Marian Devotional Project begins in schools

Each year, one of the initiatives of the Diocese of Venice Department of Education is the development of the devotional and prayer lives of its students through a Diocesan-wide devotional project.

For 2023-2024 the project is, “Cause of Our Joy: Marian Devotional Project” which focuses on teaching the more than 6,200 Diocesan Catholic school students about Our Lady, and the importance of praying the Most Holy Rosary, all in a continued effort to grow closer to Jesus Christ.

The focus on the devotion to the Blessed Mother through the Most Holy Rosary was supported by Bishop Frank J. Dewane who has frequently cited the importance of praying the Rosary to grow closer to Jesus Christ.

Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, conducted a Junior Catechist Training session on Oct. 13, 2023, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. This brought together selected eighth grade leaders from each of the Diocese’s 12 elementary schools, who will in turn go into the classroom to teach their schoolmates about Our Lady, the Most Holy Rosary and how to grow closer to the Lord.

“We are all called to answer the invitation of the Lord in our hearts,” Father Belmonte told the Junior Catechists. “When Our Lord and Our Lady come and knock on the door to your heart, you should open the door. Your task as Junior Catechists is to knock on the doors of the hearts of your classmates, classroom-to-classroom, teaching them about Our Lady. This will help them answer the question: Are you committed to dedicating your life to God?”

The training stressed the importance for the Junior Catechists to be leaders in the faith, evangelization, and discipleship. The group met in Epiphany Cathedral for a prayer service in honor of Our Blessed Mother.

The student training session was led by Diocesan Curriculum Director, Jennifer Falestiny, while Father Belmonte spoke to the parents who brought their children to the meeting in a separate presentation on the devotional project.

Falestiny explained to the Junior Catechists what is expected of them and how a lesson was created for them to follow. This plan is a guideline for the students as there is a differentiation in learning based on the age of the student.

“We created two lessons. One geared toward the older students and the other toward the little kiddos,” Falestiny said. “The resources provided will help bring the students through learning about the Rosary and the individual prayers, as well as the decades and the Mysteries of the Rosary. This was set up so that it can be interactive and engaging for students of all ages.”

Several teachers were present for the Junior Catechist Training and each school was also provided additional digital resources, including suggested devotional projects and lesson plans to reinforce what the Junior Catechists will teach. The students were also provided prayer cards with The Memorare prayer to Our Lady. This prayer will be said to open each lesson.

The introduction of the devotional project at each school will depend on the available schedule. The Junior Catechists will work closely with teacher advisors to make sure each classroom is visited and that all necessary resources are available to ensure success. The goal is to begin the in-classroom lessons as soon as possible and continuing the project and its supporting elements throughout the balance of the academic year.

In addition, Falestiny said there is a Digital Rosary Prayer Tracker, a website where teachers can track each time the children pray the Rosary in class, as well as if they pray it at home. The school with the most prayed Rosaries will be recognized at the end of the devotional project.

Finally, there is an art competition. As in previous years, students will be encouraged to produce artwork based on our Catholic artistic tradition around the Most Holy Rosary. The Junior Catechists and art contest winners will gather at Epiphany Cathedral in the spring for a Mass with Bishop Dewane.

The Junior Catechist Training was timed to coincide with the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. Our Lady of Fatima first appeared to three shepherd children – Venerable Lucia, and Ss. Jacinta and Francisco – on May 13, 1917, as a radiant light in a bush. Our Lady told the children to do penance and to make sacrifices to save sinners. Our Lady also stressed the importance of praying the Most Holy Rosary to bring peace to the world.

Many refused to believe the children, but Our Lady promised to perform a miracle on Oct. 13, 1917. On that day, during Our Lady’s sixth and final appearance, more than 70,000 witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun,” as the sun danced in the sky and changed colors. The Blessed Virgin then identified herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary.”

This is the fourth year Diocesan Catholic schools have had a devotional project, with 2022-2023 focused on the Most Holy Eucharist, 2021-2022 on the Saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Saints, and 2020-2021 on St. Joseph.

Fort Myers Guatemalan community celebrates Patroness

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic

Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers is home to a diverse and faithful Hispanic Catholic community and there are often celebrations to mark significant occasions.

From Oct. 5-7 a celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary, Patroness of Guatemala, took over the community with a vigil, prayers, procession, food, music, dancing and even a few fireworks.

Consuela de Lara, who dressed in traditional clothing from her home province for the procession and Mass on Oct. 6, said Our Lady of the Rosary is an important religious figure for the Guatemalan people and nation. “It is a celebration for all.”

The main celebration at Jesus the Worker Parish began a gathering in front of a temporary outdoor shrine to Our Lady of the Rosary. The shrine included a statue that was placed on a platform which was adorned with flowers. The faithful prayed the Holy Rosary before the platform was carried throughout the parking lot as music reflecting the community’s strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin was sung.

The ceremony was led by children dressed in traditional Guatemalan clothing and carrying flowers. Many of the adults also carried flowers and wore traditional clothing, each color and design representing their hometown.

Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, Pastor of Jesus the Worker, passed out blessed rosaries to the younger children before the procession.

A small hand-carved and painted statue of Our Lady was also carried during the procession and placed in the Church at the beginning of the Mass. This statue was brought back from Guatemala by Father O’Connor during a recent mission trip. Like the larger statue, the image has a large rosary in her right hand and in her left she holds the Child who seems to be trying to free himself from her embrace. There is a popular tradition that the Virgin Mary went out to travel throughout the Americas and that the Child fell asleep when they reached Guatemala, which is why she stayed there.

Of special significance to this year’s celebration was the recent announcement that Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri, from the Diocese Huehuetenango, Guatemala, was elevated to Cardinal on Oct. 5 by Pope Francis. Father O’Connor noted that many are from that very poor region of Guatemala, which has a strong Mayan Indian population.

“It is exciting for them, and all of the people of Guatemala,” Father O’Connor explained.

After the Mass, the celebration continued in the Parish Hall with traditional Guatemalan foods and dancing. There was also the selection of a Mayan princess from among the young ladies of the parish. The celebration concluded with a traditional Guatemalan community dance with music from the national instrument of Guatemala, the marimba. A more subdued celebration took place on Oct. 7, the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary.

While Our Lady of the Rosary is the Patroness of Guatemala, and there was a special emphasis to recognize the specific community, the celebration was welcoming to the entire community which includes faithful from across the Americas. Other days honoring Our Lady are celebrated at the parish with equal enthusiasm throughout the year.