40 Days for Life fall prayer vigil kicks off

The Mercy of God can provide healing for many, and by acting as His messenger, through participation in one of three active 40 Days for Life prayer campaigns within the Diocese of Venice, one can reflect that mercy onto the world.

The 40 Days for Life campaign runs from Sept. 27 to Nov. 5, 2023, and seeks a peaceful end to abortion in the U.S. and around the world through the power of prayer. It is the presence of more than one million prayer warriors in 681 cities worldwide – including Fort Myers, Naples, and Sarasota within the Diocese of Venice – that will make a difference in this important battle to save the unborn.

To help jumpstart the fall campaign in Fort Myers, a traditional opening vigil took place Sept. 26 in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion center at 6418 Commerce Park Drive. Led by coordinators Rick and Paula Hellenbrand of St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral, the vigil included speakers who covered the whole spectrum of the pro-life movement, including a doctor, a representative of a pregnancy resource center and a mom who once had an abortion.

Dr. James Breen, Member Catholic Medical Association and local general practioner, shared how the medical community has changed it view on pregnancy and abortion during the past few decades. First, medical professionals regarded a pregnant mother and her unborn child as two separate patients, to be cared for and nurtured for the survival of both. Breen explained how that has changed, as now a pregnancy is viewed as one patient focused on the heath of the mother only, thus making the unborn child viewed as easily disposable.

The result has created great conflict within the medical community today, as many Catholic physicians and medical professionals face persecution for not going along with the culture of death. Breen noting that it was therefore fitting that the Fort Myers opening vigil took place on Sept. 26, the Feast Day of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. These 3rd century martyrs were renowned physicians who were tortured and then killed for their devotion, both to the practice of healing but especially for their religious beliefs.

Kathryn Marriott, Outreach Coordinator of Community Pregnancy Clinics Inc., which has offices in Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and Gainesville, shared how the focus of the clinics is directly reaching out to young ladies to make them aware that there are pro-life alternatives when an unexpected pregnancy occurs.  and offering the support they need from the first signs of pregnancy (an ultrasound and medical support) through the first years of the child’s growth (baby supplies and counseling).

Lastly, Christna, a woman who is active in her faith (married for 45 years and with four children), shared how when she first arrived in the U.S. from Chile and got married, she found herself pregnant. The young couple had no money at the time and a doctor’s visit resulted in an abortion that left the young woman distraught and grieving for years.

It was not until many years later that she could share her experience with others before finally confessing to a priest. This is when she found God’s all powerful mercy wash over her as the burden and guilt she had being carrying was wiped away.

“I wish I had had people like you standing outside that doctor’s office praying, then maybe I would have not had that guilt for so many years,” she said. “We are not here to judge young women who have the abortion, because we do not know what they are going through, we are here to be God’s witness of mercy, showing that there is a different path for them and their unborn child.”

All are encouraged to participate in the 40 Days for Life pray vigil. Many area Parishes have signed up for specific day and hours, but all are free to join at any time. The peaceful vigil takes place in the public right of way and appropriate signs are provided.

The prayer vigil in Fort Myers is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 6418 Commerce Park Drive. In Sarasota, the vigil is daily, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 736 Central Ave. The Naples prayer vigil is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 1425 Creech Road.

For more information, please visit https://www.40daysforlife.com/en/.


Lastly, anyone who has prayed outside an abortion center or just has a heart to help women and babies is encouraged to attend a special training program from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 28, at St. John XXIII Parish Center, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers.


During this program, Lauren Muzyka, Founder, President and CEO of the national organization, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, will train individuals interested in helping women choose life for their preborn babies. The peaceful, prayerful, law-abiding method of compassionate outreach has already saved more than 20,000 babies from abortion. Training material and lunch will be provided.


For details and to reserve your spot, contact Cyrille at 917-991-6147, cyrillevelasco@gmail.com or Jeanne Berdeaux, Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-374-1068.

Supporting Life opportunities in October

In October, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates Respect Life Month, and the first Sunday of October is designated as Respect Life Sunday.

Also taking place is the 40 Days for Life fall campaign begins Sept. 27, 2023, with prayer vigils each day through Nov. 5, all to call for an end to abortion in the U.S., including Fort Myers, Naples and Sarasota.

In a letter to the faithful regarding Respect Life Month, Bishop Frank J. Dewane stated: “As Catholics, we are called to teach, defend and protect those who are most vulnerable and promote a greater respect for life.”

“The Catholic Church remains at the forefront in speaking out on the issue of the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death, and at every point in between,” Bishop Dewane wrote. “The Church’s entire social doctrine is guided by the fundamental principle that every human life has innate dignity and incomparable value. Fulfilling Christ’s command to love one another takes shape in our practice of this radical solidarity; solidarity by making the well-being of others our own.”

Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director Jeanne Berdeaux explains there are many opportunities for people to make a real difference in supporting life, whether through actively praying on the sidewalk at a 40 Days for Life prayer vigil, learning how to be a sidewalk counselor, contributing to the Respect Life collection, or praying from home for an end to abortion.

“The Pro-Life movement is all about people coming together in every way they can to be a witness for the unborn. Being a voice for the voiceless,” Berdeaux said.

This year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities calls upon the faithful to focus on “Radical Solidarity,” seeking to inspire all Catholics to put their love for others into action by protecting, supporting, and accompanying mothers and their children.

To help live out this call to radical solidarity, Catholics are invited to join “Walking with Moms in Need.” Through this process, Catholic Parishes and communities walk in the shoes of local pregnant and parenting women to better understand, support, and respond to their needs. It is important for them to know they are not alone. For resources, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/respectlife.

40 Days for Life

That 40 Days for Life takes place in hundreds of locations with local prayer vigils taking place in Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples from Sept. 27 to Nov. 5. Faithful stand in prayer, in the public right of way, outside of abortion facilities seeking an end to abortion in the U.S. and the world.

Since its inception in 2007, 40 Days for Life participants report having saved 23,525 lives from abortion during a campaign. That’s the type of impact that led an ACLU spokesperson to describe 40 Days for Life as the “greatest threat to choice.”

40 Days for Life has contributed to a groundswell of pro-life support worldwide. More than 140 abortion centers, along with numerous referral centers, where campaigns have been hosted, have closed their doors forever.

The prayer vigil in Fort Myers is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 6418 Commerce Park Drive. The kickoff is at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 26. For more information, please contact Paula and Rick at 40DaysforLifeFM@gmail.com, or visit 40daysforlife.com/fortmyers.

In Sarasota, the vigil is daily, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 736 Central Ave., with a kick-off event at 10:30 p.m., Sept. 27. For more details, please contact Rich at  40DFLSarasota@gmail.com, or visit 40daysforlife.com/sarasota

Returning for the first time since the pandemic, the Naples prayer vigil is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 1425 Creech Road. For more details, please contact Ricki & Katrina at 40DFLnaples@gmail.com, or visit 40daysforlife.com/naples. An opening prayer vigil took place Sept. 14, which coincided with the anniversary of the opening of the Planned Parenthood abortion center. Dozens came out to pray and be a witness for life.

Respect Life Collection

On the weekend of Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, Parishes across the Diocese of Venice will conduct a special collection to enhance this life-affirming work. The funds remain in the Diocese of Venice and facilitate a Culture of Life as a faith community in Southwest Florida and to support Respect Life Programs, among them, “Walking with Moms in Need.”

Respect Life Novena

If you would like to join others in prayer across the nation, there is a national Respect Life Month Novena from Oct. 13-21. Sign up at https://www.respectlife.org/ to receive an email with daily prayers for the protection of human life, from conception to natural death. The information offered will feature a different pro-life prayer intention accompanied by a short reflection and suggested actions to help build a culture of life.

Counselor training

Anyone who has prayed outside an abortion center or just has a heart to help women and babies is encouraged to attend a training program from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 28, at St. John XXIII Parish Center, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers. Lauren Muzyka, Founder, President and CEO of the national organization, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, is coming to Fort Myers to train individuals interested in helping women choose life for their preborn babies. The peaceful, prayerful, law-abiding method of compassionate outreach has already saved more than 20,000 babies from abortion. Training material and lunch will be provided. For details and to reserve your spot, contact Cyrille at 917-991-6147, cyrillevelasco@gmail.com or Jeanne Berdeaux, Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-374-1068.

Post-Abortion Help

Are you suffering after abortion? There is hope and healing waiting for you. Many women and men experience deep pain and grief after an abortion and don’t know where to turn. They don’t realize there is help available for them. Project Rachel is the outreach of the Catholic church to those who are suffering this loss. We offer help through the sacraments, retreats, and referrals for professional counseling. For confidential information, contact Sylvia Jimenez, Project Rachel Coordinator, 941-412-5860 (English and en español), project.rachel@dioceseofvenice.org, or visit https://hopeafterabortion.com. Help is also available at Support After Abortion at https://supportafterabortion.com/.

More ways to Support Life

Other opportunities to support Pro-Life activities within the Diocese in October.

Life Chain Oct. 1

You are invited to witness for life and respect life causes on Respect Life on Oct. 1, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Gather at 2 p.m. on US 41 across from Shikany Funeral Home, 28300 S. Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs, or Seagate/Pine Ridge Roads in Naples (near St. William Parish).  Pick up a sign or bring your own, then pick your spot between these locations to silently witness and pray for a greater respect for all human life. Questions? Contact Rich Evans at 239-776-9848.

5K Walk/Run for Life Oct. 7

The 9th annual 5K Walk/Run for Life will take place Oct. 7, at St. Agnes Parish, 7775 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples. Registration on the day of the event opens at 6 a.m. with the race beginning at 7:15 a.m. This event is meant to promote a respect for life message and raise funds for pro-life causes.  To register please visit the Run for Life link at www.stagnesnaples.org. For additional information please contact the Parish Office at 239-592-1949 or email Deacon Roberto at deaconroberto@stagnesnaples.net.

An Afternoon of Healing

An Afternoon of Healing is a powerful day of Prayerful Remembrance and Intercession. Created in the spirit of the New Evangelization and designed for all of our community seeking healing through acknowledgment of the far-reaching impact from participation in abortion. The afternoon will begin at noon, Oct. 7, at St. John the Evangelist Parish, 625 111th Avenue North, Naples, and concludes at 3 p.m. with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There will be a brief talk given by post-abortion speaker Mary Eisman exploring “The Far-Reaching Impact of Abortion on our Family, Friends, and Society.” Individual Testimonials, Reflections and Intercessory Prayer, a Holy Hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as recitation of the Holy Rosary will lead up the celebration of the Mass. On this day we offer the opportunity for everyone to come together for a period of contemplation, grace and prayerful intercession seeking forgiveness and healing for ourselves and for our nation. For further information please contact the Parish at 239-566-8740.

Dinner for Life

Are you looking for a fun and meaningful way to spend your evening? Do you want to support a great cause and enjoy a delicious meal? If so, you are invited to attend a Dinner for Life, a special event to celebrate and support the Culture of Life in our community. This event will be held beginning at 5 p.m., Oct. 7, at the Columbus Banquet Hall, located at 4880 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. Appetizers will be served followed by a delicious prime rib dinner at 6 p.m. You can also enjoy cocktails served at the cash bar. This event will feature guest speakers from Solve Maternity Homes and 40 Days for Life. You will also hear from Father Chris of Saint Martha Church, who will share his insights and experiences on the importance of defending the dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. The Dinner for Life is a fundraiser event to support these two non-profit organizations that provides Christ-centered care to pregnant mothers in our community and surrounding areas.  The tickets for the event are $40 per person or $320 per table of eight. You can purchase your tickets in advance at the Parish Office of St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange Avenue, Sarasota.

IVF Conference

An In Vitro Fertilization Conference featuring Father Tad Pacholczyk, PhD, from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, will be taking place from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Oct. 7, in the Prince Building Auditorium at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria. The event is free, but registration is required at www.floridacma.org. Presented by the Southwest Florida Guild of the Catholic Medical Association, this two-lecture event is titled “Longing for Life: Catholics, Infertility, and IVF.” and will explore both our natural yearning for offspring and the reasons why IVF is morally objectionable. Presentation titles are: “What is the Spiritual Significance of Infertility?” and “Why is In Vitro Fertilization Wrong?”  Potential alternative therapies to help resolve underlying causes of infertility, and related approaches that are ethically congruent with marital intimacy, will also be discussed.

Execution prayer vigils held

James Barnes was executed by the State of Florida at 6 p.m., Aug. 3, 2023.  He was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of a young woman named Patricia Miller in Melbourne, Florida. He has been on Florida’s death row since 2006.

To mark this solemn occasion, prayer vigils were held at San Pedro Parish in North Port, and at Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda.

Barnes was convicted of the murders of two women: his wife, Linda Barnes, in 1997 (for which he received a life sentence); and in 2005, he confessed to the 1988 rape and murder of Patricia “Patsy” Miller, a 41- year-old nurse in Melbourne.

During these vigils, which joined Floridians around the state, the faithful gathered to pray for Ms. Barnes and Ms. Miller, for their families, for all who have been harmed by Mr. Barnes’ actions, for him, for those directly or indirectly involved in the execution, for everyone affected by violent crime, and for an end to the use of the death penalty.

On behalf of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishop’s, Michael Sheedy, executive director, sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis seeking a stay of the execution and commuting the sentence to life without parole. In the letter on behalf of the Florida Bishops, Sheedy acknowledged that Barnes’ violent crimes have brought immense grief and suffering to the families and friends of his victims.

Sheedy also noted the unique circumstances of the case. Barnes represented himself at the trial for Miller’s murder, where he pled guilty and waived mitigation as well as a jury for sentencing. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007. Since the signing of his death warrant, Barnes has moved to discharge counsel, waive any final appeals, and proceed with the execution.

“Mr. Barnes’ willing acceptance of death, the punishment put in place by the justice system, does not absolve the state from bringing it about,” wrote Sheedy. “Simply put, no one should be executed in our modern penal system, even if they willingly accept it. The alternative punishment of life in prison without parole is a severe penalty that still provides closure to victims and protects society.”

At San Pedro Parish in North Port, Deacon Richard Frohmiller led the prayer vigil and said they were there not to debate the guilt or innocence of Barnes, but to pray for his soul, and the souls of all who are put to death by the State on our behalf.

“We are taught to respect the dignity of every person and we pray that we are never silent about the deliberate taking of a life,” Deacon Frohmiller said.

The prayer service included hymns and a reading from the Gospel of Matthew 5:38-48, when Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Jesus teaches that we should step beyond our rights in love. While the Old Testament includes some passages about taking the life of one who kills, the Old Testament and the teaching of Christ in the New Testament call us to protect life, practice mercy, and reject vengeance.

The North Port group also prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and offered intercessions seeking a change to the laws which allow capital punishment in Florida and elsewhere.  The prayer service poignantly paused at 6 p.m. (the time of the execution) to pray in silence.

In Punta Gorda, the prayer vigil took place outside, next to a Last Supper statue, which includes the image of Jesus.

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in Florida in 1976, 104 have been put to death, including Barnes. This was the fifth execution this year in the State of Florida. Florida is also among the top four states for executions in the U.S., behind only, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia.

Midpoint Rally held for 40 Days for Life

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic

On the lakefront of Vineyards Community Park in Naples like-minded people gathered to celebrate the groundswell of support for the 40 Days for Life campaign which seeks to end abortion in the United States.

A rally was held Oct. 14 to bring together two groups working for the same cause. The first group is the pro-life prayer warriors who stand in front of abortion mills peacefully raising awareness regarding every life, which is precious from the moment of conception to natural death. Also stressed was how abortion can leave lasting scars for parents of aborted children that are not always visible. The other group represented the leaders of pregnancy clinics in the area which provide much needed resources for moms in crisis who are at risk of seeking an abortion.

Deacon Gary Ingold, CEO of Community Pregnancy Clinics Inc., which has facilities in Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota and Gainesville, as well as two mobile medical clinics which go out into the community, spoke about the mission of everyone present.

“Only the mother can nurture and protect her unborn child,” Ingold said. “It is our job to nurture and protect the mothers. We can only save the babies if we can save the moms. The only way this is possible is if we can develop a culture of life.”

Other speakers stressed the need for a modern approach to the issues by treating every mother – no matter what choice they make – with dignity, compassion, mercy and respect.

Hadley Thompson, a student at Ave Maria University, spoke about her effort to be supportive of new moms on campus through the development of a “Pregnant on Campus” outreach. The group of student volunteers serves in a supporting role for the moms who are working toward a degree by attending classes but need babysitting and other support to care for their child.

“This started out as a way to help a friend,” Thompson explained. “Now it has grown to include dozens of people who volunteer their time to create a positive environment for both mother and child.”

The rally was organized by 40 Days for Life Naples Coordinator Crystal Gabbard and moderated by Ryan Neuhaus, regional coordinator in Florida of Students for Life in America.

The 40 Days for Life Fall Campaign continues through Nov. 3 locally in Naples, Fort Myers and Sarasota. Please visit www.40daysforlife.com and search for the closest vigil site. Participants are encouraged to spend as much time as they can to be a witness for life.

Rosary Rallies for Our Lady and America

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic

Faithful gathered across the Diocese of Venice and around the United States on the weekend of Oct. 13 for rosary rallies to join in prayer for our country and peace in the world.

Some 15,000 “America Needs Fatima” Public Square Rosary Rallies took place nationwide, with at least six throughout the Diocese, all to pray for America and the conversion of sinners as Our Lady of Fatima requested. Oct. 13 marked the 102nd Anniversary of the last apparition of Our Lady of Fatima and the Miracle of the Sun in Portugal.

A group of prayer warriors gathered Oct. 12 at College Parkway and Winkler Road, in front of an abortion facility, adding significance to their prayer vigil. A statue of Our Lady of Fatima was on display while the rosary was recited, prayers were said to honor Our Lady of Fatima and for the nation.

Grace McPherson participated in the rally because she believes in the “America Needs Fatima” message, that the faithful of the country need to rededicate themselves to Mary.

“Our Lady of Fatima is about love and understanding,” McPherson said. “We all need to follow the Blessed Virgin’s example to have a clearer direction and greater purpose for this country.”

Other communities in the Diocese which held vigils included St. Agnes Parish in Naples, San Pedro Parish North Port, and Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch.

The Our Lady of Fatima story begins with three children bringing their sheep to a pasture to graze when a bright light shined on them. In that light was a woman who said, “I am a lady from heaven.” The figure, deemed the Immaculate Heart of Mary, called on the children to recite the rosary every day and to pray for the world.

Every year, “America Needs Fatima” organizes thousands of Public Square Rosary Rallies across the nation to pray for America and the conversion of sinners, as Our Lady of Fatima requested. The goal is to win the heart and soul of America for Mary by spreading Our Lady’s Fatima message and promoting devotion to Her Immaculate Heart.

Courage in Red Prayer Vigil Nov. 28

Stand up for Faith and Religious Freedom

Staff Report – Florida Catholic


The Diocese of Venice will join other Dioceses around the world for a “Courage in Red” Prayer Vigil at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 28 at Epiphany Cathedral, 310 Sarasota Street, Venice. This annual initiative of Aid to the Church in Need is designed to raise awareness for persecuted Christians.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10–12

This year, the Cathedral will be illuminated in red on Nov. 28, for an evening Prayer Vigil and everyone is encouraged to attend. This special campaign is being held as a symbolic gesture of solidarity – by wearing/lighting Churches in red (the color of the martyrs) – in remembering those who have been martyred for their faith. All are asked to stand in solidarity with our fellow Christians as they fight for religious freedom today.

In Diocesan Catholic Schools, the students will be encouraged to wear red, explained Dr. Ben Moore, Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Education. Throughout the week, age-appropriate lessons will be provided about the plight of persecuted Christians. Catholic High School students will also be shown the documentary “Christians in the Mirror.”

Additionally, the faithful are also encouraged to attend a daily Mass that day in place of a suffering Christian who cannot because they live in fear of practicing their Faith publicly.

Today, persecution of Christians is nearly as brutal and vicious as was experienced by Christians in the early Church. Many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and other regions are coming face to face with evil.

Some of the wounds of persecution are visible – machete scars to a young Christian’s neck in Sudan or the burn marks to a young girl’s face. Some attacks result in modern-day martyrs, like that of a priest in eastern Congo, shot in the head and killed inside his rectory. Or a Jesuit priest, shot twice and murdered in Syria, while protecting Christians trapped in an old monastery.

The Faith is targeted in many ways around the world. Christian practice and symbols are threatened in places like Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria.  Persecution around the world has manifested itself through the centuries, but it is worse today than ever before.

Under the guidance of the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need provides pastoral and humanitarian assistance to the persecuted Church around the world.  For more than 67 years, the program has reached out to the suffering, the distressed and the poorest of the poor in over 145 countries. Each year, Aid to the Church in Need fulfills more than 5,000 projects through its spiritual and material aid programs. Its shared goal: To help strengthen the Church and keep the Faith alive.

All are encouraged to use the following hashtags #DOVCOURAGEINRED and #COURAGEINREDWITNESS.