Rite of Election – Record 662 set to enter Church in Diocese at Easter Vigil

A large number of women and men set to enter the Catholic Church within the Diocese of Venice at the Easter Vigil were recognized during the annual Rite of Election at Epiphany Cathedral on the First Sunday of Lent, Feb. 18, 2024. This annual tradition is a formal Rite during which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of the Elect.

The 316 catechumens (individuals who are not yet baptized) were joined by an additional 346 candidates (already-baptized Christians preparing for confirmation and First Eucharist). The candidates participate in the formal ceremony and are recognized during the celebration for answering the “Call To Their Continuing Conversion.” The Cathedral was at capacity as family members were also present to show their support.

The Rite of Election was presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane who said the large number of catechumens and candidates was impressive, noting that the 662 are the most ever set to enter the Church in the Diocese in a single year through the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) program, topping the 2023 total of 567.

“The Diocese is blessed and graced by the presence of the catechumens and candidates,” Bishop Dewane said. “That 662 is a massive number for a Diocese our size.”

The group was complimented by Bishop Dewane for making a commitment to publicly announce the call of the Holy Spirit in a particular way by becoming active members of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Venice. “All of you should see the strength and demonstration of the Holy Spirit in bringing you together for the Rite of Election.”

The catechumens and candidates, who were recognized by Bishop Dewane, are on a continuing journey that will culminate when they come into full communion with the Catholic Church at the March 30 Easter Vigil Mass in their respective Parishes.

“As you prepare, come to realize the Lord calls you to continue your journey,” Bishop Dewane said. “That doesn’t end at the Easter Vigil. That is a continuation of the journey that the Holy Spirit has prompted from each one of you and continues to prompt you in your daily lives. If you listen and pay attention, you will come to evidence the Holy Spirit in your life to become more that man or woman of God the Lord calls us all to be.”

Bishop Dewane encouraged each catechumen and candidate telling them that they are each given a task by the Lord to continue to be the leaven to their family and those around them.

“Each one of you has received a call to holiness,” the Bishop said “What are you doing to be ever more holy? Your response is found in the Word of God. You must be aware and know that Word of God; that it is the voice of the Lord in your heart and soul. Let these words grow and resonate in your heart!”

Many who participated in the Rite of Election expressed their joy in joining with others on this important step in their faith journey. One candidate from Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto said, “What a beautiful celebration! I will remember the Rite … the rest of my life. With a deep sense of awe and gratitude I thank Almighty God for blessing me so!”

The group of catechumens and candidates come from 47 Parishes/Missions in the Diocese of Venice and are accompanied by tens of thousands of others across the country that will also join the Catholic Church this year. The largest groups of catechumens and candidates came from the following Parishes: Jesus the Worker in Fort Myers, Our Lady Queen of Heaven in LaBelle, St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, Holy Cross in Bradenton, Ave Maria in Ave Maria, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee. St. Leo the Great in Bonita Springs, and St. Katherine Drexel in Cape Coral.

The catechumens are part of the OCIA, which is for those who are unbaptized and unchurched, who come to inquire about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Faith in a process that takes about a year. Often catechumens are those who have begun to seek and understand God in their lives and have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Catholic. OCIA is a journey of discovery and faith. This is most commonly done in three distinct phases: discernment, acceptance into the catechumenate, along with purification and enlightenment.

Each catechumen will go through a series of scrutinies during which they examine their readiness to accept Christ and the Catholic Faith in the form of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation). This time culminates at the Easter Vigil when the catechumens are received through Baptism into the Catholic Church. The final period of the OCIA is the time of “Mystagogy” (post-baptismal catechesis). During the weeks following the Easter Vigil, the newly initiated live more profoundly their experience of Baptism and the Eucharist as they begin the journey of discipleship and their growing union with Christ.

For candidates, those who have been correctly baptized with a Trinitarian formula, the Catholic Church does not require re-Baptism. Candidates have already experienced a journey of faith and understand how Jesus leads us to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, many have been attending Mass with their families for years but may have never received the Sacrament of Holy Communion or the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The candidates are invited to the Cathedral for the Rite of Election as a form of welcome, but because they are already in the Book of the Elect as baptized Christians, they do not bring their names forward. To symbolize that baptism, and as a sign of their continuing conversion, they come forward and make the sign of the cross with holy water.

Everyone is encouraged to pray for and welcome the catechumens and candidates at their own Parish as they continue their journey of discovery in their Faith.

Answering the Call – Ordination brings blessings upon new priest

In a public response to a “call to holiness” Alan Baldarelli Jr., 41, was Ordained to the Priesthood by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during a Mass on Feb. 10, 2024, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

The poignant and emotional rite places Father Baldarelli in a new role as he is raised to the Order of the Presbyterate where he will now celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, confer the Sacraments and teach the Gospel.

Bishop Dewane congratulated the ordinand for answering the call to holiness and advancing in formation through prayer, discernment, guidance and direction which helped him grow closer to the Lord. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the ordinand is called to reflect and magnify Christ and bring others closer to Christ. The priesthood was established as coworkers with the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in a priestly office, and with whom they are called to the service of the people of God.

“The call for you today is to configure yourself to Christ,” the Bishop said. “It is really for everyone, but for those in the priesthood, there is a particular call to follow in the footsteps and likeness of Jesus Christ as we strive in our humanness to serve the Lord and to be that representative of Christ here on earth.”

Joined to the priesthood, Bishop Dewane said Father Baldarelli is consecrated as a true priest in the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to celebrate Divine Worship – the Holy Sacrifice at the Table of the Lord. By being raised to the Order of the Priesthood, the new priest will exercise the sacred office of teaching – to impart the Word of God upon the world. A priest is called upon to live that life as an example of holiness for others to follow as they invite the faithful to enter into the mystery of the Lord’s death, and to journey with them, pointing always in the direction of the resurrection. This holiness is not developed overnight but is a continual part of the priestly journey.

“It is the joy of that Word that gives inspiration to the people of God, to hear it, to be encouraged to live it, to let it resonate,” the Bishop said. “The life of a priest is to exemplify that Word of the Lord – as we go out – to live, to teach. Keep the example of the one who came to serve and not be served.”

“In the ministering of the Sacraments, be always kind and gentle, aware of following in the footsteps of our Savior Jesus Christ. This is a role that has been given in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in the saving of those with whom we have contact. May you be blessed with the ability to call others closer to the Lord.”

When the Rite of ordination began, Baldarelli was called forth to the presence of the Bishop by Diocese Director of Vocations Father Shawn Roser, and upon hearing his name called out, he answered “Present.” After the homily, Baldarelli knelt before the Bishop to promise respect and obedience to him and his successors. Then he lay prostrate before the altar for the Litany of Supplication/Litany of Saints. The whole assembly joined in the prayer which invoked God’s grace and the intercession of the saints in heaven.

After this solemn act of prayer, the Sacrament of Ordination was conferred when Baldarelli knelt before Bishop Dewane, who in silent prayer, imposed his hands on the head the ordinand. In the sharing of the priesthood, each priest present laid their hands on the head of the newly ordained Father Baldarelli, one at a time.

The ordinand then knelt once again before the Bishop, who then recited the consecratory Prayer of Ordination; the prayer, together with the Bishop’s imposition of hands, is the essential Rite of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

After the prayer, the newly ordained was vested in the stole and chasuble, vestments which are worn when celebrating the Eucharist and symbolize the responsibility and authority in service to Christ. Father Baldarelli was vested by Father Dennis Gonzales, who was is a Pastor at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Delray Beach, and served as a spiritual advisor when Father Baldarelli assisted at the Parish while in seminary.

The palms of the new priest were then anointed with the Sacred Chrism by Bishop Dewane, the sign of the special anointing of the Holy Spirit who will make the priest’s ministry fruitful. Next, the Bishop presented Father Baldarelli with the chalice and paten which all priests are called to present to God in the Eucharistic sacrifice saying: “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.”

The Rite of Ordination ended with the Bishop giving a fraternal kiss of peace to the newly ordained priest, welcoming him into the Diocesan Presbyterate or priesthood. The priests present then followed the Bishop’s example. The newly ordained Father Baldarelli then joined Bishop Dewane at the altar to the applause and joy of all present.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist followed. Father Baldarelli joined all the priests for the first time in concelebrating the Eucharist with Bishop Dewane, reciting together the words of consecration. For the first time, he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, acting in persona Christi. From this sacrifice his whole priestly ministry will draw its strength.

Present for the ordination were his parents and four siblings, as well as other relatives and friends. In addition, present were more than 40 priests, men and women religious, Permanent Deacons, Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta, Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the Knights of Columbus, as well as hundreds of the faithful.

Originally from Hermitage, Pennsylvania, Father Baldarelli grew up in a loving, faith-filled family. He went on to earn a degree in international business from John Carroll University before working in sales and marketing in various corporate jobs. Not satisfied with the path his life was on, a stray comment from a family friend that he should consider becoming a priest began his path to the priesthood and while working at a university job, he began taking courses on Sacred Scripture.

An annual visitor to Southwest Florida with his family from a young age, Father Baldarelli sought to become a seminarian for the Diocese of Venice.  His formation took place at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and then at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in 2022.

With an easy smile in all humility, on Feb. 11 Father Baldarelli was very emotional while celebrating his first Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte. St. Charles Borromeo is where Father had been on pastoral assignment as a Transitional Deacon in the time leading up to his priestly ordination. Father thanked the faithful for their prayers and encouragement while he served the community.

“It is so profound to be able to do this for Christ and for all of you,” Father Baldarelli said of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. “This was an imperfectly perfect celebration. We all make mistakes; we trip, we fall, we get back up, but God brushes us off and we are able to go out and be reinvigorated, proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and Savior.”

As a seminarian, Father Baldarelli served pastoral assignments at Holy Cross in Palmetto, St. Paul in Arcadia, St. William in Naples, Our Lady Queen of Heaven in Labelle, Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, as well as at St. Charles Borromeo.

The Ordination to the Priesthood is considered one of the most critical events in the life of the Diocese as it ensures the continuation of the Church and the availability of the Sacraments to the faithful.

A reception followed in the Cathedral Parish Hall where Father Baldarelli formally greeted the public and imparted his priestly blessing upon them, smiling all the while.

Early highlights of Diocesan pilgrimage to WYD 2023

The following is a list of highlights for the 52 Diocesan pilgrims who are joining Bishop Frank J. Dewane for World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal.

July 30

Arrival in Porto, Portugal and bus ride to Fatima, with a stop in Coimbra. Visited Carmelite Monastery of Coimbra, where Bishop Dewane celebrated Mass. Arrived in Fatima. That evening the group participated in a candlelight procession at the Shrine.

July 31

Mass at the Chapel of Apparitions with Bishop Dewane as the main celebrant. The small chapel is located in Cova da Iria, to mark the exact location where the three children Sts. Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinto Marto, reported having received the famous apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Bus ride to the outskirts of Fatima in the countryside where the Aug. 19, 1917, apparition of Our Lady of Fatima took place. Pilgrims took part in two-mile Estação da Via Sacra (Stations of the Cross), or Caminho dos Pastorinhos (path of the little shepherds), which included 14 chapels that represent the different stations of the Way of the Cross. Father Alex Pince, Parochial Vicar at Epiphany Cathedral led the Diocesan group through the stations on the second anniversary of his priestly ordination.

This visit also included a stop at the Cenacolo Community (Fraternity Angel of Peace) which ministers to those suffering from addictions, as well as the Parish Church of Fatima where Sts. Lucia, Francisco and Jacinto, were baptized, as well as to the Shrine Museum. St. Francisco died in 1919 at the age of 10, Jacinto died in 1920, at the age of 9, both from the 1919 global influenza outbreak. They are the Church’s youngest saints who did not die as martyrs, with Jacinta the youngest.

Upon return to the center of Fatima, the group visited the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, the tombs of the saints, and participated in a rosary and candlelight procession.

Aug. 1

departed from Fatima to Lisbon with a stop at St. Stephen Church in Santarem, to see and learn about the Eucharistic Miracle of Santarem, which occurred on Feb. 16, 1274. Bishop again celebrated Mass for the Diocesan group.

Arrival in Lisbon included checking into hotel and getting credentialed for the main WYD 2023 activities throughout the city. The group then participated in the WYD opening Mass at Colina de Econtro (Parque Eduardo VII), celebrated by Cardinal Patriarch Lisbon, Manuel Clemente.

Aug. 2

Bishop Dewane met the pilgrims for breakfast before they headed out to their Rise Up catechism. This catechism took place the mornings of Aug. 2-4. Bishop Dewane celebrated Mass for the group at St. Joseph Parish.

Each afternoon of WYD a Youth Festival is taking place throughout the city. In Cidade da Alegria, is a Vocational Fair and Reconciliation Park. During the Vocational Fair, young pilgrims encounter various movements, associations, communities, religious orders, and projects of social nature. Reconciliation Park is where pilgrims encounter the Merciful Christ through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

That evening the Diocesan group joined in the WYDUSA National Gathering in Parque da Quinta das Conches. The program featured prayer, music, testimony, networking, and a Holy Hour with the Lord, led by Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

Aug. 3

Rise Up catechesis continues. Evening welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis at Colina de Econtro (Parque Eduardo VII). Youth Festival.

Aug. 4

Rise Up catechesis concludes. Evening includes Stations of the Cross at Colina de Econtro (Parque Eduardo VII). Youth Festival.

Aug. 5

World Youth Day Vigil at “Campo de Grace” (Parque Tejo). This is an evening and overnight celebration for the pilgrims which includes speakers, musicians, adoration and much more. Pilgrims typically spend the night at the vigil.

Aug. 6

World Youth Day 2023 closing Mass with Pope Francis at “Campo de Grace.” The Mass concludes with the announcement of where the next World Youth Day will be held. That evening, the Diocesan pilgrims will have dinner as a group with Bishop Dewane.

Aug. 7

The pilgrims leave Lisbon for Porto, Portugal, and upon arrival they will tour one of Europe’s oldest cities. Bishop Dewane will celebrate Mass for the group at the Cathedral there. Last night in Portugal.

Aug. 8

Fly from Porto to Zurich, Switzerland, with a connection to Miami, arriving in the evening. Welcome Home!!!

Church celebrates Pentecost – Commemorates descent of Holy Spirit upon Apostles

The journey of the Easter Season is concluded, and the Holy Spirit has descended to provide the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, fortitude, counsel, piety and fear of the Lord.

Celebrated this year on May 28, 2023, the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday marks an important transition in the lives of the Apostles and clarifies their mission in creating the Lord’s Church on earth and is traditionally viewed as the “birthday” of the Church. Pentecost, which literally means 50, falls 50 days after Easter and is 10 days after the Ascension of the Lord. As a symbol of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, the clergy wear red vestments on this day.

“We celebrate that Feast of the Holy Spirit, the lifeblood of our Church; the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ,” said Frank J. Dewane at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. “We have to recognize and acknowledge the idea of plurality and unity in the Church. That very dynamic plays out in different ways at different times in the life of the Church. The plurality is that all voices are heard and in a modern sense we are diverse, coming from different backgrounds. In that diversity, we must leave room for the Holy Spirit in our world, united in living out a plan according to God.”

Also on Pentecost, those who have been baptized and are seeking to be more fully united to Christ within the Church, receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at cathedrals around the world. At Epiphany Cathedral, Bishop Dewane bestowed the Sacrament upon 107 women and men candidates representing 40 Parishes across the Diocese.

These candidates were unable (for whatever reason) to be confirmed at their own Parishes during the past several months. Prior to receiving the Sacrament, the candidates renewed their baptismal promises and the Bishop called upon the Holy Spirit to descend upon and remain with them as they go forward in their lives.

Bishop Dewane thanked the candidates for coming forward to be confirmed and said that the Sacrament of Confirmation must change them as they have been given a new beginning in their lives; they are making a permanent commitment that comes with corresponding responsibilities.

“You can’t go forward as the same person,” the Bishop continued. “You have to be changed as a result of that encounter with Christ in the Sacrament. Go out to give witness about who you are, and who you are becoming. Go forward being doers of your Faith. Develop your prayer life by speaking to Christ as you become ever more that man or woman of God you are called to be and remember always to call upon the strength of the Holy Spirit as you go forward in your life.”

During the Sacrament, the Bishop made the sign of the cross on the forehead of each person being confirmed with Sacred Chrism – consecrated at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week – and said: “Be sealed with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” This Sacrament imbues the recipient with the Holy Spirit, making them an advocate for the Lord.

One woman from St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples expressed her joy of being confirmed by the Bishop. “I feel so blessed to be here, to present myself to the Bishop and become a full participant in the Catholic Faith.”

A younger man from St. Paul Parish in Arcadia explained how his Faith journey took place with the encouragement of his mother who recognized the importance of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. “I started the instruction, unsure if it was what I wanted. After today, I can thank my mother for being there and understanding what I needed in my life.”

The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Christian Life

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.

At St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, the First Communion group of 86 children was so large that two Masses were needed on May 6, 2023.

The girls in white dresses and boys in suits or white shirts with ties solemnly came forward as they reached this important milestone in their spiritual journey of faith. Sitting behind the First Communicants were their parents who beamed with joy.

Before Mass, the children were given final instructions by the catechists, told to clasp their hands together in prayer and then processed into the Church in two lines, boys and girls.

During his homily, Father Wilner Durosier, CS, Administrator of St. Michael Parish, explained the idea of the miracle of the Eucharist to the First Communicants. “It is through a miracle Jesus turned mere bread into the Body of Christ. This is why your priest will say: ‘The Body of Christ’ when giving you the Eucharist each time.”

Father Durosier asked the children if they recall in the lessons about the Last Supper, when Jesus turned bread into His Body, to make sure everyone knows He is there all of the time for everyone who receives Him.

“Jesus gave Himself over to us. Take advantage of the gift Jesus has made available for us at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” Father continued. “Jesus is always there, waiting for you to return. While today you receive your First Communion, I pray that today will be the beginning of many, many Communions so that your heart may always, like today, be festive and full of joy and above all be blessed. Jesus will be waiting for you.”

The children at St. Michael also consecrated themselves to Mary after receiving their First Communion. After the Mass, a group picture was taken and the children proudly stood for individual photos with Father Durosier.

One of the girls, Gabriella, said she was nervous about receiving Jesus in the weeks leading up to her First Communion but was comforted when one of the women religious who serve at the Parish comforted her by saying that if she wasn’t ready, she could wait until she felt she was truly prepared to allow Jesus to become a greater part of her life.

“I am so happy right now,” Gabriella said after the Mass. “I love Jesus so much.”

Similar scenes have taken place at other Parishes in the Diocese or will occur throughout the month. At Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park, the First Communion Mass was also on May 6. There, each child first gathered in the Parish Hall and processed to the church together before coming forward to receive their First Communion while on a kneeler.

At San Marco Parish, in Marco Island, the First Communion was incorporated into the Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Easter on May 7. While there were only 10 First Communicants, the importance for the children, parents, and Holy Mother Church was no less significant.

During a 2019 trip to Bulgaria, Pope Francis told First Communicants how the Lord wants them to share the joy of the Eucharist with others.

“Making your First Communion shows that you want to be closer to Jesus every day, to grow in friendship with Him and to lead other people to share in the joy He wants us to feel,” the Holy Father said. “The Lord needs you because He wants to work the miracle of bringing His joy to many of your friends and family members.”

The 3,000-plus First Communions taking place in the Diocese of Venice throughout May occur 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 the devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane spoke during a March 2023 Eucharistic Congress in Fort Myers, held as part of the National Eucharistic Revival, before groups of teens and adults about the importance of the Holy Eucharist in the life of every Catholic, from the youngest who receive their First Communion to the oldest.

“It is in a precise way in the Eucharist, the Lord is given 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.

Paschal Triduum celebrated throughout the Diocese

Thousands of the faithful of the Diocese of Venice gathered at Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice for a celebration of the Paschal Triduum (April 6-9, 2023).

The Paschal Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday), has its center in the Easter Vigil, and closes with Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Sunday of the Resurrection (Easter).

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. Paul Parish included the commemoration when Jesus Christ established the Sacrament of Holy Communion prior to His arrest and crucifixion. It also observes His institution of the priesthood. This Liturgy included the presentation of the oils blessed and consecrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during the April 12 Chrism Mass, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, which will be used for the Sacraments in the Parish throughout the year.  Later was the traditional washing of the feet, reenacting Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. Following the Prayer after Communion, the Mass concluded with a procession to transfer the Holy Eucharist to a place of repose. This action left the tabernacle vacant until the Easter Vigil.

On Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, the faithful at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs participated in the Liturgy which included the reading of the Passion from the Gospel of John. Next was the presentation of the cross, brought forth by the priest and unveiled as the priest sang: “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world,” and the congregation responded: “Come let us adore.” The faithful were then encouraged to come forward to venerate the cross. This was done by either touching, bowing, or genuflecting.

Either prior to, or after, the Good Friday Liturgy, many Parishes hosted the Stations of the Cross, sometimes led by children or including a dramatic retelling. For example, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee, the Living Stations began in a field behind the Parish church, and then travelled through the neighborhood as thousands participated. The Stations were inclusive to include the languages of the Parish (Spanish, English and Creole). By the time the procession returned to the Parish the crowd had swelled into the thousands.

Earlier on Good Friday, representatives from several Parishes in Sarasota County took part in the Sarasota Ministerial Association’s annual Good Friday Pilgrimage of the Stations of the Cross in downtown Sarasota. Representatives from 28 different congregations from 14 different denominations were present for the procession, which included approximately 900.

On Holy Saturday, the only Mass of the day is the Easter Vigil, which begins in darkness. However, several Parishes did host a blessing of the Easter baskets/food. This custom traditionally blesses food to be consumed at the first meal of Easter.

During the Easter Vigil, the Paschal Candle was lit and catechumens and candidates received the Sacraments and entered fully into the Catholic Faith. This year, a record 567 did so throughout the Diocese.

Bishop Dewane celebrated the Liturgy at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. The Liturgy begins in darkness when a fire was lighted and Paschal Candle lit. The candle was then brought forward as the Deacon proclaimed “Christ, Our Light” three times. Starting from the main candle, the flames were shared person to person, lighting the interior of the Cathedral. Next was the Easter Proclamation, also known as the Exsultet, sung in darkness.

After the Exsultet, was the Liturgy of the Word, which included a number of readings from Genesis into the New Testament. The third part was the Baptismal Liturgy during which eligible Catechumens were baptized (216 throughout the Diocese) or a Profession of Faith (for candidates, those who were previously baptized but were entering fully into the Church, with 351 in the Diocese) for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Prior to the Confirmation, the Bishop blessed the holy water (removed after the Holy Thursday Mass), and after the faithful renewed their baptismal promises, they were blessed with holy water. At the Cathedral there were five candidates who came forward for their Confirmation. The Mass then continued as normal with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

On Easter Sunday, several Parishes celebrated Mass at sunrise while extra Masses were added to accommodate the increased numbers common for this holiest of days.

Many Parishes also hosted fun for children which often included Easter egg hunts either on the Saturday or following a Children’s Liturgy on Sunday.

Chrism Mass: A Sign of Unity in Diocese

Renewal of Priestly Promises with Bishop; Consecration and Blessing of Holy Oils

Bishop Frank J. Dewane was joined by more than 130 priests from across the Diocese for the annual Chrism Mass April 4, 2023, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

The Chrism Mass, which takes place during Holy Week every year, is one of the most solemn and important liturgies of the Catholic liturgical calendar. This celebration, which was witnessed by more than 1,000 of the faithful, including more than 350 students from Diocesan Catholic schools, marks the institution of the priesthood by Christ and is an expression of unity of the priests with their Shepherd, the Bishop of the Diocese.

During the Chrism Mass, Bishop Dewane blessed and consecrated Holy Oils to be used in Parishes across the Diocese of Venice for the sacramental life of the Church throughout the coming year.

The celebration not only brings into focus the historical context of the priesthood by the renewal of Priestly Promises they take, an opportunity for the priests to recall their ordination and to reflect upon their ongoing priestly vocation. Having all the priests of the Diocese come together at the Chrism Mass, on the eve of the Easter Triduum, reminds priests of their calling to act in the person of Christ – in persona Christi. This is one of the few times that so many priests are gathered together for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

During the Renewal of Priestly Promises the gathered priests stood as one, and spoke with one voice responding, “I am,” three times to a series of questions asked by Bishop Dewane. These same questions were asked of them at the time of their Ordination to the Priesthood.

Bishop Dewane publicly thanked the priests for their continued service to the People of God throughout the Diocese of Venice.

The priest has an irreplaceable role in the leading of the faithful and non-believers, to the Lord. Still, this is taking place within a society in which many things have changed through the years and continue to change to this day, Bishop Dewane explained.

“Many of the functions the priests have exercised in the Church have been assumed by others – likely rightfully so in many instances. At the same time, many of the traditional social supports for the priests have been weakened along the way.”

Bishop Dewane understands that while each priest strives daily to do their best, “none of us is the perfect priest. That is Jesus Christ. But we must strive to follow His ways. This in his shown in the life of the priest, in his prayer life and reflection on the Word of God. This is further demonstrated in his celebration of the Sacraments, his pastoral care for the faithful, as well as the love and affection for those who call upon him.”

Addressing the younger priests, Bishop Dewane encouraged them to overcome any difficulties and not fall into the trap that they are alone and no one notices them.

“You are noticed by your brother priests and by your Bishop. It is the faithful who approach me and who may have a concern on an issue that is genuinely about your wellbeing and who you are. Know that not one of us is alone. I understand it can feel that way. But no one of us is alone. The Lord does not allow for that. He Himself is with you, with me, with our brother priests throughout the day. Yes, we will fail along the way but He is still there, with you and with me. The Lord has chosen each one of us knowing our strengths and our weaknesses, having made us. Christ asks us to allow His strength to enter into our lives, for that matter, to rule our lives.”

Bishop Dewane shared a reflection from Pope Francis from an address regarding priests who had lost the flame of their first love, and who may have become a little barren in their experience by stressing the “four closenesses,” that exist for each priest in their lives.

The first is a “Closeness to God,” which calls for priests to rely on the strength of Jesus Christ in the experience of both joys and sorrows. This closeness to God needs to be nourished in prayer, in the Eucharist and drawing closer to His flock.

Next is a call for a “Closeness to the Bishop,” which Pope Francis referred to as allowing priests to learn how to listen, to recognize God’s will in another, and to execute it in obedience to another. “The Holy Father tells us,” Bishop Dewane said, “a Bishop establishes and preserves the Church’s identity in a particular area – places upon you the consecrated oils at ordination and has an affinity for those oils (to be consecrated today). The Holy Father goes on to invite priests in this regard to pray for their Bishop. If we can persevere in this bond, we will advance surely along the way toward salvation. In addition to the Holy Father’s call, I also ask for your prayers.”

A “Closeness to other priests” is also important, according to Pope Francis. This refers to the virtue of fraternity, of living the eternal love for the priestly fraternity which involves deliberately pursuing holiness with others, not by oneself. In this context the Holy Father addressed the value of priestly celibacy which he calls on all priests to live. “Pope Francis refers to this gift that the Latin Church preserves and notes that it must be rooted in healthy relationships, and stress that these be found in the Presbyterate,” Bishop Dewane said.

Lastly, Pope Francis calls for a “Closeness to the People of God.” “This closeness to the faithful, in its proper place, is important for every priest, as it involves their daily life. Rather than taking shelter from people’s difficulties and misery, Jesus is the example for us in this task.”

Bishop Dewane concluded his remarks by noting that everyone who attends the Chrism Mass, regardless of their state in life (priest, religious, deacon, laity), must “hear the call of Christ and enter humbly and profoundly into the Sacred Triduum… into the celebration of the real summit in our lives, our faith, our spiritual calling, that is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Following his homily, and before the renewal of Priestly Promises, Bishop Dewane recognized the nine Priests and three Permanent Deacons serving or living in the Diocese celebrating the 25th and 50th anniversaries of their ordination for their years of service to Christ and Holy Mother Church. Bishop Dewane also acknowledged priests who have served more than 50 years, noting those marking 55, 60 and 65 years since their priestly ordination.

While the Oil of the Sick and Oil of the Catechumens are blessed, the Sacred Chrism is also blessed and consecrated; and each will be used at Parishes throughout the year in the administration of the Sacraments.

The annual Chrism Mass, which is celebrated on or before Holy Thursday, takes place in every Diocese throughout the world. In the Diocese of Venice, the Chrism Mass is historically celebrated on the Tuesday of Holy Week to accommodate the priests who need to travel substantial distances.

In attendance for this special occasion were religious men and women; seminarians; the Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem; the Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Order of Malta; the Color Corps of the Knights of Columbus; approximately 350 students representing most of the Diocesan Catholic Schools; members of the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women; as well as the Faithful of the Diocese of Venice.

Sacred Chrism Oil

The Chrism Mass takes its name from the Sacred Chrism Oil, the most eminent of the three holy oils, which the Bishop consecrates and blesses for use by Parishes of the Diocese. Bishop Dewane referred to the Gospel message at which described the oils as bringing “glad tidings” which represent the indelible mark each bestows.

The Oil of the Sick, used for those who seek anointing, and the Oil of the Catechumens, which is imposed on those preparing for baptism, are “blessed,” by the Bishop at different times during the Chrism Mass. The Sacred Chrism is “blessed and consecrated.” The verb “consecrate” is applied to the action of making holy the chrism and indicates its use to spiritually separate, sanctify and purify its recipients.

For the blessing and consecration of the Sacred Chrism Oil. In the Rite, the initial motion is to pour balsam into the oil, and then this is mixed. The balsam is added so that it gives the oil a sweet smell intended to remind those who encounter it of the “odor of sanctity.” All of the Faithful are called to strive for sanctity. Next, the Bishop breathes on the Sacred Chrism “to symbolize the Holy Spirit coming down.” At a particular point in the consecration prayer of the Sacred Chrism, all the priests join the Bishop in extending their right hand toward the Chrism, as the Bishop concluded the prayer.

After Mass, the oils were given to each Pastor to use in their Parish throughout the Liturgical Year.

Jubilarians

A reception was held in the Parish Hall following the Mass to honor Priests and Deacons celebrating their jubilee in 2023.

Father Bob Kantor, Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples and Vicar Forane for the Southern Deanery, spoke for the priest jubilarians. Father Kantor marks the silver jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood in 2023 and described his journey to becoming a priest while growing up in a Polish-Catholic family in Buffalo, New York. Father described his priestly journey “as one that is blessed and graced by the people we encounter; may we be open to the lessons that they bring us that show true holiness.”

Deacon Humberto Alvia spoke on behalf of the jubilarian Deacons, also marking his 25th anniversary of ordination. Deacon Alvia, who serves at St. Jude Parish in Sarasota, spoke about his own journey, shared by his wife, Pia. Born in Ecuador, the couple was living in Brooklyn, New York, when they were first encouraged to take part in different church groups. This expanded for the couple to become part of Pre-Cana retreats and ultimately being invited into the Permanent Diaconate program. Ordained in Brooklyn, Deacon Alvia moved to Florida and was invited to first serve at St. Martha Parish and then was part of the construction of St. Jude Parish. Deacon Alvia said he is grateful to his wife and family, for understanding his dedication and time he spent doing what he was ordained to do. “That is to do his duty to the Bishop, to follow faithfully the Church teaching, and to serve with love the people of God.”

Celebrating 50 years were Father Richard York, who is retired but assists at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grove City and Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande, and Deacon Robert Egendoerfer, who is retired after having served at St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Parish in Parrish.

Additional silver jubilarians were Father Jarek Sniosek, Pastor of St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, Father Murchadh O’Madagain, Pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Myers, Father Remigious Ssekiranda, Parochial Vicar at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, Deacon Ripperton Riordan, who assists at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers, and Deacon John Ruh, who assists at San Pedro Parish in North Port.

Universal Diocesan Confession times ahead of Holy Week

With Holy Week just days away, it is not too late to ponder how well prepared we are for the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday.

One way to help in this effort is through participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

To facilitate this requirement, every Parish in the Diocese of Venice will be open with a confessor present from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., on Friday, March 31, 2023, and from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, April 1. These opportunities, facilitated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, are made available so that the faithful may find ample opportunity to receive God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the Lenten Season.

Bishop Dewane said that many people view the idea of confessing one’s sins as so unbearable that they either completely avoid the Sacrament or go infrequently.

“It is heartbreaking to hear stories from those who have avoided confession for many years after carrying around a burden,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is heartwarming to talk to people of all ages who go to confession and are relieved and overjoyed at the benefits. Some even scold themselves for missing such a beautiful Sacrament for so long.”

Throughout the Lenten Season, Parishes have offered extended hours for the Sacrament, in addition to offering Penance Services, where multiple priests from the region were made available to hear the confessions of a large number of people.

Pope Francis often speaks about the healing benefits of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, saying that he goes about once every two weeks. On March 17, Pope Francis spoke about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“In Confession, let’s give God first place,” the Holy Father said. “Once He is in charge, everything becomes beautiful and confession becomes the Sacrament of joy, not of fear and judgement, but of joy.”

As the Catechism teaches, the priest is acting in Persona Christi, the person of Christ, within the confessional. So, like presenting oneself at the altar to be nourished by Christ in the Eucharist, a person going to Confession, is not ultimately confessing to a priest, but confessing to and receiving forgiveness from Jesus Christ.

“The Lord comes to us when we step back from our presumptuous ego… He can bridge the distance whenever, with honesty and sincerity, we bring our weaknesses before him,” Pope Francis said. “He holds out his hand and lifts us up whenever we realize we are ‘hitting rock bottom’ and we turn back to him with a sincere heart. That is how God is. He is waiting for us, deep down, for in Jesus he chose to ‘descend to the depths.’”

The Pope emphasized that God waits for us, especially in the Sacrament of Penance, where he said the Lord touches our wounds, heals our hearts, and leaves us with inner peace.

Please contact your local Parish for additional available confession times.

Rite of Election – Largest ever Diocesan group set to enter Church at Easter Vigil

The largest ever group of women and men set to enter the Catholic Church within the Diocese of Venice at the Easter Vigil were recognized during the annual Rite of Election at Epiphany Cathedral on the first Sunday of Lent on Feb. 26, 2023. This annual tradition is a formal Rite during which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of Elect.

The 216 catechumens (individuals who are not yet baptized) were joined by an additional 351 candidates (already-baptized Christians preparing for confirmation and First Eucharist). The candidates participate in the formal ceremony and are recognized during the celebration for answering the “Call To Their Continuing Conversion.” The Cathedral was at near capacity as family members were also present to show their support.

The Rite of Election was presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane who said he was impressed by the large number of catechumens and candidates, noting that the 567 are the most ever set to enter the Church in the Diocese in a single year through the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) program.

Bishop Dewane complimented each for making the commitment to publicly announce the call of the Holy Spirit in a particular way by becoming active members of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Venice. “You are the brave and courageous; the Spirit of the Lord is working within you.”

The catechumens and candidates, who were recognized by Bishop Dewane, are on a continuing journey that will culminate when they come into full communion with the Catholic Church at the April 8 Easter Vigil Mass in their respective Parishes.

The group represent 47 Parishes in the Diocese of Venice and are accompanied by tens of thousands of others across the country that will also join the Catholic Church this year. Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee had the largest groups of catechumens and candidates.

Bishop Dewane acknowledged the sacrifice each catechumen and candidate has made in recognizing the voice of God in their lives, prompted by the Holy Spirit, to come forward on this journey of learning about the Catholic Faith.

“This happens in your heart,” the Bishop said. “Leave your heart always open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God. Listen to what the Lord is asking of you.”

By recognizing the Lord’s presence in your heart, it must change you in fundamental ways, Bishop Dewane said. The presence of the Lord in your life must impact how you live, how you treat yourself, how you treat others, and how you are going to live the life to which the Lord has called you. During the coming weeks of Lent, the Bishop encouraged the catechumens and candidates to seek the Lord in Sacred Scriptures as they develop and grow in building their relationship with Jesus Christ.

“We must go out from these four walls (of the Cathedral) and be doers of our Faith out in society,” Bishop Dewane said. “We have respective roles – responding and answering – as we are called, made in the image and likeness of God, to give witness to Jesus Christ.”

The catechumens are part of the OCIA, which is for those who are unbaptized and unchurched, who come to inquire about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Faith in a process that takes about a year. Often catechumens are those who have begun to seek and understand God in their lives and have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Catholic. OCIA is a journey of discovery and faith. This is most commonly done in three distinct phases: discernment, acceptance into the catechumenate along with purification and enlightenment.

Each catechumen will go through a series of scrutinies during which they examine their readiness to accept Christ and the Catholic Faith in the form of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation). This time culminates at the Easter Vigil when the catechumens are received through Baptism into the Catholic Church. The final period of the OCIA is the time of “Mystagogy” (post-baptismal catechesis). During the weeks following the Easter Vigil, the newly initiated live more profoundly their experience of Baptism and the Eucharist as they begin the journey of discipleship and their growing union with Christ.

For candidates, those who have been correctly baptized with a Trinitarian formula, the Catholic Church does not require re-Baptism. Candidates have already experienced a journey of faith and understand how Jesus leads us to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, many have been attending Mass with their families for years but may have never received the Sacrament of Holy Communion or the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The candidates are invited to the Cathedral for the Rite of Election as a form of welcome, but because they are already in the Book of the Elect as baptized Christians, they do not bring their names forward. To symbolize that baptism, and as a sign of their continuing conversion, they come forward and make the sign of the cross with holy water.

Everyone is encouraged to pray for and welcome the catechumens and candidates at their own Parish as they continue their journey of discovery in their Faith.

Hundreds of couples recognized for giving hope to society

During a time when society is trying to redefine what marriage is, hundreds of couples were honored during a Feb. 18, 2023, Diocese of Venice celebration of their lasting witness to Sacramental Marriage.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice recognizing 360 couples, who were celebrating a combined 18,403 years of marriage, for their accomplishment which brings hope to their families, to the community, to society and to the Universal Church.

“Think of the accomplishment of who you are as a group; but also think of it as individuals and couples, as children of God, made in the image and likeness of God,” Bishop Dewane said. “You were the minister of the Sacrament – one to the other. You stood there together then and are here together today. The number of years you have lived by the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is a real achievement. See yourselves as the goodness that you are.”

The Bishop described the couples as both radical and countercultural, but also a true inspiration for others to follow and emulate.

“You don’t see it, but your commitment to each other is seen by younger generations, perhaps by your grandchildren or great-granchildren,” Bishop Dewane said. “That is a lasting testimony to the vows you took, committing to each other before God those many years ago.”

The 360 couples present for the Mass represented 41 Parishes and included 58 couples which have been married for 50 years. One of those couples, John and Janet Johannsen, celebrated their 50th on the day of the Mass. Also celebrating their 45th anniversary during the Mass were Louis and Maria Gomes. Both of these couples are from San Pedro Parish in North Port.

The couple recognized as being present with the longest marriage was John and Rita Riebel, who celebrate 72 years of marriage on April 7. They moved to Florida 27 years ago and attend Epiphany Cathedral. They met in New Jersey on a blind date. As newlyweds, John served in the Army and later in construction, sometimes working three jobs to provide for their 5 children, a true testimony to their love and commitment to each other and as a family.

Other couples recognized during the Mass were Thomas and Dolores Martorana, 72 years, from Epiphany Cathedral; Carl and Natalie Pensak, 71 years, from Epiphany Cathedral; and Marvin and Carol Peschel, 70 years, from St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Port Charlotte.

The Peschel’s met in high school when she was a junior and he a senior needing a tutor so he could graduate. “She was always smarter than me,” Marvin Peschel explained. “That is why it was always easy to just say “Yes dear” whenever we had a discussion.”

Of course, the couple credits their strong faith and belief in a commitment to loving each other through good times and bad. This is particularly true now that he is 90 and she is 89. “We have something special,” Carol Peschel said.

During the Mass, the married couples renewed their wedding vows. In addition, each couple was presented with commemorative certificates, signed by the Bishop, for their enduring commitment to marriage.

A reception followed the Mass with lunch and the opportunity to have complimentary pictures taken with the Bishop.

Masses are celebrated each year in the northern and southern sections of the Diocese of Venice to accommodate those wanting to attend. The first Mass was Feb. 11 at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, bringing together 270 couples representing a combined 14,002 years of marriage.

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