First public Sunday Mass since mid-March brings joy, hope

As the faithful left Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice on May 24, 2020, there was a feeling of joy and hope. The joy came from the return to public Sunday Mass after a two-month absence. The hope was that this small step means that lives are closer to returning to normal in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, it was fitting that the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord was the moment the faithful returned to the regular Sunday Mass for the first time since March 15, 2020. The Solemnity includes the reading from the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew called the “Great Commissioning” – when the Lord gives instructions and sends forth the Disciples into the world to spread the Good News.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who lifted the suspension of public Mass effective May 18, 2020, celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass on May 24, 2020 at the Cathedral, noting it was a pleasure to be back before the faithful after such a long absence.

“It is gift from the Lord that we are able to come back to our churches and our Parishes,” Bishop Dewane said. “At the same time, we have to acknowledge that Christ calls us to be a people of hope. During this time of the pandemic we must remain believers and hope for the best – for one another, for ourselves, but most of all for our Faith. We have to have hope in Jesus Christ.”

Brad Gaines attended the Vigil Mass at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers and was very happy to be back.

“It is such a blessing to be here for Mass,” Gaines said. “It brings me great comfort, just like I had been every weekend since I was born, at least until the pandemic hit. I never realized how much I would miss being at Mass, in the presence of the Lord and singing hymns with others.”

The reopening of public Mass came with some restrictions as churches were only allowed to accommodate up to 50 percent of normal capacity while maintaining appropriate social distancing. As expected, many decided to remain home because they are older, are vulnerable to illness. or they are not fully comfortable to return. For this reason, Bishop Dewane extended the dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass through June 28, 2020.

For those who did go to Mass, signs were posted reminding everyone of social distancing regulations. Greeters kept doors propped open and ushers directed people to available seating as half of the pews in churches were blocked off. All Parishes required that masks be worn. There were no missals in the pews, thus the music selections were more common, making it easier for people to participate. Hand sanitizer was readily available and between Masses extra cleaning took place.

Many Parishes also created instructional videos to prepare the faithful for what to expect when coming to Mass, such as which entrances would be open and providing directions on receiving Holy Communion while wearing a mask.

Fran Kingman admitted she was wary about going to Mass until she saw the instructional video on the precautions being taken at Epiphany Cathedral.

“I so wanted to come back and was very worried,” Kingman said. “I soon realized that the Cathedral was taking this situation seriously. For me, wearing a mask at church is strange but a small price to pay. Honestly, I would rather do that from now on if it meant keeping the churches open for Mass.”

At the Cathedral, and many other Parishes, Holy Communion was made available in the afternoon for those who watched the Mass through a live stream and did not feel comfortable being at Mass in the church. Such accommodations were made to ensure the Sacrament remained available to all during these unique times.

During the pandemic, the live streaming of Mass became commonplace. While some Parishes have opted to stop or reduce the number of live streaming Masses, the Diocese of Venice will continue to offer its live stream service (available on Facebook or at www.dioceseofvenice.org) from the Catholic Center at 9:15 a.m. daily through June 28, 2020.

Welcome Home! Public Mass returns to Diocese with maximum 50% capacity

There was an expectant atmosphere for the 8 a.m. daily Mass on May 18, 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. It was an extraordinary day; the first public Mass at the Cathedral of the Diocese of Venice since March 19, 2020. The social distancing and the wearing of masks reflected the unique circumstances necessary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lines mark the floor of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice to ensure appropriate social distancing on May 18, 2020, the first day of the return of public Mass.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane announced the reopening of the Mass to the public, in a letter to the faithful dated May 12, 2020. Each church will have a maximum capacity of 50 percent while ensuring 6-foot social distancing. The announcement marked the end of a 59-day hiatus from the celebration of public Masses throughout the Diocese. This was preceded by the opening of churches for private prayer on May 11, 2020.

Therefore, it was no surprise when the 130 in attendance for the first Mass at the Cathedral applauded when Parochial Vicar Father Sebastian Szczawinski said “welcome.”

“I feel like I’m home,” said Roberta Cartwright. “I felt empty from being away for so long. I watched the daily Mass online, but it just wasn’t the same. I am so grateful to the Bishop for allowing everyone to return home and once more be close to Our Lord.”

Frank Paget said he was overjoyed to be back for the Mass and comforted to be among others who share his Faith. “I understood why the (public) Mass was suspended in the first place; it just had to happen. I am so grateful to be back and that everyone is following the restrictions for being safe and out in public – wearing a mask and sitting apart. I know it is temporary, but it is important for all of us to do our part.”

Public health officials have repeatedly advised wearing masks in public in order to reduce the risk of unknowingly transmitting the virus through droplets emitted from one’s mouth when speaking, coughing or sneezing. Many individuals who are infected with the virus do not develop symptoms, meaning even people who do not feel sick could spread the virus. For this reason, masks – along with social distancing – are an important tool in fighting the spread of the disease.

Prominent signs and markings in the pews throughout the Cathedral were in place to ensure social distancing. Lessons learned throughout the week will be used to prepare for the Saturday Vigil and Sunday Masses when more people are expected to return to Mass. Immediately following the Mass, volunteers wiped down the pews and areas where people may have touched exposed surfaces. All Parishes throughout the Diocese have taken similar steps as they reopen and adjust to the necessary requirements to ensure the health and safety of the faithful, volunteers, Parish staff and clergy.

The letter from Bishop Dewane notes that the faithful should expect that churches will be limited in capacity (maximum 50 percent) while the faithful maintain social distancing and wear a mask. At the same time, Bishop Dewane noted that the dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in effect through June 28, 2020. The Bishop also encouraged those who are most vulnerable or in fear of being in public to remain at home. “The faithful ought not to worry about remaining home if they are concerned for their wellbeing or that of other parishioners. Of course, those who are sick or have symptoms associated with COVID-19 are to stay home.”

For this reason, the first public Mass at Epiphany Cathedral was live streamed on Facebook, as Masses have been since late March. As with other Parishes, the online service from the Cathedral initially ensured everyone could remain connected to the Mass during quarantine and now as restrictions are eased, it will remain for those who still need to stay away for the time being.

If you are unable to find a Mass online, the Diocese of Venice will continue to provide the daily Mass at 9:15 a.m. from the Catholic Center in Venice through June 28, 2020. This is available through the Diocese Facebook account or website (www.dioceseofvenice.org. The Mass remains available for viewing throughout the day.

Parishes work to ensure safety for all during Mass

When Bishop Frank J. Dewane announced that May 18, 2020 would be the resumption of public Mass at churches in the Diocese of Venice, a deadline for Parishes to be ready was set. At the same time directives and guidelines for reopening were provided to the Parish.

Planning sessions took place at Parishes across the Diocese and included all who are involved in preparing the Mass for the Sacred Liturgy, including the priests, deacons, sacristans, lectors, cantors, musicians and members of the maintenance team.

A hose stretches across pews at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice on May 13, 2020, as part of an effort to clean the church for the resumption of Mass on May 18, 2020.

These groups typically gather ahead of major Church celebrations such as Advent, Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week and the Easter Season, to name a few. The gatherings the week of May 11 were quite different. Instead of preparing for a festive celebration with large crowds, the planning included figuring out how to keep individuals and families separated and safe while preserving the dignity of the Sacred Liturgy.

Following Florida Department of Health guidelines – calling for 50 percent capacity and 6-foot separation – the planners had to reimagine how best to use the worship space to balance between safety and the needs of the faithful. Parish have been open for prayer with enforced separation since early May. Thus, the planning for private prayer laid the groundwork for opening for public Mass.

In a note to parishioners, which was followed by a video message, Administrator of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish Father Joseph Gates explained what was happening: “Over the past few weeks during the coronavirus pandemic I stated several times that when we resume public Masses, the way in which we “Gather to Worship’ was going to be different. At the same time, I did not know what that ‘difference’ was going to be, but I knew change was coming. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would be the same, but the way we “Gather to Pray” would have some unique modifications. Some of you may not like the changes but know that I respect your opinion.”

This is a proposed configuration to ensure social distancing at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Parrish for the reopening of public Mass on May 18, 2020.

Father Gates noted that an honest conversation took place between the priests of the Diocese and Bishop Dewane where many thoughts, concerns and ideas were shared, but it was agreed to have this transitory stage of gathering in public as a community once again. “Please keep that in mind and let us be thankful we can open our doors to worship once again. Because if we are not careful, our doors could close once more due to a second swell in the pandemic.”

Ahead of reopening for Mass, Parishes went through a deep cleaning and put up signs, as well as floor markings throughout churches to indicate the flow of people, available pews and even spacing for when the faithful come forward to receive Holy Communion. Parishes have also committed to doing a cleaning between each Mass.

Several Parishes have also posted notices and instructional videos indicating procedures for the faithful to follow to ensure everyone’s health and safety including how to receive Holy Communion in the hand while wearing a mask. These notices are asking for patience from the faithful as each Parish adapts to the changes and work to ensure Mass is available for as many people as possible, but all within safety guidelines.

“How temporary this transitory stage will be is unclear,” Father Gates said. “But we are blessed to gather once again to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in that we should Rejoice!”

Parish messages also include notices about changes to the seating, with some noting the maximum capacity of spaces (some as few as 30 and as high as 300). These are at maximum one-half of capacity of the respective Church and reflect the need to maintain distancing based on the specific layout of the worship space. In Parishes where there are several priests, overflow Masses will be offered in the Parish Hall.

Other items of interest indicated in notices included: masks must be worn; bring your own hand sanitizer; stay home if you are sick or are in a “greater risk” category per the Centers for Disease Control (the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday has been lifted until June 28, 2020); space will be limited and you may have to attend Mass at a different time; entering only through the main doors; follow all directions of greeters and ushers; maintain distancing and limit socializing in the church; in some Parishes, Holy Communion will be distributed in the pews (a Eucharistic minister going row by row); Communion to be received only in the hand; a central location for the offertory; orderly dismissal by rows; and all other Parish activities remain suspended until further notice.

In his May 12, 2020 letter to the faithful announcing the celebration of Holy Mass with a congregation present, Bishop Dewane concluded by writing: “The Faithful of the Diocese of Venice have remained resolute in their faith during these unprecedented times, vibrantly expressing their Spiritual Communion with Christ and His Church. Still, I am aware that there is a hunger for the Eucharist. My prayerful hope is that, strengthened by the Bread come down from Heaven, you will emerge from these times with stronger faith.  As we return to Holy Mass, let us with the psalmist, raise our voices in praise of God:  I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”

Parish food pantry meets growing need

Not long after sunrise on Saturday, May 16, 2020, volunteers at the St. Michael Parish Food Pantry in Wauchula started filling boxes with a variety of fresh, refrigerated and frozen food in preparation for a busy morning.

Vehicles were lined up by 7 a.m., about 30 minutes before the scheduled opening and less than two hours later more than 250 families (or about 1,000 people) had been helped.

Sister Maria Madre de le Alborada Quizhpe, Servant of the Lord the Virgin of Matara (SSVM), is in charge of the food pantry and does a weekly assessment of available food and must decide how much goes into each box based on the previous week’s number. In just a few weeks, the food pantry has handed out more than five times the pre-pandemic amount, a trend that shows no signs of ending soon.

On May 16, 2020 Bishop Frank J. Dewane saw firsthand the good work being done at St. Michael Parish. The Bishop did not hesitate to jump in to assist on the assembly line, packing boxes right where Sister Alborada most needed him.

The food pantry is restocked thanks to the direct assistance of two local food banks (Feeding Tampa Bay and All Faiths Food Bank), as well as through the support of local grocers and farmers, several Diocesan Parishes and resources are augmented by weekly bulk rice and bean deliveries from Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc.

Each contribution is sorted by another group of volunteers earlier in the week to make the Saturday morning routine go smoothly. Everyone helping lives locally and knows about the need in the community.

The boxes move down the packing line at a breakneck pace as vehicles pull into the driveway, trucks or tailgates open, and boxes of food are loaded. Some vehicles pick up items for elderly neighbors or those without vehicles.

When Bishop Dewane finished his shift, he took time to thank everyone for their hard work. The Bishop remarked that he was also impressed by their dedication to come out each week to volunteer to do this hard work, not just for the Parish, but for the community as a whole. “Well done!”

Each vehicle coming through the line is surveyed to learn how many people are in the household and also to ensure that the families are using all of the offered food. Sister Gema Ruiz, SSVM, said that to a person, the food is much appreciated and needed.

“They say that whatever is not needed immediately is shared with elderly neighbors or other needy friends and family,” Sister Gema explained. “That is good to hear. We are pleased nothing is going to waste.”

Because the Parish is so far from the main food banks, the pantry must pay to retrieve most of the food, adding a tremendous expense. While necessary, this is beginning to impact the other assistance programs, Sister Gema explained. The Parish offers emergency financial support for unexpected expenses, an area where demand is also beginning to increase.

Sister Alborada explained that the impact of the food pantry on the community cannot be underestimated. The food provided to families, many with several children, gives them one less expense they need to worry about when money is tight. “They have children to feed, but they also have other bills to pay. We help to ensure they don’t need to make a choice between their children and some other expense.”

If you would like to help the St. Michael Parish food pantry, you can send money to St Michael Parish, c/o Food Pantry, 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, FL 33873, or call 863-773-4089.  The Diocese of Venice is also providing an online platform. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ and select St. Michael Parish in the drop-down box (please disable your pop-up blockers).

Fort Myers Parish gives “Words of Encouragement”

Fort Myers Parish gives “Words of Encouragement”

The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down social gatherings within Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice, but through the initiative of staff and the faithful, with a little help from technology (social media and Parish websites), alternative ways of reaching out have been developed.

One example of this can be found at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers, which began an online video series called “Words of Encouragement.” This series of short videos – one minute or less – include reflections from leaders of various Parish outreach programs as well as everyday parishioners who wanted to share their thoughts about staying strong in the Faith during the pandemic.

Jennifer Engelman, Coordinator of Parish Engagement, who compiles and edits the videos for length, said the first “Words of Encouragement” video was posted in mid-April, and the response has been great.

“We sent out a request for videos asking parishioners to share a prayer that strikes them; what they are doing when anxious or concerned; how they shelter in place with Faith,” Engelman explained. “We based it on how people were coping while staying at home. It is a whole new life away from Church, but also away from each other.”

The video series content generated a great deal of interest among the parishioners. Some videos include prayers, others offer music or information about a devotion to find comfort in difficult times, such as to Our Lady, Christ or a specific saint.

Judy Siegel of St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers speaks during a segment of the “Words of Encouragement” video series online.

One video message was from Judy Siegel, a sacristan and member of the Crafty Ladies. She encouraged everyone to focus on the Light of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who will help everyone get through these dark times. “He will do it. He will never leave us. He chose each and every one of us, and His love is eternal.” Siegel concluded her video by reminding everyone to wash their hands and wear a mask when they go out.

“We are thrilled with those who stepped forward,” Engelman said. “They range in age from 8 ½-years-old to 90. We’ve had such a good response that some days we’ve posted videos in the morning and afternoon. Much of what is being shared is relevant and timely. Initially the comments were people recognizing friends, but it really has opened an avenue to comment. It’s a nice way to keep the parishioners engaged when we are not coming to Mass or being together and socializing.”

The idea of the video series came out of the regular Parish strategic planning committee and is a spin-off of the regular spiritual reflections from Pastor Father Bob Tabbert.

“The response to the Father Tabbert videos made people feel good about the Church and gave comfort in knowing that the priests were praying for them,” Engelman said. “People felt very good seeing their Pastor and from that the idea of having others share their ideas was born.”

To view the “Words of Encouragement” video messages, go to Facebook and search for St. John XXII Catholic Church in Fort Myers.

This is just another example of the many ongoing outreach efforts from Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice as they try to keep the faithful engaged while most Parish activities are indefinitely suspended.

News briefs for the week of May 18

Naples Deacon remembered

Deacon Donald Healy, who served at St. Ann Parish in Naples, died April 2, 2020. he was 83.

Deacon Donald Healy, the oldest Permanent Deacon to be ordained for the Diocese of Venice, who served at St. Ann Parish in Naples, died April 2, 2020. He was 83. Deacon Healy was born in Rome, N.Y. and was a highly recruited college athlete in three sports. He ultimate chose football and played as a two-way player (office tackle and defensive guard) for the University of Maryland before he was drafted in the third round (37th overall) by the Chicago Bears in 1958. He was then selected in the 1960 expansion draft by the Dallas Cowboys where he still holds the team record for recovered fumbles in one season (5), the longest standing record in team history. He played his professional final season with the Buffalo Bills before retiring in 1962 due to injuries. He lived for many years in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he and his wife Genevieve (Shea) Healy raised four children. He worked in agricultural chemical sales and then later in the automotive parts industry. The couple moved to Naples in 1995 and Deacon Healy eventually earned an advanced degree in theology, a requirement for his lifelong dream of becoming a Permanent Deacon. When he was 70, he was ordained a Deacon by Bishop John J. Nevins on Oct. 25, 2006 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and was assigned to St. Ann Parish. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, four children, and 11 grandchildren. A Memorial Mass will be held later at St. Ann Parish.

Scam Alert

It has once again been brought to the attention of the Diocese of Venice that parishioners have received text/email messages from people pretending to be priests or Bishop Frank J. Dewane and requesting donations in the form of gift cards and/or wire transfers. The messages often greet the person by name and have the priests name in the closing signature of the message; this is a well-crafted and targeted attack on the Church across the country which has hit our Diocese again. These text/email messages are ‘spoofed’ fakes that should not be responded to or taken seriously by anyone. The best defense against this sort of scam is to raise awareness in the community and not respond or open any worrying attachments. It is Diocesan policy that no priest or staff within the Diocese request donations in the form of gift cards, PayPal, MoneyGram, etc.

There is already an established process in place on how parishioners can make donations and participate in the life of the Parish. Whenever a parishioner is worried about any request for money from the parish or a priest, they should immediately call their parish and under no circumstances should they respond to these scam requests.

Neumann golfer earns First Tee! scholarship

St. John Neumann Catholic High School graduating senior Sophie Shrader has been announced as a recipient of a $10,000 a year scholarship from The First Tee! Shrader has participated in The First Tee for eight years and represented the organization in many national opportunities. Shrader will continue her education in the fall at the University of West Florida.

Letters bring smiles to medical professionals

Second graders from St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota have been distance learning and one of the things they learned about through reading is about communication through letter writing. The students read a story called “Dear Juno” and their assignment was to write letters of appreciation and send goodie baskets to the medical professionals at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. The staff took time to take a picture and send thanks to the students.

Roof work taking place in Avon Park

A much-needed roof replacement project is taking place at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park. The church roof is being replaced and upgraded to ensure its safety and security for years to come.

Mooney teacher earns Doctorate

Sarah Hard Gates, a Theology instructor at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, and 1997 graduate of the school, successfully defended her dissertation and was awarded her PhD in Education from Abilene Christian University. She previously earned degrees from St. Leo University, the University of South Florida, and Barry University. Gates, a beloved teacher who is considered one of the “fun” teachers, has been teaching at Cardinal Mooney for 16 years.

Athletes distance training in Naples

The St. John Neumann Catholic High School Celtic Football Team isn’t letting this time for social distancing ruin their plans to start next season as strong as possible. The boys in Naples have been working hard each morning with their at-home workouts, while connecting with their teammates and coaches via ZOOM!

Rosary maker group keeps busy

The Our Lady of the Angels Parish Rosary Outreach group in Lakewood Ranch has continued to be busy! In the past few weeks more than 400 rosaries have been made. They are given to nursing homes, assisted living residences, hospitals, people in religious education classes, Confirmandi, First Communicants, and for others to hand out. Some 500 rosaries have gone to Africa for children’s rosary groups and 400 will be going to Cuba with The Society for the Propagation of The Faith (once travel resumes). The Rosary is our sword in these difficult times, and the goal of the Rosary Outreach is to spread the beauty of prayer through the rosary.

Students take virtual field trip to museum

The St. Francis Xavier Catholic School fifth grade in Fort Myers recently was provided a special treat, courtesy of The Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. Students were taken on a virtual field trip led by museum staff where they were able to see the Ringling grounds, some special portraits and paintings and learn about the life of John Ringling.

Community service during quarantine

Leave it to a Diocesan Catholic school student to turn the challenge of a quarantine into a giving opportunity. Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Freshman Morgan Franklin in Sarasota took it upon herself to still be committed to community service during our stay home policy and cut her hair for Locks of Love, for those suffering from hair loss. She shared before and after photos of herself online, as well of as the hair that will be donated.

Year of Saint Joseph

On the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, March 19, 2020, Bishop Frank J. Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to the care and protection of Saint Joseph in the context of the Coronavirus. The Bishop announced a “Year of Saint Joseph” beginning March 19, 2020 through March 19, 2021. Saint Joseph, often referred to as the Protector, can be our protector during this time of the pandemic. To pray a Novena to Saint Joseph please visit the Year of Saint Joseph webpage at www.dioceseofvenice.org.

Online Preached Retreats

During the current health crisis, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice is offering online 3-day, 5-day, and 8-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. In these online retreats, Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, or Father Lino Estradilla, OMV, trained spiritual directors, will meet with you for an hour each day via a link provided to you, to help you to pray and to recognize how God is speaking to you. A Bible and journal should be available for your use. Participants will be emailed any additional materials needed as the retreat unfolds. The cost is as follows: 3-day online retreat, $132.23; 5-day online retreat, $203.98; and 8-day online retreat, $306.48. All information will be confidential, and password protected. If you would like to participate in an online retreat, please email Denise Riley at riley@olph-retreat.org and a code will be provided for your online registration as well as an application. For planning purposes, please allow 7 days from your completed application until the beginning of your retreat.

Public celebration of Mass resumes May 18

The following is a letter from Bishop Dewane to the faithful, dated May 12, 2020: 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Bishop Frank J. Dewane raises the host during the Mass at St. Ann Parish in Naples in January, 2020. The public celebration of the Mass in the Diocese resumes May 18, 2020.

As we rejoice in our Easter Faith, my prayer is that the new life we have in Christ will bring you and your family hope and comfort. The Coronavirus has brought numerous challenges. Our common efforts to mitigate the disease have asked us to sacrifice and adjust to new realities for the good of all. United in Christ, we continue to face the present difficulties with courage and compassion. So many have persevered in faith and charity and our Parishes have remained beacons of God’s love and grace. For this, I am profoundly grateful to God and to the Priests and Faithful of the Diocese of Venice.

After much prayer and discernment, and having consulted with the priests on the Presbyteral Council, it has been determined that public celebration of the Mass in the Diocese of Venice can resume. Therefore, I am announcing that the celebration of Holy Mass with a congregation present, will begin on May 18, 2020 and moving forward.  All other non-liturgical activities at Parishes remain suspended until it is determined that these activities can safely resume; thank you for your understanding on this point.

Out of concern for the safety of all involved, our Pastors have been asked to follow established directives and guidelines. These limit the size of the congregation to 25% of occupancy, maintain social distancing guidance, and ask the Faithful’s cooperation to wear facemasks and bring with them hand sanitizer for their use. The Faithful are also asked to receive communion in the hand. These are extraordinary times and I ask for your patience and good will as Parishes reopen for public celebrations. Further, schedules may need to be adjusted and some Priests or liturgical ministers may not be able to participate publicly because of age or health conditions.

As Parish churches reopen for Mass, I remind those who are at greater risk or anxious about returning at this time, that the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in effect until June 28, 2020. Parishes have been asked to continue livestreaming until the dispensation is lifted. The Faithful ought not to worry about remaining home if they are concerned for their wellbeing or that of other parishioners. Of course, those who are sick or have symptoms associated with COVID-19 are to stay home.

The Faithful of the Diocese of Venice have remained resolute in their faith during these unprecedented times, vibrantly expressing their Spiritual Communion with Christ and His Church. Still, I am aware that there is a hunger for the Eucharist. My prayerful hope is that, strengthened by the Bread come down from Heaven, you will emerge from these times with stronger faith. As we return to Holy Mass, let us with the psalmist, raise our voices in praise of God: I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+ Frank J. Dewane

Bishop of the Diocese of

Venice in Florida

 

Bishop visits food distribution site

On a beautiful early May Friday morning the line of vehicles entering the parking lot of the Bonita Springs offices of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. was growing before the first bags of food were distributed.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, in what is becoming a regular routine, visited this Catholic Charities site on May 8, 2020, to show his support and learn from the staff what the last few weeks have been like and if they were getting enough support.

Food was bagged earlier in the week and everything was put on tables outside for easy distribution in what is a weekly ritual for the staff at this office on the property of St. Leo the Great Parish. Bishop Dewane assisted in the process, joining a well-organized ballet of people each tasked with loading vehicles with specific packages.

“It is rewarding to see all of the people Catholic Charities can help during this crisis,” Bishop Dewane said. “This is made possible thanks to the generosity those who support Catholic Charities in their efforts. Thank You! You are making a tremendous difference.”

Bishop Dewane first helped stack boxes of food provided by the Harry Chapin Food Bank while others brought out bagged food, grapefruits, apples and water. When the first vehicle came through the line, the bishop opted to load the half-cases of bottled water – minimum two per vehicle and more when the person was collecting food for multiple families. Bags were filled with maeseca (corn flour), rice, beans, oil and canned meats and vegetables.

Impressed by the organization and efficiency of the effort, Bishop Dewane complimented everyone for their hard work. He was told of the high demand and the uncertainty many have about future employment which result is difficult choices between buying food and paying other important bills while earning no income.

The Bonita Springs site is one of several emergency food distribution points throughout the Diocese of Venice that is being operated by Catholic Charities. In the six-week period between March 24 and April 30, 2020, Catholic Charities reported distributing 240,187 pounds of food such a canned good, rice and beans and maseca to 23,627 individuals and families. In addition, 1,185 hot meals have also been provided. In the same period, about 1,500 have called the Catholic Charities hotlines seeking a variety of additional help.

Those numbers represent a tremendous increase in outreach when compared to an average year when Catholic Charities serves some 90,000 families and individuals through 37 different programs.

“These are extraordinary times we are living in and the result is a tremendous surge in demand,” Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. “The need is not going away and growing in some areas. Please consider supporting Catholic Charities. No donation is too small as we strive to get through this crisis helping as many our brothers and sisters in Christ as we can.”

If you need help

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance or tele-mental health counseling, please call the number for your area listed below 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday:

  • Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties: 844-385-2407,
  • Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423,
  • Collier County: 844-385-2404.

Food distribution

Catholic Charities food distribution will take place only at the following times and locations. Please call the regional number for more information.

  • Mondays, 9-11 a.m., Guadalupe Social Services, 211 S. 9th St., Immokalee,
  • Tuesdays, 9-11:30 a.m., Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, 3174 Tamiami Trail E., Naples,
  • Thursdays, 9 a.m.-noon, St. Margaret Parish, 208 Dean Duff St., Clewiston,
  • Fridays, 9-11 a.m., St. Leo the Great Parish, 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs,
  • Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon, Elizabeth K. Galeana Pantry, 4235 Michigan Avenue Link, Fort Myers,
  • Saturdays, 7–8:45 a.m., St. Michael Parish, 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula.

How to Help

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is in urgent need of your financial support during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org/donate or send a check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road, PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065.

Parish food pantry support Hispanic community

It is a Corporal Work of Mercy to feed the hungry, in the name of His Church. That is exactly what is being done each week at Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers.

The Spanish-language Catholic community has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic having endured massive layoffs across many job sectors including food service, hotels, farming and landscaping. The small food pantry has been assisting about 100 households weekly for the past seven weeks, where households consist of five to nine individuals.

Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales (OSFS), Pastor of Jesus the Worker and San Jose Mission said, “there is really a tremendous need for food right now. Many don’t qualify for unemployment or stimulus checks, but they still need to feed their families.”

“We, their Church, are here for them,” Father O’Connor said. “As long as our resources last, we committed ourselves to not closing the food pantry, and to stocking it and running it ourselves.  We had to reduce the days we give out food, but we have stayed open, and distribute more food to the needy than ever.”

On Tuesday mornings, the line for food begins to form long before the pantry opens. Each person with a heartbreaking story of unexpected hardship and worry about their small children. A few of those children were old enough to help carry the bags of food back to their vehicles while their mother or father carried their own heavy burdens with stoic resolve.

“We have no choice but to try to carry on,” a woman who would only identify herself as Fernanda explained. “I will make it last a long time. I don’t have any choice. God bless Father Patrick and the people here. We would be lost without the Church. This is where Jesus lives in our hearts and our community.”

Father O’Connor said the food in the pantry come from local donations, purchases from the Harry Chapin Food Pantry and from a fortuitous USDA grant that was approved only weeks before the pandemic crisis began.

“We had applied a long time ago for this program, and we were waiting for a response,” Father explained. “For me, receiving that approval and the first shipments of food – it was a miracle!  We were very fortunate! It feels like God was watching out for our poor community!”

It is an unthinkable thing for the hard-working faithful of Jesus the Worker to ask for food, Father O’Connor explained. “Sometimes it is embarrassing or humiliating for them to come looking for assistance.” In such cases, he invites families to return at a different time when no one will see them.

“If that helps them feel better to be helped away from the public eye, that is okay,” he continued. “But we try to emphasize that we are a Christian community, and there are times when we help others in the community, and other times like now, when we allow the community to help us. For me, we are able to hearken back to the roots of our Church and Faith, in this time of crisis, in how we understand we should care for one another.”

If you would like to help Jesus the Worker Parish food pantry, please send contributions to 881 Nuna Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33905, call 239-693-5333 or visit the Parish website at https://jesustheworker.org/ and click on the English button to translate the page. In addition, the Diocese of Venice is providing an online platform. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ and select Jesus the Worker Parish in the drop-down box (please disable you pop-up blockers).

News briefs for the week of May 11 2020

Seminarians graduate

Deacon Franckel Fils Aime graduated from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach on May 7, 2020, while Seminarian Jacob Gywnn graduated May 5, 2020, from St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. Deacon Fils Aime will soon be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Venice while Gwynn will be given a pastoral assignment at a Parish within the Diocese for the summer. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both graduations were low-key events with minimal participation and no family present.

May Crownings

St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish hosted a May Crowning on May 10, 2020, Mother’s Day, on Longboat Key. Social distancing protocals were in place as some sitting in their vehicles, others of chairs.

In a time of social distancing the traditional May Crownings have taken on a different form this year. St. Joseph Catholic School students Wesley and Cecilia were able to honor Mary on May 2, 2020, for an unofficial May Crowning at the St. Bernard Catholic Church grotto in Holmes Beach. On May 10, 2020, Father Robert Dziedziak, Pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea Parish on Longboat Key, led a May Crowning prayer service in the Parish prayer garden with the faithful able to be present while still maintaining appropriate social distancing.

These two St. Joseph Catholic School students from Brandenton pray during a May Crowning at St. Bernard Parish in Holmes Beach in early May.

 

Retreat Center offering online Preached Retreats

During the current health crisis, many people who would like to make a retreat must remain at home for an extended period of time. As long as the crisis lasts, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice will offer online 3-day, 5-day, and 8-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Like Father Lanteri, we can all use this time for our spiritual growth.

In these online retreats. Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, or Father Lino Estradilla, OMV, trained spiritual directors, will meet with you for an hour each day via a link provided to you, to help you to pray and to recognize how God is speaking.  You should already have a Bible and journal available for your use. Participants will be emailed any additional materials needed as the retreat unfolds.

The cost, which has been significantly discounter, will be as follows: 3-day online retreat, $132.23; 5-day online retreat, $203.98; and 8-day online retreat, $306.48.

All information will be confidential, and password protected. If you would like to make an online retreat, please email Denise Riley at riley@olph-retreat.org and a code will be provided for your online registration.  You will need to fill out an application for approval. Please allow 7 days to arrange from your completed application until the beginning of your retreat.

Scam Alert targeting parishioners

It has once again been brought to the attention of the Diocese of Venice that parishioners have received text/email messages from people pretending to be priests and requesting donations in the form of gift cards and/or wire transfers. The messages often greet the person by name and have the priests name in the closing signature of the message; this is a well-crafted and targeted attack on the Church across the country which has hit our Diocese again. These text/email messages are ‘spoofed’ fakes that should not be responded to or taken seriously by anyone. The best defense against this sort of scam is to raise awareness in the community and not respond or open any worrying attachments. It is Diocesan policy that no priest or staff within the Diocese request donations in the form of gift cards, PayPal, MoneyGram, etc.

There is already an established process in place on how parishioners can make donations and participate in the life of the Parish. Whenever a parishioner is worried about any request for money from the parish or a priest, they should immediately call their parish and under no circumstances should they respond to these scam requests.

Year of St. Joseph resources online

On the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, Bishop Frank J. Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to the care and protection of Saint Joseph in the context of the Coronavirus and announced a “Year of St. Joseph” beginning March 19, 2020 through March 19, 2021.  St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of the Universal Church, fathers, workers and the sick and dying. A number of resources, including a Novena to St. Joseph, have been made available on the Diocesan website – www.dioceseofvenice.org.

Bradenton Food Pantry

The St. Joseph Parish Food Pantry, 2704 33rd Ave. W., Bradenton, is open and distributing food from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday, 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays, following all social distancing protocols. Cars will be directed through the parking lot and trunks will be loaded by volunteers in protective gloves and masks. Call 941-756-3732 if you have any questions. You do not need to be a regular client to receive food. To make a donation of money or food, please visit https://www.stjoepantry.com/.

Venice Catholic School Community project

Jennifer Falestiny, Curriculum Coordinator at the Diocese of the Venice, created the Camillus Project, a STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and mathematics) oriented campaign to print and deliver face shields and ear savers to those serving on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. Named after the patron saint of hospitals, nurses and the sick, the design files were shared to each school with 3D printer in hopes of being to deliver these shields to local medical professionals.

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