New group of Permanent Diaconate Aspirants studying hard

There are currently 12 men who are off and running in their studies as part of the Permanent Diaconate Formation Class of 2028.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane selected the aspirants after each was nominated and vetted through an extensive screening process. A key characteristic of those selected is that each has a deep understanding of the Faith.

The 12 aspirants come from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds, representing all areas of the Diocese of Venice, forming one of the largest aspirant classes in Diocesan history, explained Diocesan Permanent Diaconate Director of Formation Deacon Bob Gaitens.

Bishop Dewane said of the men chosen: “Each has answered his own call to serve Our Lord and Holy Mother Church in a particular way, as a Permanent Deacon. The Class of 2028 is on a journey of Faith that will bring each of them, and their family, closer to the Lord.”

The aspirants began their five-year formation process in September 2023, with classes taking place at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota. They have already completed their first semester of classes (Old Testament Part 1 and Theology of Orders).  Now they will start on Psychology Part II, Eschatology and Morality.

An added benefit for the Class of 2028 is that they are being formed alongside the Class of 2025. This allows both groups to draw on each other’s strengths to enhance their formation process. Gaitens explained how the Class of 2025 has taken a mentor role with the Class of 2028 and have embraced the responsibility of taking a leadership position with their newer classmates.

“The class has begun to feel comfortable with the program” Deacon Gaitens said. “When classes started in the fall, there was some trepidation about speaking up in Class. But with the encouragement of the Class of 2025, we have seen the Class of 2028 engage in classroom participation. Their interaction has been invaluable and has shown that the class has a very keen understanding and acumen. They are a diverse group and will expand the Diocese’s ability to help in Spanish speaking communities.”

There are currently more than 65 active Permanent Deacons serving in Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice. The most recent Permanent Deacon group was ordained in August 2021. The mission of the Permanent Deacons of the Diocese is to serve as ministers of the Word, where they proclaim the Gospel, preaching and teaching in the name of the Church; helping the needy; serving the faithful; ministering the Sacrament of Baptism; leading the faithful in prayer; witnessing marriages; and conducting wake and funeral services.

Reflecting on the comments from many of his fellow members of the Class of 2028, Matthew Harkness, St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Cape Coral, said it is a blessing to be part of the Diaconate Candidate program and feels honored to be among so many other worthy men who are committed to serving the Lord in a unique way.

The following constitute the Permanent Diaconate Class of 2028:

  • Aldo Boldi, St. Patrick Parish, Sarasota;
  • William (Oscar) Gamble, St. Raphael Parish, Lehigh Acres;
  • Kyle Goneau, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, Sarasota;
  • Ted Harb, St. John the Evangelist Parish, Naples;
  • Matthew Harkness, St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Cape Coral;
  • Matthew Lesak, St. Joseph Parish, Bradenton;
  • Roberto Lewis, St. Agnes Parish, Naples;
  • George Smith, Incarnation Parish, Sarasota;
  • Alex Tsai, Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria;
  • Daniel Vasquez, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Myers;
  • David Wallace, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Myers;
  • Ed Watson, Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria.

News Briefs for the week of January 12, 2024

Annual Mass held for circus and traveling show workers

Each year the circus and travelling show workers of the United States gather for three days to thank God for their continued blessings. This retreat was Jan. 5-7, 2024, at St. Martha Parish in downtown Sarasota, which is designated the “National Circus Parish.” The pastoral workers, who ensure that the Sacraments are available and maintained for travelling show people, function under the direction of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Cultural Diversity’s Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT). Bishop Frank J. Dewane is the Episcopal Liaison for the Circus Ministry of the PCMRT. Bishop Dewane celebrated the closing Mass on Jan. 7, the Epiphany of the Lord, and he was assisted by several of the priests who serve the circus and traveling show workers. A special moment during the Mass occurred when Sister Joanna Okereke, a Handmaid of the Holy Child Jesus and assistant director of the PCMRT subcommittee, renewed her religious vows. This is done annually on the Epiphany of the Lord, and was presided over by Bishop Dewane, and witnessed by the faithful present.

9 Days for Life novena begins Jan. 16

The faithful are encouraged to pray “9 Days for Life,” an annual Respect Life novena starting Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. In the Catholic Church, a ‘novena’ consists of prayers over nine successive days, and this particular novena is an opportunity for prayer and reparation in observance of the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children on Jan. 22. The overarching intention of the novena is the end to abortion. Each daily prayer intention highlights a related topic and is accompanied by a reflection, educational information, and suggested daily actions. Participants may access the novena and also subscribe to receive the daily prayers by email or text message in English at or in Spanish at

Migrant Care Grants application period open

Grant requests for funding of projects in 2024 are available from the Foundation for the Care of the Migrant Poor Fund and need to be submitted no later than Friday, March 31, 2024. To be considered a grant, the project must clearly be seen as a service to the migrant poor or new immigrants. Preference will be given to those projects under Catholic auspices. Applications can be submitted by visiting

New mural adorns Verot building

Students returned back from Christmas break at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers on Jan. 8, 2024, and were greeted by a new sight on campus! Eric Riemenschneider, a graphic design teacher, was busy during the past few weeks working on a new mural outside, in the cafeteria courtyard. The mural reads VEROT in bold letters on a blue background. Within the letters are symbols of school life, hands clasped together in prayer, caps tossed at graduation, St. Francis de Sales and Bishop Verot, patrons of the school, athletes in action, and the school Viking logo. Above the VEROT image is a large white cross. The mural is not complete, weather delayed the progress, but judging by its look so far, it will inspire Bishop Verot students for years to come.

Prayer Walk for Life Jan. 20 in Ave Maria

The Respect Life Ministry of Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria is hosting its 3rd annual Prayer Walk for Life, 10 a.m., Jan. 20. The walk begins with remarks from Bishop Frank J. Dewane and other dignitaries at the university football stadium and will then proceed through the university and conclude in the town square. More than 1,000 took part in 2023.

Knights on Bikes deliver toys to Clewiston mission

The Knights on Bikes, a motorcycle club of the Knights of Columbus, rode out to Santa Rosa de Lima Mission in Montura Ranch Estates, just south of Clewiston, on Jan. 6, 2024, the Feast of the Epiphany. There they delivered and distributed toys to migrant children in the community.  The Knights on Bikes mission is to promote and adhere to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelize through fellowship, charity, and service.

WARNING – Text/Email SCAM Alert

It has once again been brought to the attention of the Diocese of Venice that parishioners have received text/email messages from people pretending to be clergy – including Bishop Frank J. Dewane – or Parish/school staff, requesting donations in the form of gift cards and/or wire transfers. It is Diocesan policy that neither the Bishop, nor priests or staff request donations in the form of gift cards, PayPal, MoneyGram, etc. Without this awareness, some have responded to the spoofed messages, with consequences, including loss of funds. There is an established process in place on how parishioners can make donations and participate in the life of the Diocese/Parish/school. If you receive such a SCAM text or email, please immediately contact the Diocesan/Parish/school directly!

Christmas celebrated across Diocese

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:10-14

Passed through generations, the retelling of the coming of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in such a humble way, born in a manger to reign over the world, should cause everyone to pause and reflect on the gifts of grace that have come to each one of us through His birth.

This pause and time of reflection is at the heart of what Christmas is all about. This moment was celebrated throughout the Diocese of Venice in a variety of ways, most significantly through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a pre-recorded TV Mass for the Homebound from St. Bernard Parish in Holmes Beach. This hour-long Christmas Mass reaches thousands of those who are unable to attend Mass for a variety of reasons.

Bishop Dewane also celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. At the Midnight Mass, the Bishop brought forth the Child Jesus and placed Him in the manger as “O Come All Ye Faithful” was sung.

During the Midnight Mass, Bishop Dewane reminded the faithful that we are all part of Salvation History, and as such, we are called to a life within the Church, a Church not like the Roman Empire of Jesus’ time, but the new Kingdom built for us all.

“We are part of a new Kingdom, which started in a humble manger, with the Baby Jesus dressed in swaddling clothes,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is a different type of Kingdom from the time of Caesar Augustus when the individual meant little. The new Kingdom was built for us all. Jesus Christ does care about each one of us.”

Because of this new Kingdom, which is the Church on earth, led by the successors of Peter, we each have an obligation and responsibility to stand and speak up for the Church, the Bishop said.

“Jesus Christ has built for us a Church, a home for you and for me, and for many of our brothers and sisters. We are blessed to receive the goodness of the Lord by the love we express to Him, by our presence and active participation as we live our lives within the Church; being a full member; going to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each week; and praying to the Lord. This is who we are all called to be,” Bishop Dewane said.

The manger, or Nativity scene, is a celebratory focus of the Christmas Season. Several Diocesan Parishes and each Catholic school took time to have a retelling of the birth of Jesus with young children and in some cases with live animals.

For example, St. Michael Parish in Wauchula held a living Nativity play on Dec. 17, 2024, included a donkey, horses and many angels and shepherds. This community celebration is organized by the religious sisters who serve the Parish, the Sister Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, and includes a festival and the distribution of gifts for the children in the area.

Epiphany Cathedral Parish in Venice and St. William Parish in Naples hosted meals for those in need, the homeless, and the lonely. Epiphany hosted a Christmas Day dinner in the Parish Hall. The St. William luncheon took place at the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., on Dec. 26, and was coordinated with nearby St. Peter the Apostle Parish and Catholic Charities. Many volunteers supported each effort, including Bishop Dewane who worked the serving line at the Cathedral dinner, bringing smiles to the faces of those who came for a hot meal.

Christmas is also a time to help others so donations for the needy were piled high and distributed. The most common form of collecting items for needy children is through an Angel Tree, where the ornaments are a wish list item for a child or family.

The Angel Tree at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Parrish brought in a massive number of toys of all types, as well as more than $4,000 in gift card donations.

In Naples, at St. Ann Parish, the annual Council of Catholic Women Family 2 Family Christmas Gift Giving Program was a huge success, as it is each year. The effort collected more than 600 gift bags filled with needed items and then were distributed to several local charities.

As was the case at each Parish, many gave from their heart and brought bags of items well beyond what was sought. Naturally, no donated item was turned away and it just meant more people were granted a Merry Christmas.

Catholic schools spent much of the month in preparation for Christmas with pageants, recitals, concerts, parties, and other fun, such as creating handmade presents for family members or building and decorating gingerbread houses. At the same time, the schools teach students the true meaning of Christmas, including needing to spread the love of Christ, that is in their hearts, out to the world.

Young carolers from schools throughout the Diocese visited nearby assisted living facilities to spread holiday cheer by singing Christmas carols.

In addition, each school has a service component where students do work, volunteer or obtain funds or gifts to give back to the community. This effort goes into high gear during the Christmas Season.

At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, the students collected canned goods for the St. Joseph Food Pantry, and toys and other goodies for needy children in the area.

The Knights on Bikes, a motorcycle club of the Knights of Columbus, donated more than 300 unwrapped Christmas presents for the more than 100 children at the Golisano Childrens Hospital in Fort Myers. Following their drop-off, the Knights gathered around the flagpole in front of the hospital and prayed a rosary for the children.

The “Good News of great joy” was widely celebrated throughout the Diocese of Venice during the Christmas Season, which continues through Jan. 8, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year, many of the Diocesan faithful thought not only of their own family and friends but also of others, especially those most in need.

2023 Christmas Message from Bishop Dewane in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole

Merry Christmas!!

A very Blessed and Merry Christmas to all! Today, the Church proclaims, “Christ the Lord is born; today the Savior has appeared”. This is in celebration of a baby born in humble surroundings and yet, the King of Kings! The Christ Child comes to us as a helpless infant, and we reflect on the love of the Father, who sent His Only Son to offer us the gift of salvation.

As we look upon and contemplate the beautiful re-creations of the Nativity scenes in our Parishes and homes, it is a time to rejoice and be glad for this most sacred gift. Remember also that this day marks the origin of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – the perfect example of what the love of family means.

This year, be mindful of all who are suffering throughout the world, especially those in war-torn Ukraine, the Middle East, and even here in the Diocese of Venice. Join me in prayer that they may feel the love and presence of God, knowing that with God all things are possible.

It is my prayer that you have a Christmas filled with peace, love, and joy! Be assured of my prayers for you and your family.

Again, have a Blessed and Merry Christmas!

+Frank J. Dewane

Bishop of the Diocese of

Venice in Florida


¡¡Feliz Navidad!!

¡Una muy Bendecida y Feliz Navidad para todos! Hoy la Iglesia proclama: “Cristo Señor ha nacido; hoy ha aparecido el Salvador”. Es la celebración de un niño nacido en un entorno humilde y, sin embargo, ¡el Rey de Reyes!  El Niño Jesús llega a nosotros como un niño indefenso, y reflexionamos sobre el amor del Padre, que envió a su Único Hijo para ofrecernos el don de la salvación.

Cuando miramos y contemplamos las hermosas recreaciones de los pesebres en nuestras parroquias y hogares, es un momento para regocijarnos y alegrarnos por este regalo tan sagrado. Recuerden también que este día marca el origen de la Sagrada Familia, Jesús, María y José, el ejemplo perfecto de lo que significa el amor a la familia.

Este año, tengan presente a todos los que están sufriendo en el mundo entero, especialmente a los que están en Ucrania, devastada por la guerra, en Oriente Medio e incluso aquí en la Diócesis de Venice. Únanse a mí en oración para que ellos puedan sentir el amor y la presencia de Dios, sabiendo que con Dios todas las cosas son posibles.

¡Es mi plegaria que ustedes tengan una Navidad llena de paz, amor y alegría! Confíen en mis oraciones por ustedes y su familia.

Una vez más, ¡que tengan una Bendecida y Feliz Navidad!

+Frank J. Dewane

Obispo de la Diócesis de

Venice en Florida


Joyeux Noël!

Je souhaite à tous et à chacun un benediksyon et Joyeux Noël! Aujourd’hui, l’Église proclame : « Ne craignez pas, car voici que je vous annonce une bonne nouvelle, qui sera une grande joie pour tout le peuple : Aujourd’hui, dans la ville de David, vous est né un Sauveur qui est le Christ, le Seigneur». Nous célébrons l’Enfant Jésus, né dans une humble étable, lui qui pourtant est le Roi des Rois ! Jésus vient à nous comme un enfant sans défense, et sa naissance nous donne l’opportunité de réfléchir sur l’amour incommensurable du Père, qui a envoyé son Fils unique pour nous sauver.

Pendant ces jours de fête, dans nos paroisses et dans nos maisons, nous contemplons de belles crèches qui reconstruisent les scènes de la Nativité. Quelle heureuse occasion de revivre et de célébrer ce don sacré ! Mais Noël marque aussi les débuts de la Sainte Famille – Jésus, Marie et Joseph –, l’exemple parfait de l’amour familial.

Dans la dynamique de cet amour familial auquel le Seigneur nous convie, cette année, ayons une pensée pieuse pour tous ceux qui souffrent dans le monde, en particulier pour les populations affligées par la guerre en Ukraine et au Moyen- Orient, mais aussi pour tous ceux qui souffrent dans notre diocèse de Venise. Unis dans la prière, faisons-leur sentir l’amour et la présence de Dieu afin qu’ils sachent qu’avec Dieu, tout est possible.

Puisse le Seigneur faire la grâce à tous et à chacun de passer une fête de Noël dans la paix, l’amour et la joie ! Soyez assurés de mes prières pour vous et pour votre famille.

Avec mes meilleurs vœux,

+ Mgr Frank J. Dewane

Évêque du Diocèse de

Venice, Floride

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.

22nd Annual Christmas Appeal comes at critical time

“Providing Help, Creating Hope, Serving All!” – the mission statement of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc.

Catholic Charities continues to bring hope to families and people in need in Southwest Florida, thanks to the generosity of benefactors who support the many programs of Catholic Charities throughout the year.

Catholic Charities assisted more than 335,000 people in need, providing a wide range of services throughout the 10-county Diocese of Venice this year. Service included emergency assistance, food and housing assistance, counseling and mental health services, and programs for seniors and children. For example: $3,000,000 provided financial assistance to keep families housed and fed in the post-pandemic period and recovery; 1,000 families and seniors were provided housing assistance; disaster relief continued for more than 100,000 impacted by Hurricane Ian; 5,000 services were provided to victims of human trafficking; and more than 270,000 hungry children and individuals were assisted at numerous food pantries.

To enable Catholic Charities to continue to do its vital work, the 22nd Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal is taking place now through January 2024. A donation strengthens Catholic Charities to provide this much-needed support.

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. Your support is appreciated, and critical!”

In an appeal letter to supporters, Eddie Gloria, CEO of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, and Rita Cavuto, Chair of the Board of Directors, wrote, “This Christmas, help us to continue to bring the message of God’s hope. Your donation this Season holds the power to uplift the lives of people in need. Each person and family seeking assistance faces unique challenges. Your help allows Catholic Charities to develop the programs and services to meet these diverse needs.”

Perhaps the personal testimony of beneficiaries says it best:


  • Judith of Cape Coral, a victim of Hurricane Ian, said of Catholic Charities, “I was granted a place to live, and they helped me pay my bills and it was a tremendous blessing. May God continue to bless their heart and their mind and the good work that they’re doing for people. They helped me to put myself back on my feet.”


  • Nicolas of Naples said, “I was struggling financially with my health. I reached out to Catholic Charities, and they assisted me with a medical bill and a portion of my rent. I’m truly grateful for the help and can’t thank you enough.”


  • Alexa, a graduate of the Our Mother’s House program for homeless moms and their children, said, “Our Mother’s House provided me with the help I needed to get back on my feet and care for my son. Now I feel joy, and I am hopeful about the future – because now I have one.”

This is just a small sampling of the many positive outcomes Catholic Charities has been privileged to support during the past year and they are prepared for the possibilities of tomorrow because of donations to the annual Christmas Appeal.

To support the 22nd Annual Christmas Appeal, please mail a contribution to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285, or visit

“No matter the amount of your gift, when combined with others, it will make a significant difference for those who turn to us for help!” the appeal letter concluded.

Pope Francis calls for visiting Diocesan priests to be “holy, holy priests”

Six Diocese of Venice priests were among a group of nearly 100 who participated in the annual National Association of Hispanic Priests in the United States convention in Rome in mid-November 2023.

Leading the Diocesan contingent was Father Jiobani Batista, Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish and Holy Martyrs Mission, both in LaBelle, who became the new president of the National Association of Hispanic Priests (Asociación Nacional de Sacerdotes Hispanos). Also participating were Father Lorenzo Gonzalez, Pastor of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers, who was elected treasurer of the organization, as well as Father Marcial García, Pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven, and St. Theresa of the Child of Jesus Mission in Buckhead Ridge, Father Elbano Muñoz, Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Bradenton, Father Felix Gonzalez, Parochial Vicar at St. James Parish and Santiago Mission, both in Lake Placid, and Father Luis Albarracin who is retired but continues to assist at Parishes throughout the Diocese.

One of the highlights of the association convention was an audience with Pope Francis on Nov. 16, 2023, in Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Place in Vatican City.

Pope Francis told the group, the daily rhythm of the life of a priest should resemble “ping pong” – praying on one’s knees before the tabernacle, helping those in need and returning to prayer.

“Do not leave those who suffer alone; do not leave the Lord in the tabernacle alone. Convince yourselves that you cannot do anything with your hands unless you do it on your knees,” the Holy Father said. “It’s like ping pong, one thing leads to the other.”

Pope Francis told them to “beware of ecclesiastical elegance,” because concern for keeping churches pristine increases the temptation to keep the doors closed and “that won’t do.”

During the U.S. National Eucharistic Revival and with preparations well underway for the National Eucharistic Congress in July 2024, the Holy Father focused his remarks on the importance of eucharistic adoration and the essential tie between reverencing the Eucharist and serving one’s brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis said he did not want to make anyone “blush,” so he would not ask the priests how many hours a week they spend in adoration, but “I’ll throw the question out there.”

In the busy life of a priest, there are many possible excuses for limiting time in private prayer, the Holy Father said. “But if you don’t pray, if you don’t adore, your life is worth little.”

Pope Francis told them to be “priests for the people.” While priests often will not get to see the results of the seeds they plant, the Holy Father said, God wants them to trust that he will make them bear fruit.

Father Batista said the annual convention is always a great opportunity to share with other Hispanic priests and some that work with the Hispanic community from across the U.S.

“The atmosphere of friendship and fraternity is what we all consider the best gain we have,” Father said. “Sharing moments of prayer, the Eucharist in the major Basilicas in Rome was a plus. To be able to have deep insights about the Synod on Synodality from some participants brought us closer to what our Universal Church is facing and will continue working on.”

Father Batista added that meeting personally with Pope Francis was a blessing. “I brought him a book of poems written by a priest friend and a letter sent by a parishioner who was a Cuban political prisoner and it led us to share a few words. He asked me to pray for those who live in that condition.”

He concluded by saying that being president of the National Association of Hispanic Priests is a great responsibility but also is a joyful way of serving the Church in the U.S.

Father Muñoz described the trip to Rome and convention as an inspiring experience.

“Getting together with many other priests doing Hispanic Ministry all over the U.S. was encouraging; sharing different experiences working with Hispanic parishioners and realizing that it almost the same kind of situations,” Father said.

He said the private audience with Pope Francis was “incredible. His talk was touching, inspiring and realistic. Pope Francis really wants us to be holy, holy priests.”

While in Rome and at the Vatican, the group had the opportunity to celebrate Holy Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and the final Mass together as a group was at St. Patrick Parish. The main celebrant at this Mass was Father Batista.

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.

Youth challenged to reflect on their relationship with Jesus

Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, giving us everything we have, from the sun in the sky, to the food we eat and the clothes we wear. How we respond to that gift from God will define who we are, and who we are becoming.

This was the straightforward message shared with more than 500 youth at two separate retreats on Nov. 11, 2023. Building on Jesus’ questioning of the Apostles in the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-20), the two retreats focused on engaging the teens to think about their personal relationship with the Lord, and how they would answer the question Jesus posed to the Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?”

At St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres, more than 300 Hispanic youth from Parishes in Lee and Collier counties gathered for a day of prayer and reflection in a presentation led by the group Los Hermanos Unidos. Among the first speakers were Father Christian Chami, Parochial Vicar at St. Jude Parish in Sarasota, and Father Daniel Scanlan, Parochial Vicar at St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota.

The second group included 170 high school sophomores from nine different Parishes in Sarasota and Manatee counties, who gathered at the Zazarino Center of St. Martha Catholic School for a Confirmation Retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Hearts on Fire, Ablaze, Live Out Loud,” and the guest speaker was Jimmy Mitchell, founder of Love Good. Mitchell is also the director of campus ministry at Jesuit Catholic High School in Tampa.

At both retreats, the youth heard about the need to build their personal relationship with the Lord, the importance of prayer and virtue, and how to find their vocation in life.

Father Chami told the Lehigh Acres group that a vocation to the priesthood, religious life, married life, or consecrated single life, is how you choose to respond positively to God because he made us intentionally and personally. Father continued by saying that a vocation is a free choice that comes from an open dialogue with God by going to Mass and through personal prayer time.

“If you take the time, God will make it clear what you are called to do and will help make evident what He is calling you to do,” Father Chami said. “Believe me. By choosing to follow the Lord, you will not regret it. It is the best life you can live. It is not always easy, but it is the most joyful and wonderful life.”

Father Scanlan said his vocation to the priesthood was a way that he could give himself completely to God.

“It is our prayer that you have a personal encounter with God today and every day,” Father Scanlan said. “When you get to know God, you can answer that question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ What is more important in your life? Does God have a place in your life?”

Each teen will answer that question differently, but Father Scanlan said that they must keep their hearts open to listening and hearing the call of God in their life.

“God is always reaching out to you,” Father said. “Are you listening?”

The day in Lehigh Acres also included Eucharistic Adoration, the opportunity for the teens to go to confession, small group activities and more.

Both retreats concluded with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

In addition, in Sarasota, the teens took part in service projects that included making “Get Well” cards for those sick in the hospital, bagging lunches for the homeless, and making Christmas treat bags for children in foster care.

Thousands attend Hispanic Fall Festival

Beautiful weather accompanied a day filled with food, fun, entertainment and lots of smiling faces for the 19th Annual Hispanic Festival at St. Jude Parish in Sarasota.

An estimated 10,000 people gathered at St. Jude for this event on Nov. 4, 2023, a celebration of both the individual nations and the unified culture of a diverse Parish.

Held annually in early November this annual Festival is the oldest one in Sarasota County to feature authentic Latino food, music and culture. The day includes musical performances and ethnic dancers as well as food from many nations. Throughout the Parish grounds were tents full of a wide variety of foods that left many mouths watering. People attend the event annually from as far away as Naples and Clearwater. It has become a much anticipated and beloved event for the ethnically diverse Sarasota Parish.

The celebration of more than a dozen countries lasted from morning until sunset. Throughout the day, there were performances, offering folk and modern music, and dance. Many proudly wore clothing representing their country of origin.

Martha Perez, 11, enjoyed trying a variety of foods, including papas rellenas from the Cuban food tent, which is a meat-filled potato ball. The highlight of the day for the young girl was the various dancers who wore colorful dresses. “It was so wonderful to see them dancing to such beautiful songs.”

The Hispanic Festival opened with prayer, followed by a “Parade of Flags” as each country represented at the festival was announced, and the respective flags brought forth cheers.

As a bilingual Parish, the members of both the English and the Spanish speaking congregation at St. Jude participated and volunteered to staff the booths.

Whether it was the food, the music, the dancing, or the joy of being around so many happy people, the Hispanic Festival was a success by any measure.

The proceeds of the Hispanic Festival go to support the various outreach efforts of St. Jude Parish, including a food pantry and other programs which help countless families throughout the year.