The Bishop also offered words of encouragement to the staff and volunteers. While there, Bishop witnessed the desperation in some, but was heartened by the gratitude for what was being offered.

“The need is real and this food pantry, as well as others like it across the Diocese, is made possible thanks to the generosity of our donors,” Bishop Dewane said. “I am personally grateful for the generosity of so many. I want to say, ‘Thank you!’ to those who have helped already, and I appeal for continued support during this pandemic response. Remember, no gift is too small – your combined generosity will go a long way toward helping our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Bishop Dewane was impressed by the operation and wanted to ensure the workers and volunteers had all they needed, including masks and gloves for their own safety.

Until early March, Catholic Charities food pantries required the filling out of paperwork and limitations on receiving food to once a month. Now, each driver is asked their name and the age of everyone in their family. Further down the line, the bags of food are placed in trunks or the beds of trucks. If a family is larger, they receive more food.

Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., said Catholic Charities has greatly expanded its food pantry operations across multiple counties to meet this growing need.

“During the last six weeks, our pantries have provided food and water to (more than 13,300) individuals and families, far more than the same period last year – and we anticipate this figure to continue climbing,” Pereira said. “Also concerning is the marked increase in demand for food resources in areas like Bonita Springs and Clewiston, where we have served up to 225 percent more families than the same period in 2019. The need is here, and it is significant. Catholic Charities, with the support of Bishop Dewane, is committed to continue to meet those needs.”

In addition to Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Clewiston, there are Catholic Charities food distribution points in Arcadia, Immokalee, Naples and Sarasota. While some of these locations are on a smaller scale – directly targeting specific vulnerable communities – there are five which offer drive-thru distribution each Friday morning. Additional Parish-based food banks are also operating in Bradenton, Wauchula and Fort Myers.

Included in the bags of food is a combination of basics – rice, beans, flour, pasta – and whatever else is on hand for distribution, such as canned fruits and vegetables, cereal, sauces, peanut butter, etc. Water is distributed when requested and fresh food, such as bread, vegetables and juice are only available in limited quantities.

It is unclear just how high the demand will get, as each week the lines at the EKG Center in Fort Myers, as well as at all the food pantries, have been getting exponentially longer.

Pereira said a major challenge in keeping up with demand is that traditionally reliable sources for food, such as local Food Banks, as well as from state and federal emergency relief agencies, have little to offer because of overwhelming demand. This has required Catholic Charities to buy bulk food where it can be found.

“This is adding a huge cost that is unexpected for us, but absolutely necessary to meet the demand,” Pereira said. To help support Catholic Charities, please visit

Demand on Catholic Charities skyrockets

Vania Vasquez appeared at the office of Guadalupe Social Services in Immokalee hoping to get some food for her family.

Joined by her daughter, Liliana, Vasquez was happy to be presented with two large bags of dry goods, and others bags with fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products, breads and sweets.

“Thank you,” she said with a gracious smile to the Catholic Charities workers who were busy on April 3, 2020, handing out food to needy families. “This means so much to my family. Times are very difficult.”

Those kind words have been echoing across the region as Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. has seen a massive increase in demand for services as people are suddenly laid-off from jobs due the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Catholic Charities has put its resources and focus into the critical needs of providing food, financial assistance and tele-mental health counseling.

Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., said the newly established regional toll-free numbers will better streamline the requests for help, often from increasingly desperate people.

“The numbers are very high and going up every day,” Pereira said. “The tenacity of our staff who are working on the front lines is amazing as they help lighten the burden of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are most in need. I know that God is watching over us.”

Food distribution points in Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Immokalee have had huge demand with staff putting bags of food into the trunks of thousands of vehicles, all while maintaining appropriate social distancing.

As the state order to stay home expanded beginning April 3, Pereira said more and more people will lose work and the requests for food will transition into more families desperate for financial assistance. Compounding the problem is that many of the neediest people Catholic Charities assists each year did not have a financial cushion to fall back on before the pandemic crisis started.

Catholic Charities has long-provided assistance to individuals and families for emergency medicals bills, rent/mortgage payments and utilities. However, the pandemic crisis is creating demand from people who would not normally need assistance.

“You have some families with both wage earners furloughed, laid off, fewer hours, or maybe one needs to stay home with school-aged children,” she explained.  “That was just the first wave of people who lost jobs and they have no idea when work will be available again. Catholic Charities is in this for the long haul. We will be there.”

Peggy Rodriguez, the Program Director of Guadalupe Social Services, said there have been many people who wish to volunteer, but a system to ensure the safety of staff, volunteers and clients is still being worked out.

“The way people can help is to send a check, any amount will help, because the need is great and every dollar adds up to make the difference in the lives of the children, families and individuals who seek assistance from Catholic Charities,” Rodriguez said.

How to help

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. need your financial support during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please visit or send a check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road, PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065.

If you need help

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance or tele-mental health counseling, please call the number for your area below 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday:

  • Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties: 844-385-2407,
  • Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423,
  • Collier County: 844-385-

Bishop responds to pandemic crisis

Bishop Frank J. Dewane has been at the forefront in responding to the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic within the 10-county Diocese of Venice.

The announcement to suspend all Masses and Parish activities effective March 20, and continuing through at least Easter, was the culmination of a series of meetings, conference calls and consultation from the priests of the Diocese and other advisors, while also following guidance from local, state and federal officials. The dramatic limitations of all public gatherings ultimately affected the decision to suspend Mass.

In a March 18 letter to the faithful, Bishop Dewane explained his decision noting that it “was made after prayer and discernment, as well as hearing from the priests and the Faithful.” The decision to suspend the Mass came several days after Bishop Dewane dispensed all of the obligation to attend Mass during the same period.

“This is acknowledged as a sacrifice for the Catholic Faithful, who have a great love for the Holy Eucharist and depend on the Most Blessed Sacrament for their spiritual lives,” the Bishop wrote in his letter. “Do recall that Faithful Catholics, throughout the history of the Church, have kept the faith alive through trying times. By prayer and devotion, as well as spiritual solidarity with each other, the life of faith continued to be a source of strength and perseverance during persecutions and other times of public crisis.  Tomorrow, on the Feast of St. Joseph, I will dedicate the Diocese of Venice to the care of the Foster Father of Jesus. Let us be united in prayer to St. Joseph for his intercession and protection.”

In the same March 18 letter, Bishop Dewane announced the suspension of all activities in Parishes, including events and religious education programs. Parish offices will have limited staff and it is requested that, when possible, business be conducted by phone or email. Funerals will be limited to immediate family only, weddings – if they cannot be postponed – are to have limited participation, and baptisms will only be celebrated in cases of emergency. Priests are required to take all necessary precautions, so the Anointing of the Sick is being limited to a genuine need for the dying. Diocesan Catholic Schools were placed on an extended Spring Break, returning to virtual learning beginning March 31 for the foreseeable future.

Bishop Dewane has called upon the priests to draw upon the Church’s rich tradition of prayer and devotion to ensure that the spiritual life of parishioners is nourished and remains vibrant through means which are prudently adapted to the current circumstances.

Leading the way, Bishop Dewane recorded a video message to the Faithful encouraging everyone to turn toward prayer. In addition, Mass has aired daily at 9:15 a.m., live from the Catholic Center in Venice, with the Bishop as the celebrant. This Mass in available through Facebook and links to this and many other resources are available through the Diocesan website.

Encouraged by the leadership of Bishop Dewane, most Parishes within the Diocese have begun to live stream the daily Mass on their websites and social media accounts. Many also responded to suggestions to begin offering the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation by car beginning March 21, and then late in the week of March 23, outdoor Communion was being offered at some Parishes.

Bishop Dewane also reassured the Faithful that the Diocese will continue to function and serve the community through the outreach of Catholic Charities and other ministries.

“Through prayer and trust be confident in the belief that God does not abandon us in times of peril, in fact, the Lord will draw us close and protect us,” Bishop Dewane said.

“Please continue to pray for everyone impacted by this pandemic – the sick, their caregivers, courageous medical personnel, and those reaching out in charity to help our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“Seeking the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in particular, her spouse, St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for protection and guidance through these troubling times,” the Bishop continued. “Through the Word of the Lord, that is Sacred Scripture, it is possible to overcome fear and courageously face the challenging days ahead.”

Catholic Charities helping most needy

Operations pivot to focus on providing food, financial assistance and mental health counselling

The motto of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is: “Providing Help. Creating Hope. Serving All.” Since the beginning of the pandemic crisis, the staff of Catholic Charities is living that motto on the front lines of helping people throughout the 10-county Diocese.

With a long history within communities across the region, Catholic Charities is putting its resources and focus on the critical needs of providing food, financial assistance and telehealth mental health counseling.

“Catholic Charities is here to help those in need during this challenging time and ramping up its efforts to enhance support programs,” said Philomena Pereira, Catholic Charities CEO. “We have adjusted our focus to help in ways that will make the greatest difference to those in greatest need: food, financial assistance as well as mental health counselling.”

Food is delivered to the Elizabeth K. Galeana Center of Catholic Charities in Fort Myers the week of March 23, 2020.

Before the pandemic, Catholic Charities already assisted tens of thousands of individuals and families with a variety of support services. That broad effort focused on providing people with not just a helping hand, but a help up toward stability. With the onset of the pandemic, the focus is on ensuring the neediest, in the communities serviced by Catholic Charities, are not forgotten and can get the emergency help they need.

“The loss of jobs in the community is having a big impact,” Pereira explained. “Many of the people we see live paycheck-to-paycheck, and the sudden closure of so many businesses at once is devastating.”

As the situation has developed the leadership of Catholic Charities, in consultation with Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Board of Directors, has worked to ensure that the critical needs within the community continue and are in key areas are enhanced.

Stressed during this time is to make sure all appropriate precautions are being taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all clients, volunteers, staff and community.

Food is sorted at a Catholic Charities food pantry in Bonita Springs the week of March 23, 2020.

The initial effort of Catholic Charities included strategically purchasing food and distributing supplies to food pantries located throughout the Diocese. This was and will continue to be done through existing long-term food banks and other reliable sources. A large donation of rice and beans from Cheney Bros. Inc. in Punta Gorda helped to supplement other purchases.

Food distribution will take place ONLY at existing pantry locations in Sarasota, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Naples and Immokalee. Clients will receive a pre-packaged bag or box of food items for their family and arrangements are being made to ensure both those distributing and those receiving food remain healthy and a safe distance apart. Additional food distribution points are also being established at select parishes in the Eastern Deanery.

Catholic Charities is also working to provide financial assistance for those in need. Financial assistance may include utility payments, prescription medication, or other critical needs. Persons in need will be exclusively assisted by phone for the foreseeable future.

In addition, Tele-Mental Health Counseling will be available for existing Catholic Charities clients, on a limited basis, using phone or videoconferencing.

During this crisis, Catholic Charities has established three toll free numbers for people needing assistance available 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. (Please have patience as the demand for assistance is high.) The numbers are as follows:

  • Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties, 844-385-2407;
  • Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423;
  • Collier County: 844-385-2404.

Until further notice, Catholic Charities is restricting its offices to staff only. Services for persons in need will be assisted by phone.

While Catholic Charities relies heavily on volunteers, at this time, all volunteers are currently being asked to refrain from coming to offices unless otherwise notified. For questions about volunteering, please refer to your area-specific number listed above for assistance.

Additional steps include the suspension of shower services and clothing donations until further notice. Further, two major fundraisers, the Emerald Ball and the AFCAAM golf tournament were indefinitely postponed.

If you want to help, our food supply is the most important! Our pantry locations plan to deliver food to roughly 2,000 households across the 10 counties in the Diocese of Venice over the next several weeks. Funds to purchase food are greatly appreciated! You can help Catholic Charities respond swiftly and provide assistance to those in need by donating today at www,

“Catholic Charities relies on the support of its generous donors and they can be assured that their contributions will go immediately to support those in the community in greatest need,” Pereira said.

Catholic Charities food pantry distribution sites (Please call ahead for distribution times and requirements.):

  • Bethesda House – 1670 4th Street, Sarasota, 844-385-2407;
  • Elizabeth K. Galeana Food Pantry – 4235 Michigan Avenue Link, Fort Myers, 844-385-2423;
  • Bonita Springs (at St. Leo the Great Parish) – 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, 844-385-2423;
  • Judy Sullivan Center Family Resource Center– 3174 Tamiami Trail East, Naples, 844-385-2404;
  • Guadalupe Social Services – 211 South 9th Street, Immokalee, 844-385-2404.
Food is sorted the week of March 23, 2020, at the food pantry of the Elizabeth K. Galeana Center of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. in Fort Myers.

Bishop Dewane letter to faithful in Spanish

La siguiente es una carta del Obispo Frank J. Dewane a los fieles de la diócesis de Venecia. Debajo de la carta hay información adicional importante. (Lea todo el contenido de este aviso).

14 de marzo de 2020

Queridos hermanos y hermanas en Cristo,

Mientras la Santa Madre Iglesia peregrina durante el tiempo cuaresmal, por favor, tengan la seguridad de mi continua oración por todos ustedes. Como se mencionó en mi reciente carta, junto con nuestros Sacerdotes y personal diocesano, he estado vigilando de cerca la evolución de la amenaza que representa el coronavirus, en particular para los más vulnerables entre nosotros.

Por esta razón, por preocupación pastoral, se ha emitido una dispensa de la obligación de asistir a la misa dominical para las personas afectadas por el coronavirus. Ahora que se ha declarado una emergencia nacional y el Estado de Florida ha proporcionado más orientación, muchos de los Fieles Católicos pueden considerar prudente evitar grandes reuniones. Por lo tanto, por una abundancia de preocupación espiritual, extiendo la dispensación desde la obligación de asistir a la Misa Dominical a todos los Fieles Católicos hasta nuevo aviso.

La celebración de la Santa Eucaristía continuará en nuestras iglesias con las precauciones necesarias. Se pide a todos los Fieles Católicos que observen el Día del Señor con reverencia y en comunión espiritual entre sí, asistan o no a misa durante este tiempo.

Estemos unidos en la oración para que Dios, que es nuestro refugio y fortaleza, nos dé valor y perseverancia en la caridad durante este tiempo, para que podamos permanecer sanos y alentar a nuestros hermanos y hermanas que están enfermos.

Que, por intercesión de Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro, los mantenga a salvo de todo daño y edificados por sus oraciones y penitencias en este tiempo de cuaresma.

Sinceramente tuyo en Cristo,

+ Frank J. Dewane

Obispo de la Diócesis de Venice en Florida


Las siguientes precauciones adicionales son efectivas inmediatamente en toda la Diócesis de Venice:

  • Las clases serán suspendidas en todas las Escuelas Católicas dentro de la Diócesis de Venice hasta el 30 de marzo de 2020.
  • Todas las actividades de Educación Religiosa y Jóvenes de la Parroquia se suspenderán hasta el 30 de marzo de 2020.
  • Los eventos parroquiales deben posponerse o cancelarse hasta el 30 de marzo de 2020.
  • Las oficinas parroquiales y diocesanas permanecerán abiertas durante este tiempo.

La Diócesis continúa vigilando de cerca la situación y emitirá actualizaciones según corresponda en el sitio web de la Diócesis.

Gracias de nuevo por su paciencia y comprensión.

Sinceramente tuyo en Cristo,

+ Frank J. Dewane

Obispo de la Diócesis de

Venice en Florida

News briefs from early March 2020

Seminarian elevated to Acolyte

Diocese of Venice Seminarian Christian Chami received the Ministry of Acolyte Feb. 22. Chami is discerning his vocation to the priesthood while studying at Pontifical North America College in Rome and was part of a large group of second-year seminarians at the North American College to be elevated to Acolyte. Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the principal celebrant for the Mass in the Immaculate Conception Chapel. As part of the rite, the Archbishop placed the paten, which contains the hosts for the celebration of Mass, in the hands of each candidates and said, “Take this vessel with bread for the celebration of the Eucharist. Make your life worthy of your service at the table of the Lord and of his Church.”

Vocation Awareness Weekend March 13-15

St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami is hosting a Vocation Awareness Weekend from March 13-15. This seminary visit is open to young men, ages 18 and older. It is an engaging time of prayer, talks, sports, and other fun activities with the seminarians and priests of St. John Vianney. Come and experience what life is like for one discerning God’s call to the priesthood! There is no cost for the weekend and transportation is provided. To register, please contact the Vocations Director, Father Shawn Roser, at or call the Vocations Office at 941-484-9543.

Parish Gala honors priests’ 80th birthday

The 16th Annual St Jude Gala event took place Feb. 14 at Michael’s On East in Sarasota.

Nearly 200 guests were present to raise money for the various Parish programs. This year was of particular note because it was time to celebrate the 0th birthday of Pastor Father Celestino Gutierrez. There was entertainment from our parishioners who sang English ballads, a Spanish medley of various songs and dances. There was also a cake with sparklers.

Traditional Marriage Public Square Rosary Crusade March 21
All are invited to participate in Traditional Marriage Public Square Rosary Crusade at 11:45 a.m., March 21, at 6418 Commerce Park Drive, Fort Myers. The rosary crusade will be taking place simultaneously across the nation as God’s marriage and the traditional family need our prayers. For more details, contact Barb 239-267-7883

Spiritual Exercises in Spanish

Ignatian Preached Retreats in Spanish are now being offered at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center. These series of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices are in silence. There will be a Level 1 Retreat for Women on the weekend of April 3-5, and one for Men on the weekend of May 1-3. There will also be a Level 2 Retreat for Women on the weekend of July 10-12 and one for Men on the weekend of July 17-19, for those who participated in the Spiritual Exercises in 2019.  Please visit for further information.  (CLICK HERE for the flier in Spanish.)

Ejercicios Espirituales En Español

Retiros Predicados Ignacianos en Español están siendo ahora ofrecidos en Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center. Estas series de meditaciones, oraciones y prácticas contemplativas son en silencio. Habrá un retiro Nivel 1 para Mujeres del 3 al 5 de abril y para Hombres, del 1 al 3 de mayo.  Habrá también un retiro Nivel 2  del 10 al 12 de julio para Mujeres y del 17 al 19 de Julio para Hombres, para aquellas personas que participaron en los Ejercicios Espirituales en 2019.  Para más información por favor visite (Haga Clic Aquí para ver poster en Español.)

Friday Fish Fry at Cathedral

Epiphany Cathedral is hosting a weekly Fish Fry from 5-7 p.m., Fridays of Lent through April 3, in the Parish Hall at 224 Harbor Drive, Venice. Meal options include $13 fired fish dinner, $15 baked salmon dinner, $15 fried shrimp dinner and $6 kids fried fish dinner. Meals include coleslaw, roll, drink and dessert plus your choice of French fries or boiled red potatoes.  Takeout orders are available. Purchase tickets at the door or online at All proceeds benefit Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School.  Catering is by Sharky’s on the Pier, Fin’s at Sharky’s and Snook Haven.  The event is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council 7052. For more details, call 941-615-0284.

Catholic Homeschool Conference

Queen of Angels Academy presents the 2020 Catholic Homeschool Conference May 27-28, at Christ the King Parish, 1900 Meadowood St., Sarasota. Guest speaker Laura Berquist will speak on: What is a classical education; Positive homeschooling: Getting the hearts of your children; Why I homeschooled my children; and a Discussion: Purpose and Practice. The cost is $20 per person for both days, $30 per couple. Contact for a more information and to register.


Parish Family Day draws hundreds

The sounds of joy – laughing, giggling and shouts of ecstasy – echoed across the fields behind the St. Michael Parish Hall in Wauchula on Feb. 1 as parents looked on with big smiles during a break in a daylong Family Day celebration.

When not having fun in the fields, the children and adults took part in small group activities, listening to age-appropriate talks and participating in different exercises that stressed the importance of having Christ as a guide in their daily life.

The youngest children drew and colored images that depicted different scenes, such as “My family goes to Church every Sunday,” or “Jesus loves me.” The teens heard a talk from a visiting priest who explained to them that they never need to worry about making their parents proud of them, because they are always proud. The focus of the teens needs to be on living their life as Jesus Christ would have wanted.

One teen said it was fun to have her whole family participate in a day of fun activities while staying focused on their faith-life. “I’m very active with the youth group, so we do many things together. What’s great about today is to have my younger brothers and sisters, as well as my parents joining in on what I love most about the Church – growing closer to Christ.”

The day included Mass, a rosary procession, the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and silent prayer time in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Servants of the Lord the Virgin of Matara, women religious who serve at the Parish, organized and guided the Family Day. The event drew about 520 and is just one of about a dozen such special activities which take place throughout the year for different groups, many are directed to engaging Parish children, but days like this were on a grander scale.

Football players help needy

Judy Bokorney – Special to the Florida Catholic

For the fourth year in a row, the players and coaches of the Ave Maria University football team treated families at the Casa Mara Soup Kitchen at Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee to a Super Bowl tailgate party.

Instead of the typical meal of soup, the tailgate party consisted of all-American menu of chili dogs, baked beans, potato chips, cupcakes, bread and juice.

The coaches prepared the meal and the players served a total of 120 people on Jan. 31, the Friday before the Super Bowl. To mark the occasion, the soup kitchen dining area was adorned with festive Super Bowl themed decorations.

“We wanted to give our families a fun day with some excitement,” said Guadalupe Social Services Program Coordinator Peggy Rodriguez. “We are grateful to the Ave Maria University Football Team for continuing to come out and do this every year. The interaction between the team and the families is so special.” Three raffle prizes were awarded during the meal as well.

“The players and coaches get a lot more out of it than they give and have the privilege to experience joy, love and gratitude,” said Ave Maria University Football Head Coach Joe Patterson. “Sports is about pursuing excellence and virtue, and you want to be as close to virtue as you can. To engage on a human to human level is integral to the development of the players as men.”

Guadalupe Social Services aims to alleviate the suffering in Immokalee with compassion, integrity, and empathy. By empowering the people through assistance provided to them, the main goals are to ensure human dignity and enhance the quality of life for all individuals served. Guadalupe Social Services focuses on offering the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and household items, stability and education.

Thank you to the Ave Maria Football Team for their service!

To learn more about Guadalupe Social Services, the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen and all of the programs of Catholic Charities, please visit

Our Lady celebrated across Diocese

Tradition, 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.

Parishes throughout the Diocese celebrated this special day with a variety of events including Masses, overnight vigils, large processions, early morning prayer celebrations, and even outdoor festivities.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe means so much to me and so many others,” said Valeria Hernandez of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples. “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 and it 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. Michael Parish in Wauchula, 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 the Feast Day Mass at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, joined by Administrator Father Casey Jones and Parochial Vicar Father Luis Pacheco. Following the Mass, a play depicting the story of the apparition of Our Lady was led by children of the Parish. Afterwards, a local Aztec dancer troupe performed under the church portico.

Celebrations took place in many parishes and schools throughout the Diocese. Hundreds took part in rainy procession along U.S. 41 to St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples on their way to Mass. At Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park the Mass was followed by an outdoor festival with music, dancing and food. Diocesan Catholic Schools also took time out to celebrate Our Lady by using the moment as a teaching lesson.

Other celebrations took place Diocesan Catholic Schools, where students learned about the cultural a rainy procession along U.S. 41 in Naples to St. Peter the Apostle Parish;

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.

18th Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal seeks support

When instability, injustice or poverty exists, Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is often the first to address concerns found in underserved communities. Catholic Charities strives to respond and be a part of the solution through collaboration and partnership within the community that is essential for the common good and brings dignity to people in need.

Now is the time to ensure that the needy in the Diocese of Venice get the help they require by supporting the 18th Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal which continues through January. This year’s ambitious goal is to raise $565,000.

The Christmas Appeal is the largest annual fundraiser for the social service organization which operates by the motto: “Providing Help, Creating Hope, Serving All.” The Appeal is critical for the continuing operations of the 37 different programs available in more than 32 locations throughout the 10-county Diocese. These programs annually support some 90,000 individuals and families in ways both large and small.

As an example, the Christmas Appeal will support a survivor of human trafficking on a journey back to a normal life. Elizabeth finally escaped her traffickers after enduring abuse and perpetual fear. She received vital services from Catholic Charities such as intensive case-management, service coordination, assistance with housing, advocacy and liaison with law enforcement and immigration agencies.

Often Catholic Charities clients are in a panic because they do not know where to go for relief. The urgency of their situation requires immediate attention. Catholic Charities dispenses critical mental health counseling to people suffering from anxiety, stress, trauma or depression. Mike was frantic and upset when he was laid off from his job and sought counseling. After several weeks of therapy sessions, he felt more in control of his emotions and actions enabling him to be there for his family.

Catholic Charities consistently has received the top four-star rating from Charity Navigator. Supporters can trust and have confidence in the sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency as reflected in that 92 cents of every dollar donated will go directly to clients.

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

Catholic Charities CEO Philomena Pereira added: “You do not have to know firsthand what it feels like to be in a dire circumstance to understand the importance of responding to individuals in need. A gift to our Christmas Appeal can give those facing difficulties the love and courage to heal. Please consider a contribution this year so we can continue administering quality programs.”

Bishop Dewane noted that in the Gospel of Matthew we are reminded to find the image and likeness of Christ in others and lend support to those in need. “These brothers and sisters – our neighbors – need our help. Your gift to this year’s Christmas Appeal will allow Catholic Charities to continue the important work of helping the most vulnerable in our community. To all who have sustained the worthwhile work that has allowed Catholic Charities to serve those in need, I am deeply grateful.”

Catholic Charities helps people in crisis to overcome their hardships and live a healthy life. A contribution to the 18th Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal will give those in distress the means to move beyond their struggles and enrich our communities.

Your gift can offer a weary homeless family transitional housing and resources to become independent or give a lonely and isolated senior companionship and care. A contribution can also feed desperate individuals experiencing hunger and food insecurity as well as teach at-risk adolescents the skills to make good decisions. We are asking on their behalf for you to be as generous as you can.

“No matter the amount of your gift, when leveraged with others, it will make a meaningful difference for those who turn to us for aid,” Pereira added.

To donate online please, visit or send check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.