Vocations retreat encourages youth to open heart to God

Keeping one’s heart open to the “Call of the Lord” was the message delivered to youth who participated in a Vocations Retreat on May 11, 2024, at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral.

Priesthood, religious life, sacramental marriage, and consecrated single life are the four vocational options for young people today. Supported by the Diocese of Venice Vocations Office, the retreat included talks by priests, religious men and women, Diocesan seminarians, and a married couple, with the goal of encouraging the young men and women to start thinking about a vocation, regardless of which one, but in all cases, in service to the Lord.

Each guest speaker shared their personal faith journey and how they are living their response to the call of the Lord in their lives. There was a stress on the universal call to holiness that the Lord wants from His children. As one speaker said, we are all brought into this world to become saints and get to heaven.

Diocesan Vocations Director Father Alex Pince opened the retreat by speaking about the need to attend Mass regularly and to receive the Blessed Sacrament at Communion, using this time to be close to the Lord, in His Church. They must also go to confession regularly to receive the Lord’s loving mercy, and to be in a state of grace, the vessel that can clearly hear the Lord’s voice. Finally, the youth must trust God — this comes from His unwavering love, which, when accepted, will lead them to ultimate happiness.

“If we want to know Jesus, we have to live in Christ,” Father Pince said. “If we do that, our desires will be united with God’s desires. It is when we are in prayer and feel a tug on our heart that brings us peace and joy that the Lord reveals the endless possibility of His love and mercy.”

The response from the teens was overwhelmingly positive, and throughout the day the youth asked insightful questions. Several wondered how they will know they are hearing a call from the Lord, or something else.

Sister Maria de Talpa Vargas, Servant Sister of the Virgin of Matara (SSVM), who is serving at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, said that when she accepted her vocation to become a religious sister, “This joy, an exploding of my heart, came over me. I was so happy. I felt that I could fly… It was the missing part of my heart. I felt a click; I didn’t need anything else.”

Carmelite Father Anthony Trung Nguyen, who is from Vietnam and serves as the Carmelite Order Vocations Director, said that growing up in a country that was dominated by Communism made being Catholic difficult. In fact, the priest only visited and celebrated Mass twice a year.

“This didn’t bother me, because I grew up knowing God called to me to live in His honor,” Father Nguyen said. “I wanted that relationship with God, I wanted to get other people to know the joy I found. God knows who I am, and he knows who you all are. He made you and He works in you to do His work in the world. Hear the Lord in your life, in your heart, in your soul. Listen and respond.”

Diocesan Seminarian and Transitional Deacon Jacob Gwynn shared his vocation story by explaining how he heard the call at an early age, admiring the priests in his Parish, but it wasn’t until he actively prayed in silence in front of the Most Holy Eucharist about becoming a priest that he really heard the Lord.

“God calls you, no matter where you are in your life,” Deacon Gwynn said. “Ask yourself what the Lord is calling you to do. Pause to listen for an answer. Wait for a response and be comforted that whatever you are called to do, God will be accompanying you on that journey.”

Throughout the day, priests were available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the entire group took part in the Saturday Vigil Mass, for Ascension Sunday. They also took part in a Holy Hour for Vocations which included Eucharistic Adoration.

Additional speakers included Diocesan Seminarian Lamb Vo; Sister Regina Zambrano, SSVM, of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula; Jacob Lyons and Stephanie Lovetere who are getting married in July; Father Ricky Varner, Pastor at Katharine Drexel, and George de Los Reyes, who provided his own reflection and musical accompaniment during the Holy Hour and Adoration.

Sister Talpa allayed some of the concerns the youth expressed when she explained that when choosing a vocation to religious life, she initially feared losing her identity and her relationship with her family. “When you find your vocation, no matter whether it is as a priest, religious or married, you are not losing yourself. You are gaining yourself, you are actually fulfilling a call and you are filled with joy. Keep your hearts open to priesthood or religious life, because the Church needs you to help others grow closer to God, and to make Jesus known to everyone.”

If you are interested in a vocation to the priesthood, or religious life (men or women), please contact Father Alex Pince, Diocesan Director of Vocations, at 941-484-9543 or pince@dioceseofvenice.org, or visit www.venicevocation.org.

May Crownings Honor Mary

Historically, May is a month dedicated by the Catholic Church to Mary, Mother of God. As is well known, Mary plays an important and irreplaceable role in the spiritual life of the Church.

For hundreds of years, the lovely words and melody of the hymn “Bring Flowers of the Rarest,” by Mary E. Walsh in 1871, has been gracing the beautiful traditional crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of May. This special devotion to Mary goes back officially to the 3rd century and continues today in countless Catholic churches, schools and homes throughout the world, and is a moving tribute of faith and love to the mother of God, and our heavenly mother.

Singing “Bring flowers of the rarest. Bring blossoms of the fairest. … O Mary! We crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,” a procession and crowning ceremony at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grove City, on May 5, 2024, was led by Father Cory Mayer, the Pastor, and he was joined by children in the religious education program.

Prayer intentions were that all Catholics have “Mary’s soul to magnify the Lord and Mary’s spirit to exult in God!” This is the favor granted us in the noblest way in every Holy Communion. The crowned statue of Mary will be specially venerated in the sanctuary throughout May.

Similar May Crownings took place across the Diocese, using the same hymn, in honor of the Blessed Virgin seeking her intercessions from her Son, the Lord, on our behalf.

News Briefs for the week of May 17, 2024

First Holy Communion celebrated across Diocese

During the month of May, more than 3,000 young boys and girls throughout the Diocese of Venice will take part in the Sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time, their First Holy Communion. Young girls in white dresses and boys in suits, having prepared in their religious studies to reach this important milestone in their spiritual journey of faith, the beginning of a long and intimate relationship with the Lord. This Sacrament comes this year during a time of a National Eucharistic Revival. This revival is a three-year effort of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to reinforce devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Bishop Frank J. Dewane said the Most Holy Eucharist is important for all, from the youngest who receive their First Communion to the oldest. “It is in a precise way in the Eucharist, that the Lord gives to us, and we receive Him… Put yourself in a relationship with Jesus Christ, through the Eucharist. It is Christ. It is His Body and Blood. It is His Real Presence!” Bishop Dewane said. “Let His Real Presence in the Eucharist fill your heart, fill your mind, fill your soul with His indication of what it is He wants from you and for you to do in your life.” Please pray for all children receiving their First Holy Communion during May, that they love the Lord with all their hearts and forever live faithfully.

Bishop celebrates Baccalaureate Mass for Ave Maria School of Law graduates

The graduates of the Ave Maria School of Law in Naples were told by Bishop Frank J. Dewane to go forward and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire them in their life, during a Baccalaureate Mass at St. Agnes Parish in Naples on May 10, 2024. Bishop Dewane also told them to follow the path of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patroness of the school, who accepted in faith what the Lord asked. “Faith is a virtue – a welcoming and cherishing bond with Jesus Christ,” the Bishop said. “That is what makes us men and women of faith. Let it grow in your heart as you launch into a new life after having been given this tremendous opportunity and experience here at Ave Maria School of Law.” The commencement was April 12, Ascension Sunday and Mother’s Day, at Artis-Naples.

Seminarians visit ship during Miami Fleet Week

A total of 23 seminarians from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach had the unique opportunity to participate in Fleet Week Miami on May 10, 2024. Over the course of two days, separate groups from the seminary were welcomed aboard the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship. The visit was organized by Transitional Deacon Jacob Gwynn, a seminarian for the Diocese of Venice, and a co-sponsored seminarian for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and led by the ship’s Command Chaplain, Father Benton Garrett. The two seminarian groups toured the ship and attended Mass in the ship’s chapel, witnessing firsthand the intersection of faith and service within the military context. Among the attendees were Seminary Rector/President, Father Alfredo I. Hernandez, and Midshipman Spencer Dominguez, a relative of Father Hernandez.

Retreat For Mothers Grieving the Loss of a Child

Red Bird Ministries, a non-profit Catholic grief support ministry, is hosting a Grieving Mother’s Retreat from June 7 – 9, 2024, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, 3989 South Moon Drive, Venice. This retreat is for women who have experienced the loss of a child from pregnancy through adulthood.  Mothers will be helped in addressing the profound healing that needs to happen while also honoring the memory of the child throughout their grief journey. Please visit www.redbird.love/revival for information and registration.

Ordination to the Priesthood June 8

Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites the faithful to the Ordination to the Priesthood of Transitional Deacon Thomas Gregory Dougherty. The Ordination will take place at 11 a.m., Saturday, June 8, 2024, at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, 1301 Center Road, Venice. All are welcome and encouraged to attend this important event in the life of Deacon Greg as well as the Diocese of Venice. A reception will follow in the Parish Hall.

Totus Tuus, Parish Catechetical Summer Program coming soon

The Totus Tuus Parish Catechetical Summer Camp program, open to grades 1-12, will be available in the Diocese of Venice again this summer beginning in June 2024. Totus Tuus aims to inspire young people to long for holiness, develop a deep desire for conversion and personally renew their faith with a stronger prayer life. All camps are one-week day camps, and programs are divided according to age. Youth are welcome to attend any of the Totus Tuus camps, but registration is requested ahead of time. Parishes hosting Totus Tuus this year are: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Parrish, and Our Lady of Grace, Avon Park (June 2-7); Ave Maria, Ave Maria (June 9-14); St. Finbarr, Naples, and St. Paul, Arcadia (June 16-21); Epiphany Cathedral, Venice, and St. Katharine Drexel, Cape Coral (June 23-28); Our Lady Queen of Heaven, LaBelle (July 7-12); Our Lady of Light, Fort Myers, and St. Cecilia, Fort Myers (July 14-19); Our Lady of the Angels, Lakewood Ranch, and St. Peter the Apostle, Naples (July 21-26). To register, contact the hosting Parish directly. Parish contact information can be found at https://dioceseofvenice.org/find-a-parish/.  For general questions about the Diocesan Totus Tuus program, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/totustuus2024/, or contact Jim Gontis at gontis@dioceseofvenice.org.

Ave Maria Youth Conference registration open

All high school age youth from incoming freshman to outgoing seniors are invited to attend the 15th Annual Ave Maria University High School Youth Conference, “CALLED,” from July 12 – 14, 2024. This faith-filled weekend will be full of fellowship, music, and great speakers, including Father Timothy Anastos from the Diocese of Chicago who is currently serving as a National Eucharistic Preacher and featured regularly on “Reel Homilies”, Noelle Garcia a Catholic recording artist who shares her faith through scripture and music, nationally known chastity speaker Pam Stenzel, and Father Joseph Lugalambi, Adjunct Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University. Music will be provided by EPIC Music Ministries. The cost is $190 per person, which includes lodging in the dorms, meals, conference fee, and a cool t-shirt! Register now by visiting https://www.aveconferences.com/called-youth-conference-july-2024. For more information call 239- 348-4725, or email aveconferences@gmail.com.

Confirmation – sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit

Through the Sacrament of Confirmation the faithful become more perfectly bound to the Church as true witnesses to Christ as their full Christian initiation is completed. This season 1,738 have been confirmed in the Diocese of Venice, which is an increase over last year’s number.

Pope Francis said Confirmation is a Sacrament which must be understood as a continuation of the faith journey, beginning with Baptism, along with the Eucharist, to constitute a single saving event – Christian initiation – “in which we are brought into Christ who died and rose again, and become new creatures and members of the Church.”

Here in the Diocese of Venice, a group of young men and women recently completed their own final step of Christian initiation by being “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” with sacred Chrism oil administered by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during their Confirmation at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee on May 4, 2024.

This Sacrament has been repeated by Bishop Dewane, and delegated Parish priests in the Parish at the Easter Vigil, since the fall of 2023, with 1,738 young men and women receiving their Confirmation during that time. Among that number were 662 adults who received the Sacrament of Confirmation at their home Parishes on Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil on March 30, 2024.

Bishop Dewane told the confirmandi at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish that part of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation is a willingness to come forward and say they are ready to receive the Holy Spirit and live out that commitment.

“Nothing magical happens today,” Bishop Dewane said. “Each one of you must be aware in your mind, and more profoundly in your heart and soul, that you have let the Holy Spirit into your life. That encounter with Christ, that encounter of receiving the Holy Spirit, must change your life as you become more the man or woman of God you are called to be.”

Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, the young men and women are confirmed with the abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the anointing, they will each be formed more closely to Christ, the Son of God.

“We are all supposed to follow Jesus Christ in our life,” the Bishop said. “When He was on earth, the Lord said to the Apostles and His Disciples ‘Follow Me.’ Christ says ‘Follow Me’ to us on a regular basis because sometimes we get a little lost. When this happens, Christ says, ‘come back – follow me.’ As you follow the Lord, you will come to have a deeper understanding of who God is in your life, allowing you to conform your life more fully to Christ, the Son of God.”

Bishop Dewane told the young men and women that this is a call to live out their faith fully, not selectively. This is because the Sacrament of Confirmation is not an ending to the faith journey, but a beginning. This means living their faith outside the four walls of the church, doing the will of the Lord, and living in a manner worthy of the call that each has received.

“By being anointed with the sacred Chrism, you are called to stand up in the midst of others and show you are a man or woman of faith,” Bishop Dewane said. “As a witness for Christ, there is a profound value you give by demonstrating your faith. You do this by speaking up, or maybe by making the sign of the cross in a restaurant before you start your meal, and in everything you do. It has far more value than what you think. Your example reminds others of what they should or could be doing.”

During the Sacrament of Confirmation, the confirmandi renew their baptismal promises, which Bishop Dewane said is done to publicly proclaim who they are as Catholics and to have the courage, hope, faith and perseverance to be true followers of Christ.

As the Rite continues, the Bishop says an introductory prayer and asks all to join him in praying for the candidates and then he recites an additional prayer. Finally, the candidates are presented by coming forward, with their sponsor placing their right hand on the candidate’s right shoulder. Then with his right thumb, the Bishop makes the sign of the cross on their forehead with the holy Chrism oil and says “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” The confirmed reply, “Amen.” At this point, the Bishop says, “Peace be with you,” and they respond “And with your spirit.”

Pope Francis often stresses how important it is that all children receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. While there is a logical emphasis on the Sacrament of Baptism, he notes that there tends to be less of a focus on the Sacrament of Confirmation. Therefore, those who are baptized remain at a halfway point, and as Pope Francis said, they do not “receive the Holy Spirit that gives us the strength to go forward in Christian life.”

The Diocese of Venice has a religious education program which emphasizes the importance of the Sacrament of Confirmation during a two-year period. The young men and women go through a process where they renew and refresh what they previously learned before transitioning into studying about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This program culminates in Confirmation, when they are full Christians who are called to be more and reflect the love and goodness of Christ in their heart and soul.

There is an additional program called the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults, which not only assists adults in receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, but other Sacraments they might be missing, thus allowing them to be in full Communion with the Church. Contact your Parish if you wish to inquire about the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults in Diocese of Venice.

Six Diocesan Parishes selected for national youth accompaniment pilot program

Looking at new ways to approach youth ministry at the Parish-level, representatives from six Diocese of Venice Parishes are taking part in a national pilot program focused on accompanying youth into developing a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.

The Accompaniment Project is a grant-funded initiative of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) that seeks to guide parishes through reimagining how to accompany all young people encountering Christ and growing in discipleship. The Accompaniment Project is an experimental approach to youth ministry that helps Parishes meet the needs of the young people in their communities.

Of the more than 17,000 Parishes nationally, only 43 Parishes were selected by the NFCYM to take part in the pilot program nationally. The Diocese of Venice is blessed to have six participating, including: Epiphany Cathedral in Venice; St. Paul in Arcadia; St. Peter the Apostle in Naples; St. Joseph in Bradenton; Our Lady Queen of Heaven in LaBelle; and St. Catherine in Sebring. The program with the Diocese is being facilitated through the Youth and Young Adult Outreach Office, under the auspices of the Office of Evangelization.

To help facilitate the program for the six Parishes, an introductory workshop took place on May 4, 2024, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice. The workshop was led by Juan Carlos Montenegro and Luis Chacon, Salesian Lay Ministers from the Los Angeles area.

“Sometimes the way we do youth ministry is not necessarily what is best for young people,” Montenegro said. “For 23 years I have seen plenty of young people coming through the Confirmation program and right after they are confirmed they act as if they graduated from the Catholic Church, and they don’t come back anymore. Or, after they go to university, and someone challenges them on their faith, that’s it, they don’t know how to believe anymore. The reason why I am here is because I also want to see how we can help young people get engaged to the Catholic Church.”

Montenegro and Chacon provided the Parish representatives information about Catholic youth and reasons why they leave the Church, and more importantly why they don’t feel welcome. Throughout the day, the presentation shifted focus to accompaniment, or walking with the youth on their personal spiritual journey of growth and understanding.

“Often, we want to choose for our youth, to tell them something because we think we know what is best for them,” Montenegro said. “Unfortunately, that approach leads to a spiritual dryness. To quench their thirst, they will seek truth anywhere they can find it (internet, friends, other religions, etc.), because they don’t know where to find it. The most important thing to remember is, Christ leads while we accompany.”

The Accompaniment Project is a three-year initiative in which the first six months is devoted to Strategic Planning to design effective youth ministry at the Parish level. This plan will be implemented for two years. Finally, there will be a six-months phase for evaluation of the plan. The NFCYM coordinates and coaches the entire process.

In that time, the Parish leaders hope to educate the adults in their communities on what it means to accompany young people in faith as well as to provide them with the practical skills they need to do so. In this effort, these Parishes will be testing a new model of ministering with young people which focuses on developing a community of faith companions.

When asked why the different Parishes are participating in the pilot program, several representatives explained how they want to better connect to their youth which would solidify their faith and encourages other young people to become involved.

At St. Joseph Parish, the Pastor, Father Rafal Ligenza, participated in the training session and brought with him two from his youth ministry.

St. Joseph, and the other Parishes, hope with their Parish participation in the Accompaniment Project, the teens will describe their faith experience as having a deep sense of spiritual peace and strong relationship with God as well as a sense of gratitude and desire to attend the Mass weekly.

Ultimately, the true goal is to have these students want to give back and become future catechists. But above all, that they develop and grow towards a mature faith reorienting their lives to live for God and for eternity within the community of Faith.

Each Parish noted how they are conscious of the responsibility this participation in the pilot program brings, so that many more Parishes will benefit from the lessons learned.

During this initial gathering, Montenegro and Chacon offered the Parishes numerous resources to get started. In the fall, they will meet with different Parishes and begin the planning for the next steps of creating this unique outreach to our youth.

News Briefs for the week of May 10, 2023

Catholic Center hosts prayer service for Blessed Virgin

The staff of the Diocese of Venice Catholic Center took part in a prayer service, led by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 8, 2024. Bishop Dewane noted how the month of May is dedicated to Our Lady and it is appropriate to honor her seeking the Blessed Virgin’s intercession on our behalf. During the prayer service, the Catholic Center staff prayed Litany of Our Lady of Loretto, the Hail Mary, and sang the Salve Regina.


Pro-Life training sessions May 13 and 15 

If you’d like to volunteer to help educate people on the truth about the pro-abortion amendment on the November ballot, plan to attend a training opportunity within the Diocese of Venice in May (one of two). The first training is Monday, May 13, 2024, from 11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., at St. Patrick Parish Hall (new location), 7900 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota.  The second session is also from 11:45 a.m., Wednesday, May 15, at St. John XXIII Parish Center, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers. Lunch will be included at both sessions.  Register online at www.LeadershipInstitute.org/Florida for either session. If you have questions, please contact Jeanne Berdeaux at 941-374-1068 or Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org.

Students learn about business and finances

Fourth and fifth grade students from St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota took part in a school trip to experience a day in the workplace at JA BizTown in Tampa on April 30, 2024. JA BizTown combines in-class learning with a day-long visit to a simulated town where students receive hands-on experience as both employees and consumers, paying rent, taxes and utilities, purchasing insurance, depositing paychecks and buying other business products, handling customer service, and more. The interactive, project-based program not only teaches students how to manage their own personal finances and the importance of becoming a successful professional within the community, but it also empowers them to take responsibility for their professional and educational futures.

Fort Myers Catholic youth to participate in national Spelling Bee

The faithful of St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers will be cheering on one of their own during the 96th Scripps National Spelling Bee from May 28-30, 2024. David Nicasio, 13, who is an active member of St. Cecilia, as an altar server, lector, as well as in the middle school and youth groups, won a series of local competitions to qualify as one of 245 students from across the nation to reach the national Spelling Bee. The competition has four levels: preliminaries, quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. The competition will air on the ION network from 8-10 p.m. May 29 and 30. The earlier rounds will be available on ION Plus, a digital platform. Just for making the National Spelling Bee, David will receive a number of gifts and prizes related to learning. Prizes increase to a top prize of $50,000 and a championship trophy for the winner.

Retreat For Mothers Grieving the Loss of a Child

Red Bird Ministries, a non-profit Catholic grief support ministry is hosting a Grieving Mother’s Retreat from June 7 – 9, 2024, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, 3989 South Moon Drive, Venice. This retreat is for women who have experienced the loss of a child from pregnancy through adulthood.  Mothers will be helped in addressing the profound healing that needs to happen while also honoring the memory of the child throughout their grief journey. Please visit www.redbird.love/revival for information and registration.

Ordination to the Priesthood June 8

Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites the faithful to the Ordination to the Priesthood of Transitional Deacon Thomas Gregory Dougherty.  The Ordination will take place at 11 a.m., Saturday, June 8, 2024, at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, 1301 Center Road, Venice.  All are welcome and encouraged to attend this important event in the life of Deacon Greg as well as the Diocese of Venice. A reception will follow in the Parish Hall.

Totus Tuus, Parish Catechetical Summer Camp returning

The Totus Tuus Parish Catechetical Summer Camp program aims to inspire young people to strive for holiness, develop a deep desire for conversion and personally renew their faith with a stronger prayer life. Through evangelization and catechesis, Totus Tuus seeks to foster openness to the sacrifices and blessings of the various Christian vocations.

The Totus Tuus program, which is open to grades 1-12, has been very well-received by young people, parents, and Parishes in the Diocese of Venice for the last two years and is returning to the Diocese of Venice this summer, beginning in June 2024.

The first camps open the week of June 2-7, and take place at a variety of Parishes throughout the summer with the final camps taking place the week of July 21-26. All camps are one-week day camps, and programs are divided according to age. The goal of the weeklong camp is to help the children develop a true and lasting longing for holiness. The Five Pillars of Totus Tuus are: The Eucharist; Marian Devotion; Catechetical Instruction; Vocation Discernment; and Fun.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane helped bring Totus Tuus – which means “totally yours” – to the Diocese of Venice in 2022. The original program began in 1987 as a Vacation Bible School program in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. Then, in 2022, the Diocese of Venice launched its pilot program, with great success. The Diocese received many requests from parents to continue the program; which not only has continued, but expanded in 2023 and set the hearts on fire of more than 1,000 youth.

“This program works,” Bishop Dewane said. “Totus Tuus complements what the children learn from their parents, who are the first and best educators of the faith. This is evident whenever I visit a Parish Totus Tuus camp. I am always impressed by the response each child has to the uplifting program. Whether in a group activity, or in a classroom, everyone is clearly excited and alive about their love of the Lord.”

The weeklong program is divided into two sessions, with the day component (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.) for students grades 1 – 6, and the evening session (6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.) for middle school and high school students grades 7 – 12.

The younger children participate in four classes each day, attend daily Mass, learn the parts and liturgical songs of Mass, and participate in games, skits, songs, recess and prayer. The older students participate in instruction, small group discussions, quiet meditations, adoration, prayer and fellowship.

Parishes hosting Totus Tuus this year are: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Parrish, and Our Lady of Grace, Avon Park (June 2-7); Ave Maria, Ave Maria (June 9-14); St. Finbarr, Naples, and St. Paul, Arcadia (June 16-21); Epiphany Cathedral, Venice, and St. Katharine Drexel, Cape Coral (June 23-28); Our Lady Queen of Heaven, LaBelle (July 7-12); Our Lady of Light, Fort Myers, and St. Cecilia, Fort Myers (July 14-19); Our Lady of the Angels, Lakewood Ranch, and St. Peter the Apostle, Naples (July 21-26).

Youth are welcome to attend any of the Totus Tuus camps, but registration is requested ahead of time. To register, contact the hosting Parish directly. Parish contact information can be found at https://dioceseofvenice.org/totustuus2024/.

For general questions about the Diocesan Totus Tuus program, please contact Jim Gontis at gontis@dioceseofvenice.org.

Missionaries Wanted!

The Totus Tuus program is still recruiting for a few missionaries to lead the camps! To apply, you must be a recent high school graduate or college-aged man or women who is committed to the Catholic Faith and feels called to share their faith with youth throughout the Diocese. The mission is a nine-week commitment from May 23 to July 27 (excluding the week of June 29-July 6). Application deadline is May 8. For more details and to register, please visit https://www.research.net/r/totustuus2024.

Parish unites for neighbors

By Larissa Rodriguez, Special to the Florida Catholic

A volunteer meal packing event was hosted by Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers on March 16, 2024, just as the darker days of the Lenten Season were winding down and the bright hope of Easter was on the horizon.

The Parish’s collaboration with Meals of Hope was the idea of Deacon Ripperton “Rip” Riordan, who wanted to see increased involvement in the Parish community.

“With the large population during the winter season, I had an idea or dream of getting the Parish Community involved in an outreach project outside of the Parish walls,” Deacon Riordan said. “So, I spoke with a few leaders of the Parish and local community and asked what special project needed to be done that could involve 200 volunteers?”

From there, the idea was kickstarted into becoming a reality. Deacon Riordan enlisted the help of two parishioners, Steve and Vicki Pierson, who suggested partnering with Meals of Hope, pouring their heart and soul into planning the event.

Meals of Hope is a nonprofit based in Naples with 15 food pantries throughout Southwest Florida and one more opening this month. It was founded in 2007 by its president and CEO, Stephen Popper, to provide hunger relief to people in the U.S.

Popper learned from his mother and aunts, who were trying to take care of poor children in Haiti, that the children had trouble learning because they didn’t have enough food to eat.

Popper and his wife organized their first meal packing event, and grew from there, packing a million meals in the first year. Though the company started with the goal of shipping meals overseas, it now largely focuses on providing meals locally.

The goal at the Our Lady of Light event was to pack 50,000 meals of cinnamon sugar diced apple oatmeal for distribution by the Harry Chapin Food Bank and other mobile food pantries throughout Southwest Florida. This number was surpassed with about 52,000 meals packed and shipped out by the end of the day.

“We really have quite a large impact. But we can’t do it without the support of Our Lady of Light and other churches and groups,” Popper said.

This event provided a profound impact to the community especially because it took place during Lent, as it created a practical way for parishioners to exercise their Lenten obligation of almsgiving and service, while also having fun.

Volunteers danced to the music as they were packing their meals and cheered once their group finished packing a full box. Their biggest cheerleaders were Deacon Riordan and Father Hugh McGuigan, Pastor of Our Lady of Light.

“Being of service to others is an important aspect of a strong community. Our faith community here at Our Lady of Light is an active group that desires to live their faith by sharing their love and resources for the needs of our brothers and sisters,” Deacon Riordan said.

In Deacon Riordan’s Holy Thursday homily, he compared Jesus washing the feet of his disciples to everyday acts of service modern Christians can perform. The Deacon said this event was one of the ways the community was able to share their witness as “foot washers” to others.

“One of the things I love about Meals of Hope is how inclusive it is, people from all ages can do it,” Popper said. “There are not many things that can do that, where people of all ages and abilities can participate and really have a strong impact in the community.”

The staff and volunteers of Our Lady of Light Parish are already planning another Meals of Hope event in November.

“Jesus, I trust in You”- Divine Mercy Sunday celebrated

The Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday, completes the Octave of Easter, a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the blessing of His continuing presence in our midst. The Gospel reading for Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2024, recalls the encounter between St. Thomas (the doubting Apostle) and Jesus after the Resurrection.

Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates the mercy of Jesus as reminded to us by St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a religious sister who lived a humble life, to whom Jesus appeared. St. Faustina was born in Krakow, Poland and lived from 1905-1938. She was canonized by St. John Paul II in 2000, who at that time also declared the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. This celebration also honors St. Faustina’s vision of Jesus Christ, and His message of love and peace for the world.

St. Faustina wrote in her diary from private revelation that Jesus told her: “I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy (1109). The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion will obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment (699).”

The image of the Divine Mercy was created by St. Faustina who was told to paint the image of Jesus as she saw Him. The painting has the saying at the bottom: “Jesus, I Trust in You.” The rays emanating from the Sacred Heart of Jesus represent water (white) – which makes souls righteous — and blood (red) — which is the life of souls, Jesus told St. Faustina.

Many Parishes throughout the Diocese hold Divine Mercy services and several have novenas of prayer leading up to the Sunday. The popularity of Divine Mercy has been embraced by many diverse communities throughout the Diocese.

At St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, Divine Mercy Sunday included the traditional afternoon prayer service in English and Spanish. This included the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a reflection from Father Pawel Kawalec, a recitation of the Divine Mercy Litany, singing of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Solemn Benediction.

The prayer service concluded when the faithful were invited to come forward and venerate the image of Divine Mercy which adorns the wall to the right of the altar and was decorated with flowers.

Alicia Torres attended the Divine Mercy prayer service with her two children and said her prayers were focused on seeking help for family members who need to have Christ in their life more. “This day is about seeking Jesus’ Mercy for ourself and our family and the whole world.”

At St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples, the Divine Mercy celebration included a presentation by Sister Teresa de la Fuente, Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (St. Faustina’s religious order).

Pope Francis, during the Regina Caeli on Divine Mercy Sunday, noted that the “fullness of life” comes not from the pursuit of transitory pleasure but is “realized in Jesus.”

In his address, Pope Francis drew upon the disciples, who were despondent and secluded in the Upper Room, “going through the most tragic moment in life,” to showcase how Christ’s coming to them was a deeply transformative moment, one that not only reveals His mercy but also promises a new life.

“The Risen One comes to them and shows them His wounds,” the Pope said. “They were the signs of suffering and pain, they could stir feelings of guilt, yet with Jesus they become channels of mercy and forgiveness.”


Easter meal shared with homeless in Naples – Parish partners with Catholic Charities

Partnering with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., the parishioners of St. William Parish provided a hot Easter meal for area homeless on April 4, 2024, the Thursday within the Octave of Easter.

Father George Ratzmann, Pastor at St. William, offered the prayer before the meal, “We pray that our time together, company we keep, and food we eat will nourish us both physically and spiritually.”

The meal took place outside of the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center of Catholic Charities, as more than 100 were served a hot meal which included chicken, potatoes, salad and cake for dessert. The Parish also hosted a similar dinner just after Christmas.

The meal was prepared by volunteers as some served the meals on tables set up in the parking lot in a relaxed atmosphere.

The gratitude of those being served was expressed in many ways, from “God Bless you,” and “Thank you” ringing out, as well as many handshakes and even a few hugs.

Mary, who has been homeless since 2021 when an illness caused her to have huge bills while also losing her job, said the people of Catholic Charities are very kind and supportive of her needs, providing food and clothes when needed. “This Easter meal was very delicious, and I can tell that everyone here is doing it because they want to help. That means so much.”

Father Ratzmann said it is wonderful to be able to offer a hot meal to those in need, and noted the benefits to the homeless are as great as to those who offer their time to volunteer. “We all gain from helping the children of God, in whatever circumstance we find them.”

The homeless outreach of Catholic Charities includes assistance from caseworkers, and essentials such as food, clothing, and toiletries.

In addition, with transportation being one of the greatest obstacles for the homeless population in Collier County, St. William Parish has partnered with the Knights of Columbus, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and Bikes for Tykes, to purchase tricycles for distribution by Catholic Charities.

The goal is to provide every homeless person with a recognizable (bright yellow), non-saleable adult tricycle. Each can carry a heavy load and has two baskets to secure personal items.

As it has been recognized that the need for reliable and safe transportation for the homeless exists throughout the region, it is the goal of the St. William Parish to expand the tricycle outreach to additional communities in partnership with Catholic Charities.