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.

Bishop breaks ground for a Parish Activity Center in Lakewood Ranch

With hundreds looking on and cheering their support, ground was broken on Nov. 4, 2023, for the new Our Lady of the Angels Parish Activity Center and rectory in Lakewood Ranch.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane led a brief prayer service and blessing before picking up a shovel to take part in the ceremonial groundbreaking.

“This Parish Activity Center is something that could not have been imagined just a few years ago, and now it is something that is needed for your growing, faith-filled Parish,” Bishop Dewane said.

Father Sebastian Szczawínski, S.A.C., Pastor of Our Lady of the Angels, remarked that he was very grateful for the support and prayers for the campaign which made the groundbreaking possible.

“This is for children and adults who are going to learn about Jesus – how to live a good life, how to live a proper life, connected to Christ,” Father Szczawínski said.

The new 12,580-foot Parish Activity Center will be located on the west side of the Parish property. In addition, there will be a duplex rectory constructed for the Pastor and Parochial Vicar in the northwest corner of the property. The project is expected to take 12-16 months to complete.

Under the guidance of Bishop Dewane and Father Szczawínski, the Parish ran a “Building Our Future” capital campaign during the past two years to help make the Parish Activity Center and rectory a reality.

The new activity center will more than double the existing facilities and will service the needs of an ever-growing community. The activity center will be a one-story building and will house 10 rooms of various sizes for use in ministries and programs. The new structure will serve the needs of the nearly 500 1st – 12th grade Faith Formation students and support the more than 40 outreach ministries and groups of the Parish. The current Parish Hall, which was recently renovated, will remain, and be used for meetings and events as needed.

The construction of a rectory will bring the clergy from off-campus living arrangements to be on-campus and within walking distance of Our Lady of Angels. The new duplex will be a two-bedroom, two-bathroom structure.

The architect for the project is PRA Plunkett Raysich Architects, LLP – John Holtz, partner, and the general contractor is ME&S general Contractors, Inc.

Joining Bishop Dewane and Father Szczawínski in the groundbreaking were priests and Deacons who serve the Parish. Members of the Parish Finance Council also turned dirt, as well as many others who were pivotal in making the project a reality.

Our Lady of the Angels serves 3,138 registered families in the growing Lakewood Ranch community with up to seven weekend Masses offered during the peak season.

For more information about Our Lady of the Angels, visit olangelscc.org.

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.

News Briefs for the Week of November 10, 2023

Parish joins Knights in supporting vocations

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

Students learn computer coding

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

Tasting the World!

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

Students gather in the form of a Cross

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

Parish celebrates All Saints’ Day with relics

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

Special collection aids Diocesan hurricane recovery

The Diocese of Venice continues its recovery from Hurricane Ian which devastated the region on Sept. 28, 2022, with winds up to 155 mph and storm surge and flooding rains.

The recovery has been aided thanks to the kindness of many who saw the plight of the Parishes in the Diocese of Venice and contributed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) 2022 Special Collection for the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund. The Diocese of Venice has been awarded $1.383 million from the USCCB collection.

Since the time of the founding of the Diocese in 1984, the faithful have generously responded to help others through special collections, and now this generosity is coming back to our own Diocese, as it did following Hurricane Charley in 2004 and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said he was personally grateful, on behalf of the faithful of the Diocese of Venice, “to all of the people who contributed to the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund Special Collection in the wake of Hurricane Ian. The devastation to communities in the area, and even to the infrastructure of the Diocese, was catastrophic. Even today, as families continue the process of rebuilding, so do our Diocesan Parishes. I also wish to thank my fellow Bishops who saw the need in the Diocese of Venice and were generous to those Parishes who were most burdened financially when disaster struck.”

Ian took a heavy toll on the Diocese of Venice, with more than 685 reports of damage to various structures. Significant damage was found in more than 400 structures, including at 30 Parishes and 10 Catholic schools, as well as at many other Diocesan entities. The resulting cost to rebuild exceeded what many Parishes could begin to manage.

Bishop Dewane, on behalf of the Diocese of Venice, made a formal request for grant money raised through the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund. This application included a complete description of damages, with accompanying photos, as well as the entities financial situations.

At a USCCB meeting, the Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions awarded a $1.383 million grant from the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund to the Diocese of Venice. This grant money was designated to assist 13 Parishes in the Diocese that serve impoverished communities and had sustained severe damage from Hurricane Ian. The funds received covered a significant portion of the insurance deductibles – in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars – and costs that Parishes owed for new roofs, mold mitigation, and other repairs that otherwise didn’t have resources.

Parishes receiving a portion of the grant monies included Jesus the Worker (San Jose Mission), Fort Myers; Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Sarasota; San Antonio, Port Charlotte; St. Andrew, Cape Coral; St. Catherine, Sebring; St. Charles Borromeo, Port Charlotte; St. James, Lake Placid; St. Joseph the Worker, Moore Haven; St. Katharine Drexel, Cape Coral; St. Maximilian Kolbe, Port Charlotte; St. Michael, Wauchula; St. Paul, Arcadia; and St. Francis Xavier, Fort Myers.

The Bishops’ Emergency Disaster fund was established as a way for Dioceses to take up special collections in response to disasters and humanitarian crises. The fund supports USCCB efforts for pastoral and reconstruction efforts.

“St. Paul wrote that when one Christian suffers, all Christians suffer – because we are all part of one Body of Christ,” said Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on National Collections. “That unity is the heart of (special) collections. They bring faith, hope, and love to people in despair… and to disaster victims in our own nation.”

Bishop Dewane and Diocese of Venice Chancellor Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk visited impacted Parishes to see firsthand the extent of the damages and to learn of specific financial hardship. Parishes reported severe damage to churches, rectories and other Parish facilities.

Grant awards were announced in July, with the Diocese of Venice awarded $1.383 million. Smeryk said the grants assisted substantially in helping the most impoverished Parishes to recover from Ian faster than would otherwise have been possible.

In addition to the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund grants, the Diocese was also the beneficiary of emergency grants from Catholic Charities USA in the weeks following the storm, support which continues to this day. This support went to the immediate disaster response, helping people with emergency supplies such as food and water. Catholic Charities USA’s generous contribution continues to help even today, now providing long-term disaster recovery and financial assistance for families who continue to rebuild from Hurricane Ian more than one year later.

News Briefs for the week of November 3, 2023

Seminarian Admitted to Candidacy

Diocese of Venice Seminarian Joseph Bao Quoc Nguyen took a significant step in his vocation journey with his Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders. He was one of four men to be admitted to candidacy on Oct. 25, 2023, at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. The Rite was presided over by Most Rev. Earl K. Fernandes, Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. During the Rite, each man expressed his intention to complete his preparation for Holy Orders and his resolve to dedicate himself to that goal. To be admitted to candidacy, Seminarian Nguyen had to have been first approved by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, and will continue his studies to become a Catholic priest.

Bishop celebrates Mass for students on All Saints’ Day

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for students at both St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers and St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, 2023. In his message to the students, Bishop Dewane said it is important to learn about these Saints who are described as ordinary people of faith who lived extraordinary lives. They lived their lives in response to a call to holiness from the Lord. The Bishop asked the students at both Masses to respond to a call to holiness in their own lives.

Decline to Sign Petition for Dangerous Pro-Abortion Ballot Initiative

An extremely grave initiative is underway in Florida that seeks to erase pro-life protections by inserting language into the Florida State Constitution banning regulation of abortion. Abortion activists are working to gather petition signatures to place a pro-abortion constitutional amendment, titled “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion” on the November 2024 ballot. This amendment would allow abortion up until birth, including when the baby is capable of feeling pain, and would eliminate laws requiring parental consent and safety protocols for women. Floridians should not sign the petition. Please spread the word to your spheres of influence and continue to pray for the protection of the unborn.

All Saints’ Day Party held in Wauchula

Saints of all ages participated in the annual All Saints’ Day Party at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula on Oct. 28, 2023. Children dressed as the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Michael the Archangel were the most common costumes. Others dressed as St. Joseph, angels, popes, bishops and even superheroes. The evening included food, games and lots of candy. Prior to the party, there was an All Saints’ Day procession, led by a statue of St. Michael the Archangel and directed by the Servant Sisters of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará who serve the Parish.

Veteran’s Day Ball in Ave Maria

The Knights of Columbus of Ave Maria invite all to a Veteran’s Day Grand Ball, on Saturday, November 11, in the del Webb Grand Hall. The keynote speaker is Most Rev. Joseph L. Coffey, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA. The evening begins with a 6:00 p.m. cocktail hour/cash bar, with a 7:00 p.m. program, dinner and dancing. Black tie is optional for civilians, active duty military and veterans are asked to wear dinner dress or Class A Uniform. Tickets are $125 per person and seating is limited. For tickets, go to https://www.avemariakofc.org/.

National Night of Prayer for Life

The 2023 Annual National Night of Prayer for Life marks its 34th anniversary of people across the country praying to convert America’s heart to cherish life and encourage living the Gospel of Life.  It unites the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with the Feast of St. Juan Diego from Friday, December 8, at 9:00 p.m. to Saturday, December 9, at 1:00 a.m., with a national hour of unity across all time zones from midnight to 1:00 a.m.  People are invited to join in unity of prayer to restore the protection of life, the family, and the church, establish peace and inspire courage in our nation.  For more information, see www.nationalnightofprayerforlife.org, or contact Jeanne Berdeaux at Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-374-1068.

Gloria Concert in Naples

St. Peter the Apostle Parish, 5130 Rattlesnake Hammock Road, Naples, is hosting a free Gloria Concert at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, December 14. The concert will include all the Parish choirs of various languages (English, Spanish and Creole) as well as a children’s pageant. For further details, please contact Nancy Spolsino at 239-774-3037.

Hispanic Festival a part of Parish Jubilee

When it comes to planning the 50th Jubilee of the Parish, there is an option to host one large celebration or to be more inclusive and include commemorations which reflect the broad cultural diversity of the faith community. St. Peter the Apostle Parish, erected in Naples on June 11, 1974, has opted to host many Jubilee celebrations in the coming months, culminating in a big event in June 2024.

Therefore, Oct. 22, 2023, was the day of a Hispanic Festival at St. Peter’s, with more than 1,000 celebrating this diverse community with food, music, dance and ethnic clothing.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane was present and offered a prayer for the Festival participants, as well as for the continued success of the ongoing Parish Jubilee celebrations.

Father Gerard Critch, St. Peter the Apostle Pastor, said he was pleased by the response to the Hispanic Festival and said he was delighted to have such a vibrant Parish community that includes people of many different backgrounds.

Father Wilian Montalvo Tello, Parochial Vicar at St. Peter who supports the spiritual needs of the Hispanic community, was overjoyed by the celebration, and held a wide grin as he wore the traditional clothing of his native Peru.

Also present was Father Alejandro Giraldo-Roldan, Parochial Vicar serving the Hispanic faithful at nearby St. Elizabeth Seton and St. Agnes Parishes. Father is a native of Columbia who was ordained to the priesthood in July.

The Festival began with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This was followed by a procession and music led by performers dressed in Mayan and Aztec garb.

Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, participants had the opportunity to sample cuisine from more than a dozen Latin American countries. On the stage, there was a constant rotation of singers and dancers from the various countries.

As the music played, many sang along with the more traditional ballads. Throughout, nearly everyone present had small flags on their lapels, while most wore hats and traditional clothing or the colors of their homeland. Another option was to wear a shirt of the national sports team.

No matter where everyone was from, be it Latin America, the United States or elsewhere, a great time was had by all. As Father Critch explained, everyone better be prepared to party over and over again as the Jubilee celebration continues!

Hundreds Venerate Jesus in Eucharistic Procession

Reciting prayers and singing hymns, hundreds participated in a public Eucharistic Procession through the streets around St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples on Oct. 22, 2023.

This procession consisted mostly of the faithful from nearby St. Elizabeth Seton Parish and was led by their Pastor, Father Casey Jones, and is one of several initiatives scheduled as part of “The Year of Parish Revival,” the latest phase of a National Eucharistic Revival. Launched as an initiative of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in June 2022, the National Eucharistic Revival is a three-year movement that aims to deepen Catholics’ love for Jesus through encountering His Real Presence in the Eucharist.

“This event is all about bringing Jesus Christ to the neighborhoods of the people,” Father Jones said. “The message is that our God loves us so much that he comes to us, rather than waiting for us to approach him. Just as Jesus Christ of Nazareth walked the streets of Galilee, He’s still alive and walks among us on our streets… We hope to give a witness to our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist as a sign of Hope to a world that needs a Savior.”

Starting in Neumann’s Our Lady of the Angels Chapel with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Solemn Vespers, the group lined up for the Eucharistic Procession through the surrounding Golden Gate neighborhood. Father Jones said additional processions in other neighborhoods within the Parish boundaries will take place in the coming months. This includes one with the students at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School during Catholic School Week in early February 2024.

With a Knights of Columbus Honor Guard and a dozen altar servers carrying candles, Father Jones and Deacon Roberto Landron rotated carrying the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament held high. Four volunteers carried a canopy to protect the Blessed Sacrament during the procession. This canopy served to create a sacred space that is reserved for the priest/deacon carrying the monstrance.

Hymns and prayers, both in English and Spanish, were heard as the group departed the Chapel and meandered their way to four stations where the monstrance was placed on a table and additional prayers were recited.

The National Eucharistic Revival will culminate in the first National Eucharistic Congress in the United States in almost 50 years. In July 2024, more than 80,000 Catholics are expected to join together in Indianapolis for a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage in a celebration of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and our Catholic Faith.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane is leading a Pilgrimage to this 10th National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. This historic 5-day gathering will take place July 17 – 21, 2024. It is a pivotal moment in the Church, and a unique opportunity for participants to draw into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Our Lord.

The cost of the Diocese of Venice pilgrimage package is $1,049. With the package, pilgrims receive the National Eucharistic Congress 5-day pass, which provides access to all speakers and events, as well as four nights’ accommodations in a 4-star hotel within walking distance of the convention center. Please note, the pilgrimage package does not include transportation or meals. Space is limited! Register today using https://ctscentral.rezmagic.com/Booking/Reservation/Start?tripID=5394&CategoryId=52540. Questions? Contact Carrie Harkey, harkey@dioceseofvenice.org.

Rosary remains focus as Diocesan Congress concludes

While the Diocese of Venice Traveling Rosary Congress has successfully concluded, the entire month of October is dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary and commemorations continue.

For example, different theology classes at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples gathered on Oct. 17, 2023, in the Our Lady of the Angels Chapel on campus to pray for peace in the world, as called for by Pope Francis. Praying the Rosary is regarded as a potent weapon against evil, as well as the most effective prayer for bringing peace to the entire globe.

Meanwhile, young students at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral celebrated Rosary Day on Oct. 10. The students colored images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Holy Family, learned a prayer to Our Lady of Fátima, while also creating and decorating a box for their Rosary.

At St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring, there is a newly formed a Rosary Club which meets regularly with the group praying the different Mysteries of the Rosary.

As for the Traveling Rosary Congress, it began on Oct. 6, 2023, wrapping up its journey at five different Parishes on Oct. 14, 2023. In total, 31 different Parishes in the Diocese participated in this important evangelization effort.

The faithful were encouraged to place all prayer intentions and the needs of the faithful into the loving arms of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as part of the Congress. Parishes also included the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and the praying of the Holy Rosary.

In its third year, the Rosary Congress was a key component of the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival which is in its Parish Year phase and concludes with a national pilgrimage to Indianapolis in July 2024. Bishop Frank J. Dewane will be leading a pilgrimage from the Diocese. The Revival is an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to put an emphasis on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.

Additional celebrations in the Diocese included the 13th annual Rosary Rally at Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. The rally, which is held annually to occur as close to Oct. 13 as is possible, called upon all to turn toward God, through His Holy Mother, asking for His urgent help in solving America’s key problems. This year’s rally coincided with the Parish hosting the Rosary Congress and this helped to increase participation. There were additional Rosary rallies in Port Charlotte, Fort Myers, Naples.

Oct. 13 is significant, because that day in 1917 marked the last Marian apparition in Fátima, Portugal, and the day on which approximately 70,000 people bore witness to the miracle of the dancing sun — a miracle that shattered the prevalent belief at the time that God was no longer relevant. The Blessed Virgin Mary exhorted the crowd to pray the rosary for world peace. The apparition is often referred to as the “Miracle of the Sun.”

October is dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary primarily due to the fact that the liturgical feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated annually on Oct. 7. It was instituted to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in gratitude for the protection that she gives the Church in answer to the praying of the Rosary by the faithful.

As the month of October continues, let us consider the beautiful prayer of the Rosary as a means that we too can use in order to draw closer to Jesus and Mary by meditating on the great mysteries of Salvation.

Parish group returns safe from Holy Land trip

A pilgrimage from St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota was able to leave Israel safely after a few harrowing days at the start of a disastrous conflict between Israel and terrorists.

The group of 62 left the U.S. for Israel on Oct. 2 with initial stops including Nazareth, Mount Tabor, the Sea of Galilee, Cana, Mount Carmel and the Western Wall. The group was in Palestine when they were notified that terrorist attacks had taken place and that they were to return to their hotel in Jerusalem. The group was far enough away from the main terror attacks that it was difficult for everyone to understand what was happening.

Everyone made it safely to the hotel and then arrangements to leave Israel were made. Some opted to cross the border into Jordan and fly out of Amman as soon as they could. Two groups (one of six, the other of 15) were able to get to Jordan, and after waiting for hours to clear customs, shortly afterwards the border closed.

Meanwhile, others arranged for flights from Tel-Aviv through various routes home. One of these groups took Ethiopian Airlines for a flight to Dublin, Ireland, Dallas and finally Tampa. By Oct. 12, all pilgrims from St. Patrick’s were out of Israel and on the way home.

Father Russell Wright, Parochial Vicar at St. Patrick, who was the spiritual leader on the trip, got a flight through Dubai and was home by Oct. 9.

“It was very upsetting to be there and to learn about the poor people who were being harmed,” Father Wright said. “In the hotel, we prayed for everyone who was suffering and for peace.”

Several of the pilgrims said they had experienced such a beautiful trip and met so many wonderful people in Israel and Palestine.

Victoria Watkins who left the country via a van to Jordan, said the pilgrimage will be long-remembered and talked about, and in spite of the circumstances, “we experienced so many once-in-a-lifetime memories, never to be forgotten.”

The St. Patrick pilgrimage was intended to continue through Oct. 11, with stops in Bethlehem, Mount of Olives, Jericho and Emmaus.

Another Diocesan pilgrimage was beginning when the war abruptly cancelled plans. The choir from St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton was planning to go to the Holy Land for a tour and performances, with some already enroute before the trip was cancelled and everyone returned home.

Please pray for peace in the Holy Land. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s said in a statement:

“May all who love the Holy Land seek to bring about among all the parties engaged in the fighting a cessation of violence, respect for civilian populations and the release of hostages. As we pray urgently for peace, we recall especially all the families and individuals suffering from these events.  We call on the faithful, and all people of good will to not grow weary and to continue to pray for peace in the land Our Lord, the Prince of Peace, called home.”