Prayer, formation, fun at summer program

The sounds of a few dozen girls praying together in Church had been missing for the past few months at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula.

The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara (SSVM), women religious who serve at the Parish, were determined to change that by organizing two religion-based programs for children, one for girls the week of June 29-July 3, 2020, and the boys from July 6-July 10, 2020.

Sister Gema Ruiz, SSVM, said, “We are excited to see our children praying and playing together. These programs allow them to experience a week of joy and friendship in this time of hardship.”

The summer programs were for children from kindergarten through fifth grade and usually has more than 150 children. Therefore, the usual raucous crowds were a bit toned down this year with limits on the number of participants to about 60 each. This did nothing to change the purpose of the summer programs, bringing young boys and girls in a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

This was accomplished through the daily participation in celebration of the Mass, prayer time, religion and Bible classes, games, arts and crafts with some fun mixed in to help burn off the pent-up energy of the young ones.

Safety protocols were followed by children and volunteers alike. There was lots of hand washing and wearing of masks was required at Mass, or at indoor activities in the Parish Hall or classrooms. Masks were only put to the side while eating or when outdoor games took place to avoid heat-related illnesses.

Assisted by men and women who are discerning life as religious with the order each day began early and lasted through the afternoon. There was even a field trip one morning to the Heartland Event Center.

The programs served the added benefit of bringing something normal back into their lives, being together with friends for a few hours.

When asked how his week had gone, one second grade boy jumped high off the ground stretching out his arms legs and exclaimed, “Great!”

Notes of encouragement sent to nursing home residents

At the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and its corresponding isolation of nursing home residents, one woman at Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton knew she had to act.

“We are here on this earth to help each other,” explained Kathe Hughes, who tries to live her life like that each day. Therefore, she started a card/letter writing campaign to residents at five area nursing homes. “They are not able to have visitors and I knew they were so isolated, so I thought this would be a way to reach out.”

Hughes started her effort with notes or cards which were short “uplifting, encouraging and religious, plus a few with jokes.”

The response from the nursing homes was so positive and demand for more became overwhelming for just one person to handle, Hughes explained. She knew she did not want the letter writing to be a one-time effort, so she mentioned her work to staff at the Parish, which created a new Parish program called the Letter Writing Outreach. Now members of the Bible study, the Catholic Women’s Association as well as the prayer shawl group are all actively involved.

Fast-forward to July and amazingly more than 950 cards and notes have been delivered with more coming in each week.

The cards and notes are generic, and people drop their sealed messages off at the Parish offices, where Hughes regularly collects and immediately delivers them. She leaves the bundles outside to ensure they are handled safely by the facility.

Many start their participation by using old greeting cards they don’t use at home before transferring to writing longer notes. Because of privacy laws, the names of the recipients are unknown, but Hughes said that does not matter. “It is the message and support behind the message that matters. We care. They know that.”

Hughes also recently took on the mission to deliver 150 notes of support and encouragement from herself to the Bradenton Police Department, just another example of living her life helping others in ways large and small.

A letter writing effort is something she suggests anyone, or any Parish, can easily accomplish by simply reaching out to area nursing homes and asking if they accept cards and how many residents they have. Meanwhile, Hughes is already planning on expanding her efforts in anticipation of the Christmas holidays.

Naples Parish shows gratitude to Pandemic Heroes

Priests, doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks and so many others have stepped-up to put their own safety on the line during the ongoing response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Many have asked how they can show their gratitude and appreciation for these Pandemic Heroes for their compassion, devotion and service to the community. In response, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples has partnered with its health and wellness partner, Blue Zones Project of Southwest Florida, to provide just the right type of acknowledgment.

The Parish is asking the Faithful to share the first name and job title of these heroes. It could be a healthcare worker that recently took care of them or someone they love. Or maybe it is the essential worker at a grocery store, restaurant, religious organization, or utility company whose actions have ensured our continued health and livelihood.

In addition to compiling the names and jobs, which will be posted weekly in the bulletin and online, the Parish will sound its bells each day at 2:20 p.m. in their honor. In addition, the names and occupations will also be listed in the Blue Zones Project newsletters.

Parish Business Manager Jean-Paul Boucher said the “Daily Bellagram” is a way to say, “Thank You!” to those courageous individuals who often go unrecognized while unfailingly answering the call to serve the community.

“With every facet of our lives transformed by the COVID-19 Pandemic and the international response required to save lives, Blue Zones Project and St. John wanted to find a way to positively unite our community in North Naples,” Boucher said.

More than two dozen names were posted in the first week or so. Among those being honored are priests, nurses, pulmonary/critical care specialists, pharmacists, physical therapists, grocery store workers and many more.

If you know of someone you would like to honor, please email bellagram@sjecc.com with the first name of the individual, along with their occupation or your reason for the gratitude, and they will be prayed for and thanked on a daily basis by the Parish and the Naples Community.

Drive-by farewell overwhelms retiring priest

After 22 years serving at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Stanley Dombrowski knew now was the time to retire.

“I had a great run, but it was time,” said Father Dombrowski, who will soon turn 73. He started at St. Cecilia as Parochial Vicar in 1998 before becoming Pastor in 2001 with his retirement effective July 1, 2020.

To mark his retirement, the Parish staff decided to hold a drive-by farewell on July 2, 2020, wherein the parishioners could drive into the parking lot and heap their praises on Father from their vehicles.

The unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 Pandemic forced this unusual, but successful farewell in lieu of a traditional farewell party. Vehicles arrived long before the celebration was to commence, and the line was so long it created a temporary traffic jam on nearby roads.

As much as a party, cake and speeches would have been more traditional, the drive-thru allowed each family to have a few moments to personally thank Father for his service and to pray for a blessed retirement. The impact one priest had upon the faithful at St. Cecilia was evident in the decorated vehicles and words of kindness.

One driver summed it up best for many: “No words can express what you mean to our family. We love you.”

Father Dombrowski wore a funny hat and was all smiles as he greeted every family by name, recognizing grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren who have been part of the Parish for many years. Jokingly, he reminded everyone that although he is retired, he will still help out at St. Cecilia. “I have the 7:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Mass this Sunday.”

Afterwards he said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support. “That was wonderful. It brought back such strong memories.”

Father Dombrowski made his first profession with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in 1979 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1983. He first served as a teacher in Wilmington, Delaware, then as campus minister at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Pennsylvania. He later served as a U.S. Navy Chaplain before arriving at St. Cecilia in Fort Myers.

Bishop extends dispensation for Mass through Sept. 1, 2020

Encourages all continue to wear masks, follow safety guidelines

The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass has been extended through at least Sept. 1, 2020 due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. At the same time Bishop Frank J. Dewane continues to thank the Faithful of the Diocese for following health and safety guidelines by the wearing of face coverings and maintaining social distancing.

This announcement was made by Bishop Dewane in a June 26, 2020 letter to the Faithful. “Catholics are encouraged to stay at home if ill or are not comfortable returning to public gatherings for the celebration of Mass.”

The decision, Bishop Dewane wrote, comes after consultation with priests of the Diocese and the decisions addressed will allow everyone to remain focused on the health and well-being of the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese, as well as those in the larger community, as we move forward. (Visit www.dioceseofvenice.org to read the Bishop’s letter.)

The decisions were also based on the reality that while restrictions due to the Pandemic have been somewhat lessened and, at the same time, confirmed cases are on the rise in Florida.

“The Faithful of the Diocese of Venice are to be commended for their cooperation and compassion during these difficult times. We are all in this together, and your support and assistance are needed and deeply appreciated,” the letter states.

The letter also addresses the use of face coverings during Mass, which remains an essential part of the protocols for remaining open.

While the wearing or not wearing of masks has become a political statement for some, the letter states, “face coverings are essential because of the guidance that wearing a mask lessens the likelihood of transmission of the virus. Therefore, I ask for your cooperation in wearing masks, particularly at Mass and any public gathering at your Parish. Please consider the use of face coverings a mandatory step taken in genuine concern for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Lastly, the letter notes that Pastors/Administrators have been asked to use their discretion as to whether small groups who are gathering for prayer or to coordinate ministries may meet safely while at the same time ensuring that guidance for face coverings and social distancing be observed.

However, the letter continues that it is not yet time for large groups to assemble for social or fraternal purposes to meet safely.

“Let us remember the importance of prayer for those who are affected by the Coronavirus and for a quick end to the threat associated with the virus. Be assured that Our Merciful Father hears and answers our prayers.”

Bishop Dewane concluded the letter expressing his empathy with the difficulties being experienced by everyone during these uncertain times, but to always remember to stand united to safeguard the well-being of all, including the larger community.

Prayer Chain Against Racism held in Naples

A Prayer Chain Against Racism seeking to affirm the equality and dignity of every human person was held in Naples on June 28, 2020. The Prayer Chain was sponsored by the Catholic Parishes of Naples and brought out many on a steamy afternoon.

There were no talks or speeches, as people of all ages gathered to pray while seeking an end to racism in America as well as calling for peace and unity for all, as more than 100 people, including several area priests, participated.

The gathering was held on the west side of Tamiami Trail North (US 41) from Pine Ridge Road (near St. William Parish) as participants spread out to maintain social distancing southward more than a ¼ mile as they held up signs or prayed the rosary.

Signs provided by St. Elizabeth Seton Parish included: “RACISM is a SIN against HUMANITY,” “If You Want PEACE work for JUSTICE” and “ALL Colors in the Image of GOD,” which featured an image of four hands of different colors held together to form a strong bond.

Vehicles passing by honked their horns in support. Some who were stopped at the nearby traffic light asked why everyone was there. “We want to end racism!” one woman shouted back. “We are praying for God’s love to heal the world!” another said. Still another added: “We are all God’s children!”

Representatives, including several priests, from the Parishes in Naples – St. William, St. Elizabeth Seton, St. Agnes, St. Peter the Apostle, St. Ann. St. Finbarr and St. John the Evangelist – were present.

A Statement of Purpose was created for the Prayer Chain, which begins: “We Catholics of Collier County are standing by the roadside on June 28 in silent witness to the reality of racism in our country and, as people of Faith, to witness to the equality and dignity of every human person. We pray that God will transform the hearts of all people in our nation, including our own hearts, to see every human person as a brother and sister of inestimable worth.”

Pope Francis spoke following the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the resulting social unrest in the U.S. and worldwide, condemning the death and calling for an end to racism.

In a June 9, 2020 letter to the Faithful from Bishop Frank J. Dewane about racism and social unrest, he stated: “The Church, Her leaders and the Faithful have an important role in confronting the sin of racism… Responding to the call to defend human dignity, the Church must raise Her voice against every instance of the evil of racism. I add my voice and condemn racism in all its forms.”

Prayer to Overcome Racism

Mary, friend and mother to all, through your Son, God has found a way to unite himself to every human being, called to be one people, sisters and brothers to each other.

We ask for your help in calling on your Son, seeking forgiveness for the times when we have failed to love and respect one another.

We ask for your help in obtaining from your Son the grace we need to overcome the evil of racism and to build a just society. We ask for your help in following your Son, so that prejudice and animosity will no longer infect our minds or hearts but will be replaced with a love that respects the dignity of each person.

Mother of the Church, the Spirit of your Son Jesus warms our hearts: pray for us. Amen.

Oración para superar el racismo

María, amiga y madre de todos, a través de tu Hijo Dios ha encontrado un camino para unirse a todos los seres humanos, llamados a ser un solo pueblo, hermanas y hermanos entre sí.

Pedimos tu ayuda al recurrir a tu Hijo, buscando el perdón por las veces en que hemos fallado en amarnos y respetarnos.

Pedimos tu ayuda para obtener de tu Hijo la gracia que necesitamos para vencer el mal del racismo y construir una sociedad justa.

Pedimos tu ayuda para seguir a tu Hijo, para que el prejuicio y la animosidad no infecten ya nuestras mentes o corazones sino que sean reemplazados por el amor que respeta la dignidad de cada persona.

Madre de la Iglesia, el Espíritu de tu Hijo Jesús alienta nuestros corazones: Ruega por nosotros. Amén.

Copyright © 2018, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. www.usccb.org/racism

 

Helping brothers and sisters in need

Crisis brings out best in people

“We would be here even if it was to help one family.”

This was the assertion made by Maria DeJesus the director of St. Jude Parish Food Pantry in Sarasota. In existence since the Parish was founded in 2006, the food pantry, which sits in a mobile home at the rear of the Parish property, normally assists a few dozen families each week. Most of these families are down on their luck or in need of emergency supplies because of other unexpected expenses.

The COVID-19 Pandemic changed the dynamics in the community as many families were struck with unforeseen job loss as well as an uncertain future. “We jumped to helping more than 120 families each week,” DeJesus explained. “It was shocking, but we responded in the best way we could; with prayers, hard work and the grace of God.”

Appeals for financial support went out and the faithful responded either with food or financial donations. With All Faith’s Food Bank – a primary source for supplies – nearly depleted because of the same demand, DeJesus and other volunteers purchased food at local stores – whatever they could get their hands on.

“It was tough,” she explained. “The stores didn’t have much, but we talked to the managers and they worked with us to get what we needed. They understood that our food was feeding people who might otherwise starve without our help.”

Starvation might seem like an extreme statement, but when families lose jobs and bills continued to come in, difficult choices must be made. Food becomes a luxury item and as the home cupboards emptied, they turned to the one place they trusted – the Parish.

Father Celestino Gutierrez, Pastor of St. Jude, said he is proud of the work being done through the food pantry and ensure they have what is needed to meet the demand.

“When we built the Church, I made sure we had this food pantry,” he explained. “I purchased this used mobile home (which holds the pantry) so that we had something when people came to us for help, we would always be there.”

Father Gutierrez said the Catholic Church is a beacon of hope for the world and in turn the Parish food pantry is an important part of that hope for the local community. “We are called by Jesus to help the least of our brothers (Matt 25:40). We must always remember to do that.”

As a vehicle approached on a recent Wednesday evening, the driver’s face was unfamiliar, but the story was not: job loss, hardship, worry, need.

Two overflowing bags of food were loaded into the back of the vehicle as the driver said she was thankful and wanted to get out and give them a hug. Of course, there are no hugs during social distancing, but the thanks and gesture were appreciated.

DeJesus said the peak demand has tapered off since mid-June as businesses are reopening and people go back to work, but there are still upwards of 60-80 families coming to the food pantry during the two distribution times each week (5-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 8:30-9:30 a.m. Saturdays). That translates to hundreds of mouths being fed. The pantry offers food that will last families for about two weeks, offering various dry good, and when available, meat, fruit and vegetables.

“No matter the demand, we will be here,” DeJesus said.

That same attitude is found at other Parishes which established emergency food pantries. St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples set up its emergency food pantry in the Spirit Center, a place where receptions and fun events normally take place. Directed by John Toti, the Parish Events Coordinator in other times, who noted that locally those working in service industries were particularly hard hit and requests for help came pouring in, even as the Parish offices were closed to visitors.

“In the past we would have either directed them to go to Catholic Charities or the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or even given them a gift card to a nearby store,” Toti explained. “But everyone was hit with demand all at once, so we knew we had to do something else.”

An emergency request was made to Catholic Charities and the response was positive as Toti previously volunteered at the nearby Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, a facility run by Catholic Charities which includes a large food pantry. A general appeal to parishioners for donations generated its own overwhelming response and for the past eight weeks food has been made available to all.

“It is the right thing to do,” Toti said. “We are here every day (10 a.m.-3 p.m.) and provide a good mix of food that will last.”

While St. Jude and St. Peter the Apostle are not the only Parishes to step up during this crisis, either through their own food pantry or through donations from local organizations, the acts of generosity is not limited to these groups.

For example, St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota recently announced the generosity of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School student and St. Martha Alumnus, Mallory Albritton who heard about needy local families and decided to help.

Mallory, along with Total Tennis Sarasota owner, Phil Perrla and his wife, Epp Miller, donated the meat from their hogs. Mallory bought hers through the 4H Market Swine Project with her own money ($1,300) specifically to donate to families while Perrla and Miller won theirs in the 4H Foundation Raffle. Mallory also paid with her own money to process the meat that was donated.

These donations will help seven families in need from St. Martha Catholic School, St. Mary Academy and Incarnation Catholic School, all in Sarasota. The donation included multiple packages of sausage, pork chops, ham steaks, hams, hocks, picnic shoulder, Boston butt, roast, spareribs and bacon!

Siobhan Young, St. Martha Principal, said she was visiting Albritton Fruit Farms a few weeks ago and was approached about the business wanting to donate the pork and asked if she knew anyone who was in the school that needed help. The farming family has had children and now grandchildren attend St. Martha.

“There are families at the schools that have lost jobs and were regularly using food pantries to sustain them,” Young explained. “The meat they received is up to a 4-week supply.”

These are just a few examples of the action taking place throughout the Diocese of Venice, not just in Parishes but by individuals. The hard work taking place is often done without fanfare or recognition, but it is an effort that is making a difference to our brothers and sisters in need.

If you know of any acts of kindness during the COVID-19 Pandemic that you think should be recognized, please contact Bob Reddy at 941-486-4701 or reddy@dioceseofvenice.org.

 

How to help

St. Jude Parish Food Pantry

3930 17th St., Sarasota, FL 34235

941-955-3934

www.stjudesarasota.com/support-us

 

St. Peter the Apostle Parish

5130 Rattlesnake Hammock Road

Naples, FL 34113

www.stpeternaples.org

Sister Frances retires leaving advice: ‘Stay close to Jesus’

Susan Laielli – Special to the Florida Catholic

With a smile and her famous Irish twinkle shared with Parishioners of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice for the last 26 years, Sister Frances Lalor, RSM, announces her retirement effective June 30.

Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, longtime Director of Religious Education at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, is retiring June 30, 2020.

Sister Frances, 81, professed her vows as a Religious Sister of Mercy (RSM) on September 8, 1957 in Ireland, and completed her studies in Columbia, Missouri in the 1960’s, eventually serving as principal of a Catholic School in Lake Worth, Fla., before coming to Southwest Florida.

“When we first came to America, we had the most beautiful habits made for us in Ireland, but oh boy, were they hot,” laughs Sister Frances. “We had to make lighter weight habits on the hurry.”

Since 1994, Sister has been a leader in Catholic Education working as Epiphany Cathedral’s Director of Religious Education, a position that is extremely crucial with respect to teaching and preparing young minds and hearts for the Sacraments of Confirmation, First Confession and First Holy Communion, as well as overseeing the annual Vacation Bible School and weekly Religious Education classes. She also coordinated the Parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) Faith Formation classes, which brings new Catholics into the Church. In addition, she served as acting Principal of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School for several months a few years ago.

Over two-and-a-half decades of teaching in Venice, one can only imagine the impact Sister has had on several generations of growing Catholics. The advice she always offered was to always “stay close to Jesus.”

“Well, I hope I have. You never know for sure if you have made a difference,” said Sister Frances. “In fact, I met a little girl just last Sunday who went through a very difficult time in her life when she was growing up here. Now, a nurse in Texas, she came back to visit. When someone says to you, ‘You saved my life’ – you know…”

With teary eyes, Sister recalls the little girl’s father died by suicide and she spent time working with the family through that rough time, including helping her to get through the Christmas pageant that year.

Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, center, seen in Ireland with her brother Tom, a newly ordained priest, and cousin Sarah Ryan in this photo from 1968. The longtime Parish Director of Religious Education is retiring on June 30, 2020.

Born in County Laois, Ireland, Sister Frances grew up in a “very” Catholic Family, one of seven children, who never missed Mass, and whom as a family prayed the Holy Rosary each night on their knees, as she says, “not in cushy chairs.”

“No matter who came to the door the Rosary didn’t stop. They just walked in and got down on their knees – whether it was a workman, or someone else, because we lived on a farm,” said Sister Frances.

The visitors would finish the Rosary with the family, then work would go on, she recalls.

With a memory of seven Popes in her lifetime, she says if she had to choose a favorite, it would be Pope (St.) John XXIII, who served from 1958-1963.

“I like Pope John XXIII because before he became Pope, he helped the Jews quite a bit, but when he became Pope, he was just natural and human,” said Sister.

Retirement is one of the unavoidable stages in a life well-lived and is bittersweet.

On June 1, 2020, Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School teachers honor retiring Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, a one-time principal at the Venice school. The longtime Parish Director of Religious Education is retiring on June 30, 2020.

As Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School celebrates 60 years of Premier Education for a Life of Purpose this year, the school recently honored Sister Frances with its 2020 Shining Star Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Epiphany Gala, held in February.

Before the effects of COVID-19 took hold, Sister Frances had big retirement plans to visit a religious order in San Antonio, Texas. But for now, those plans are on hold, so she’ll remain local with a few good meals until the Pandemic subsides.

“A favorite would be eggplant parmigiana with a glass of white wine – not red!” smiles Sister Frances.

Athletes return to high school fields

Other summer programs open with precautions in place

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School football players participate in a conditioning program in Sarasota on June 11, 2020, the first on campus program since March.

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School welcomed back about 40 student-athletes for summer conditioning June 10, 2020, while following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guidelines and procedures set forth by the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Cardinal Mooney conditioning program included both football and basketball players and will gradually expand to include more athletes and other sports. Similar summer conditioning programs also began at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers and St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples.

This drone shot is of Bishop Verot Catholic High School athletes participating in a conditioning program in Fort Myers on June 10, 2020, the first on campus program since March.

Ben Hopper, Diocese of Venice Interim Superintendent of Education, said the move to allow athletes and some summer programming at schools comes after extensive planning and coordination with the various schools, consultation with the Diocesan School Board.

“The health and safety of our students is, and will always be, of paramount concern,” Hopper said. “Following guidance from health experts, and in some cases even going beyond those recommendations, the Diocese is confident that the protocols set forth provide the necessary balance to ensure everyone is safe.”

A Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School football player participates in a conditioning program in Sarasota on June 11, 2020, the first on campus program since March.

To participate in the summer conditioning program, student-athletes were sent a packet of information about Phase One and the new procedures put in place to protect the student-athletes as well as the numerous guidelines they must follow, some of which include:

  • Temperature screening taken daily upon arrival;
  • Athletic clearance with a physical by a doctor;
  • Have a personal water bottle;
  • A COVID-19 liability form signed by parents;
  • Self-screening form signed and dated daily by a parent;
  • Social distance by remaining six-feet apart at all times;
  • Arrive and leave with a face mask.

New head coaches Jared Clark, football, and Clayton Slentz, basketball, were on hand to facilitate the workouts on the Cardinal Mooney Athletic Field. Summer conditioning started at 8 a.m. and lasted about an hour. Workouts are done without masks as health officials note that doing so could cause serious health issues unrelated to COVID-19.

“It feels good to have our student-athletes back on campus and I believe they were happy to be here too, even with the new procedures,” said Assistant Athletic Director Julie Santiago. “We are constantly assessing the situation to make sure we are following all the new guidelines.”

“It felt good to be with the team again and with the new coaches,” said Beau Christensen, a rising Cardinal Mooney Junior. “The energy out on the field was great and since we were outside, no one came in contact with each other, so I felt safe with the changes in place.”

The st. John Neumann Catholic High School Lady Celtic Volleyball Team returned to the Naples campus June 16, 2020, starting summer workouts and some conditioning.

Each sport will have its own guidelines to follow. Basics include no sharing of equipment, no contact with each other and extra sanitizing between usage of any equipment. As noted in the paperwork provided to parents, the guidelines are subject to change and will be reevaluated and adjusted accordingly so as to remain compliant with CDC, federal, state and local regulations. Daily temperature screenings will be done. In the event a student-athlete or coach tests positive for COVID-19 that individual will be required to remain off campus and quarantined for 14 days.

Bishop Verot Catholic High School incoming freshman participate in a summer reading program in Fort Myers on June 9, 2020, the first on campus learning program since March.

In addition to athletes, Bishop Verot welcomed incoming freshman for a summer reading program. The students were placed in the cafeteria and seated at least six-feet apart.

This young girl participates in a Summer Art Program at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers on June 10, 2020, the first on campus activity since March.

At St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, a summer art program started on June 8, 2020. Each blooming artist had their own table to work from and individual sets of supplies so as to draw, paint and build.

Having athletes back and a few summer camps going on are just the first step in the process of working toward opening for in-class instruction in August.

“Each step in this process will require extensive planning and flexibility from our faculty and staff as well as from our students and parents,” Hopper said. “This is all new for everyone, so prayers and patience are needed as everyone works together toward that common goal in just a few months.”

First Holy Communion: Delay does nothing to lessen the importance of Sacrament

Two years of religious instruction built toward a beautiful moment when young girls and boys willingly step forward to become one with Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist for the first time.

Parishes have begun celebrating the Sacrament of First Holy Communion, having been delayed, like so many other events, by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the latest in the steps by Parishes desiring to return to normal operations. Several Parishes chose the weekend of June 13-14, 2020, for the Sacrament as it coincided with the Solemnity of Corpus Christi – the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Father Jack Costello, Rector of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, celebrated a Mass for the First Holy Communion group of 2020 on June 13, about six weeks later than originally scheduled. Father said everyone should be “grateful to God that we can have this today, for all of our children, this special day when they receive the gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood.”

One First Communicant was very happy and said she felt different following Mass. “Wonderful. Jesus is a part of me now.”

By receiving Jesus, Father Costello said it must change the First Communicant, as it should every time one receives the Sacrament, to remember three words: “You be Jesus. You are called to love God, love our neighbor and love all people. When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ it helps to remind us of our identity – that we are Jesus – children of God.”

The First Communicants were reminded that the Sacrament connects to two important celebrations: Christmas, when God gave His Son as a gift to the world; and the Last Supper, when Jesus made sure the gift of Himself was made available to us and continues forever.

While explaining the reason for receiving the Sacrament repeatedly, Father Costello said that once they leave Church, they will begin to be drained of Jesus by a world that does not believe, and they will constantly need nourishment. “When you come back to Communion the next time, Jesus is going to replenish you spiritually. Reminding you of who you are… It is an important passage in a Catholic life. I am happy and congratulate all of you.”

Normally scheduled for May, the Sacrament of First Holy Communion was impossible as churches were closed to public Mass. Since that restriction was lifted effective May 18, 2020, priests and catechists rescheduled the Sacrament all while adhering to health and safety guidelines such as the wearing of masks and social distancing. This meant that instead of one large group receiving the sacrament together, the celebrations were spread over multiple Masses and, as needed, onto multiple weekends.

When the time came, the girls, in white dresses, and boys, in suits, each came forward with their family. The First Communicants all had smiles as they pulled away their masks to consume the Body of Christ for the first time. Following the Mass, the families came forward to light a candle, a reminder of the first time Jesus broke bread with His Disciples and the holy beginning of this Sacrament. Father Costello then blessed the candle and families with Holy Water. Afterwards the young boys and girls stood for a group picture and then individual and family photos.

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