Summer camps bring love of Christ to young faces

“Learned about Jesus!” “Learned about the Bible!” “Took part in fun and games at my Parish!” “Took a trip with friends from my Parish!” “God loves me, no matter what!” “I developed skills to help one day become an engineer!” “Gained a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary!” “Grew closer to the Lord!”

These are just some of the answers which children from across the Diocese of Venice will give to their friends and teachers when they return to the classroom and are asked: What did you do this summer?

At nearly every Parish in the Diocese there were a variety of captivating summer camps, with faith at their core. During these camps, thousands of children were engaged, and their young minds were, at least temporarily, focused on the Lord.

At eight Parishes, the Diocese of Venice Department of Religious Education and Office of Evangelization brought “Totus Tuus” camps for children and teens. This program was dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic Faith through evangelization, catechesis, Christian witness and Eucharistic worship. The camps were directed by a team of four missionaries and two Diocesan seminarians. Parish staff and volunteers augmented the team and together they made the week memorable for all who participated.

The most common of these camps is the Vacation Bible School program which was offered at more than 35 parishes in the Diocese this summer. This weeklong Bible themed camp focused on learning the important lessons of Scripture in a fun and engaging way. The two most common themes this summer were “Monumental: Celebrating God’s Greatness” and “Come to Mama.” At Vacation Bible School, children attended daily Mass and participated in Eucharistic Adoration. They also learned uplifting songs and dances, made crafts and generally had a great time.

Several Parishes also hosted summer activities for the teens, some included taking part in service projects, while others went on retreat, either locally or even out-of-state.

A dozen different Diocesan groups took part in Camp Covecrest 2022, a Life Teen retreat throughout the summer in northern Georgia which focuses on leading teens closer to Christ. This is an intensive retreat which focuses the teens on building their relationship with the Lord through team activities, reflection, and prayer. The focus of these retreats included Eucharistic Adoration, opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and participating in Mass.

In addition, St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, took a special trip for teens to Vogel State Park in Blairsville, Georgia. This trip was led by women religious of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará. While based at the state park, the groups began each day with morning prayers, then travelled throughout the region and made certain to attend daily Mass at one of the local Catholic Churches. The evening routine included 30 minutes of talks and small group discussion, as well as 30 minutes of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Days were filled with a variety of activities, including hiking, rafting, swimming, as well as visits to water parks and more casual walks through mountain towns.

Meanwhile, multiple Diocesan Catholic schools hosted STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) camps. Some of these camps covered several weeks and introduced the eager students to new projects such as arts and crafts, engineering various objects and other activities that incorporated the different aspects of STREAM. The longer camps stressed different skills and included field trips to augment the in-class experience. The camps actively incorporated Catholic values and virtues through the Diocesan curriculum called, “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence.”

For the athlete in many of our young people, the area Catholic high schools hosted a variety of sports camps for soccer, football, basketball, cheerleading and many others. These camps offered a chance for younger children to learn the skills needed to excel in different sports while at the same time they had fun.

Catholic Charities in Bonita Springs held a summer-long camp for children which included a variety of fun games and projects giving the children the opportunity to show off their athletic, artistic and other skills. The campers also took a variety of fun field trips.

At Casa San Juan Bosco farmworker housing in Arcadia, Catholic Charities hosted a summer camp there for resident children. The activities included arts and crafts, as well as the opportunity to continue to develop their reading skills.

These are just some of the examples of the exciting activities that took place for the thousands of young people in the Diocese during the “slow” season.

‘Totus Tuus’ going strong

The “Totus Tuus” summer camp continues to wow children of all ages.

With six Parishes visited through July 22, 2022, the summer camp has brought hundreds of children and teens closer to the Lord. Recent stops included St. Catherine Parish in Sebring, St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers and St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton.

Totus Tuus (a Latin phrase meaning “totally yours”) is a summer Catholic youth camp program dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic Faith through evangelization, catechesis, Christian witness and Eucharistic worship. The camp is directed by a team of four missionaries and two Diocesan seminarians. Parish staff and volunteers augment the team and together they make the week one to remember for all who participate. The intent of the program is to assist parents and Parishes in the evangelizing and catechizing of their youth by supplementing the work they are currently doing.

Father Rafael Ligenza, Pastor of St. Joseph Parish which hosted Totus Tuus the week of July 18-22, said he was impressed by the response of the children.

“It’s wonderful to see how the children are responding to everything they are learning,” Father Ligenza said.

Each week there is a potluck when the missionaries get to meet the parents and the participants in the camp show off some of the things they learned. The potluck at St. Joseph on July 19 was a double celebration with a cake marking Father Ligenza’s birthday.

Missionary Garrett Willie, of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and student at Xavier University in Cincinnati, told the parents about Totus Tuus.

“We are here teaching the children to have an intimate relationship with their faith, seeing God as their Father and Jesus as their friend,” Willie said. “We do this by taking them through the Sacraments… and in the classroom we spend time with fun games and activities and really diving in on the power of prayer. It’s cool to see them at the beginning of the week hearing them say – ‘Do we really have to talk about this?’ and then come Wednesday or Thursday, they are like – ‘Oh my gosh, Jesus is so cool, we loved learning about Him!’ – and you see the light go off in their eyes. It’s beautiful.”

The day camp program is for grades one to five, and evenings are for grades six through 12.

Each day, the children’s camp begins with music to pump the children up and get them ready for the full day ahead with all the time focused on learning key lessons about their Faith with a focus on the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. In addition to dancing, music and prayer, the children have time for activities such as crafts and games. There is time for Mass each day with additional quiet reflective time in Eucharistic Adoration and three days when there is opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Evening sessions with the teens are less formal and focus on putting a renewed focus on growing in their personal relationship with the Lord. The missionaries and seminarians share their personal spiritual journey and then the teens gather in prayer and reflection. This group also takes part in Eucharistic Adoration with the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Totally Yours! Hundreds having fun with faith

The new Diocese of Venice Totus Tuus Summer Camp has been generating a lot of buzz as it moves from Parish to Parish each week. Hundreds of children and teens have been having fun learning about the Catholic Faith throughout the Diocese.

Totus Tuus (a Latin phrase meaning “totally yours”) is a summer Catholic youth camp program dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic Faith through evangelization, catechesis, Christian witness and Eucharistic worship. The camp is directed by a team of four missionaries and two Diocesan seminarians. Parish staff and volunteers augment the team and together they make the week one to remember for all who participate.

Father Jiobani Batista, Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish in LaBelle – which hosted Totus Tuus the week of June 20-24, 2022 – said if he had his way, he would welcome a Totus Tuus Summer Camp every week, all summer.

“The enthusiasm and wonder of the young children have been great,” Father Batista said. “Then, the engagement and excitement from the teens was incredible. I am having young kids come up to me at each break asking me questions about everything. That is amazing. To see their interest and excitement about Jesus, the Mass and everything about their Faith is very exciting.”

The day camp program is for grades one to five, and is Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and evenings are for grades six through 12, is Monday to Thursday from 7:30 p.m.to 9:45 p.m. The camp opened the week of June 6 at St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral, where 50 children, and 27 youth participated. Then the following week at St. Agnes Parish in Naples some 100 young children and more than 60 teens participated, with a group coming from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee.

The Our Lady Queen of Heaven week engaged more than 100 children during the day and some 60 youth in the evening. This group also included children from St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston. This was followed by a week at St. Catherine Parish in Sebring, with participants (about 100 youth and 60 teens) also coming from St. James Parish in Lake Placid and Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park.

Each day of the children’s camp, the participants learn lessons about the importance of prayer, and ways to pray, from the basics of the Our Father and Hail Mary to the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. They also learn about the importance of the Eucharist and how Jesus walks with them all the time.

Diocesan Seminarians Juan Contreras and James Gates are fully involved in the daily activities of the camp, taking charge of some classes of the younger campers and being team leaders for the older groups in the evenings.

“I think this camp is making a difference and it’s fun to see how much enthusiasm the little kids have and compare that to the teens and their questions, which are much more serious and profound,” Contreras said.

“It is great to see the reaction of the little kids when they learn something new,” Gates said. “The teens just like to hang out, but they are interested and that is important.”

Seeing the seminarians every day, in a relaxed setting, gives the campers of all ages a positive role model whom they can look up to and interact with, which is an opportunity they might not otherwise have. Some of their impactful actions by the seminarians are subtle: such as a compliment here, or a smile there, and perhaps a high five for a job well done. At other times, the seminarians teach the young children the basics of praying the Our Father and Hail Mary, or they are leaders in prayer, such as during the Liturgy of the Hours with the youth in the evening, or perhaps when they join in the crazy dancing and fun games.

“Having the young children and youth see the seminarians is really inspiring,” Father Batista said. “They are great with the little ones and can answer any question for the teens. In fact, I already have some inquiring to be a Totus Tuus missionary next year and others who are expressing an interest in a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. That is great. I wish we had all of the seminarians here.”

After the final evening prayer with the youth at Our Lady Queen of Heaven, many of the teens sought out the two seminarians, as well as the other four missionaries, to personally thank them, often seeking a high-five, fist-bump or even a hug, always with a big smile.

Angelica Pena, Director of Religious Education at Our Lady Queen of Heaven, praised the structure and focus of Totus Tuus. She was amazed at how well her students were picking up the most complex of topics and then remembering the next day.

“This is a whole year of religious education crammed into one week for the young ones, and they love it, and more importantly the parents love it,” Pena said. “They are learning, and they are remembering prayers and lessons in a way that just doesn’t happen when you see them for 90 minutes each week.”

Only one Parish hosts the camp each week. The Parishes hosting Totus Tuus for the rest of the summer are: St. John XXIII in Fort Myers, July 11-15; St. Joseph in Bradenton, July 18-22; St. Elizabeth Seton in Naples, July 25-29; and St. Patrick in Sarasota, August 1-August 5.

There are still some openings for this program. Please contact the Director of Religious Education at the Parish hosting the program or Anne Chrzan at chrzan@dioceseofvenice.org.

Summer STREAM Camp wows

Not even a week out of school for the summer and a group of students were back on the campus of St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton to take part in a STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Summer Camp where they got to perform all types of experiments and had lots of fun.

The camp opened on June 6, 2022, with a Spacecation! Eager young scientists made space containers for gear, set up an experiment for hatching space eggs, built and operated robotic arms, and even created their own “Jupiter” volcanoes.

This camp incorporates the “Camp Invention” program for children in grades K-6, where STREAM skills are built with creative, hands-on problem-solving activities.

Each day of the camp pushes students to use a variety of skills and brainpower to work on fun projects as they learn to work as a team to make amazing objects and learn about how the world works. Each section offers a variety of challenges and tasks the students must work to complete. In some experiments they are given strict guidelines to follow, while in others they can be as creative as they wish all in the name of science and learning.

The students worked on their creative writing with Plot Coasters! During this project, the students learned about story parts and writing creative stories. The prompt for the story was: You found a cave…what was inside? And the creative minds took off from there.

In the Marble Arcade portion of the camp, students started with chain reactions, zigzagged through physics, engineering and gaming as they built a mega marble arcade. This allowed the campers to study engineering while exploring friction, inclines, weights, and scales.

Next up, the campers made a big splash with Aquatic Robotics. The students dove into ocean research and created a habitat for their “jellyfish.” They also used their decision-making skills to make design choices, developed and patented new aquatic plants, and created a symbiotic best friend for their aquariums. Then they developed a unique, bio-inspired invention and role-played hooking their investors at the fish market.

They also had time to study probabilities by flipping cups and worked with “Arty Bots” which are not only fun to build, but they can create beautiful works of art!

Some of the campers also helped harvest the latest crop of lettuce from the school’s new hydroponic garden. This food continues to grow prolifically and is donated to the neighboring St. Joseph Food Pantry.  This experience has been a wonderful opportunity to show how food is grown and ways that we can help others in our community.

These are just some of the examples of the fun and learning that took place during the first two weeks at the St. Joseph Catholic School STREAM Camp. To learn more about St. Joseph Catholic School, please call 941-755-2611 or visit www.sjsfl.org/.

Faith Can Be Fun!

What do you get when upwards of 100 children gather for a special summer camp – a growth in Faith and lots of fun.

Part way into its second week, the inaugural Totus Tuus Summer Camp for children and teens has been a great success. The opening week, June 6-10, 2022, at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral, brought in 50 children each day and 27 teens each evening. The second week, June 13-17, is at St. Agnes Parish in Naples and there are more than 100 children and 60 youth taking part. Among the group at St. Agnes were also children from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee.

The goal of the Totus Tuus Summer Camp is to help young people grow in their understanding of the faith and strengthening of their faith in Jesus Christ. The camp is directed by a team of four missionaries and two Diocesan seminarians. Parish staff and volunteers augment the team and together they make the week one to remember for all who participate.

Each day of the weeklong camp, the children and youth learn lessons about the importance of prayer, and ways to pray, from the basics of the Our Father and Hail Mary to the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

They also learn about the importance of the Eucharist and how Jesus walks with them all the time, explained Anne Chrzan, Diocesan Director of Religious Education.

The day begins with music to pump the children up and get them ready for the full day ahead with all the time focused on learning key lessons about their faith. In addition to dancing, music and prayer, the children have time for activities such as crafts and games.

There is time for Mass each day with additional quiet reflective time in Eucharistic Adoration and three days when there is opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Mass portion of the day is more than participating in the important celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is at this time during the camp when the children not only learn the various hymns but also learn about the different parts of the Mass and why they are so key to this important celebration. For example, when entering the Church, the children are brought to the Holy Water Font and taught how and why they are to respectfully dip their finger in the water and bless themselves.

Diocesan Seminarians Juan Contreras and James Gates are fully involved in the daily activities of the camp, serving as leaders in prayer and offering their discernment stories to the teens in the evenings. They serve as leaders when teaching about hearing the call of the Lord in one’s life, citing their own examples as a guide for others to follow.

The teen aspect of the summer camp is confined to the evenings and focuses on allowing the Totus Tuus missionaries and seminarians to share their stories and lead discussions on topics that are important to young people today. The teens also take part in Adoration and there is a special focus on growing their prayer life and relationship with the Lord.

There is a mid-week potluck during which families come and see firsthand what their children have learned as they perform skits or short plays about different aspects of their faith. The week concludes with a water day of outside fun and games.

Rose M. Talbot-Babey, Director of Religious Education at St. Katharine Drexel, sent a note to Chrzan about the week, saying she received lots of positive feedback from parents and children alike about how they enjoyed the Totus Tuus camp.

“In particular, the children were sharing what they had learned once they got home which is so encouraging and the parents were pleased with that,” Talbot-Babey wrote.

Only one Parish hosts the camp each week. The Parishes hosting Totus Tuus this summer are: St. Katherine Drexel; St. Agnes in Naples; Our Lady Queen of Heaven in La Belle, June 20-24; St. Catherine in Sebring, June 27-July 1; St. John XXIII in Fort Myers, July 11-15; St. Joseph in Bradenton, July 18-22; St. Elizabeth Seton in Naples, July 25-29; and St. Patrick in Sarasota, August 1-August 5.

The camp program, for grades 1-5, takes place Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for grades 6-12, it is Monday to Thursday from 7:30 p.m.to 9:45 p.m.

Several parishes still have openings for this program. Please contact the Director of Religious Education at the Parish hosting the program or Anne Chrzan at chrzan@dioceseofvenice.org.

TOTUS TUUS – New type of summer camp aims to inspire

For 10 days in late May and early June a group of young men and women gathered at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice as they prepared to lead a new type of summer camp at eight different Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice.

These missionaries will lead the Totus Tuus Summer Camp, dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic Faith through catechesis, evangelization, Christian witness, and Eucharistic worship. This program assists parents and Parishes in the evangelizing and catechizing of their youth by supplementing the work they are currently doing.

“The goal of the Totus Tuus Summer Camp is to help young people grow in their understanding of, and strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ,” explained Anne Chrzan, Diocesan Director of Religious Education. “Each day of the weeklong camp, the children and youth learn lessons about prayer, from the basics of the Our Father to the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.”

The concept of this unique outreach was started in Wichita, Kansas in 1987 as a summer catechetical program and has grown into a weeklong summer camp which is now active in more than 50 Dioceses with the Diocese of Venice the latest to join in this effort. The program has a proven track record of inspiring active stewards, fruitful vocations and a lifelong love for the Church.

Totus Tuus is a Latin phrase meaning “Totally Yours.” It was a motto of St. John Paul II, taken from St. Louis de Montfort’s “True Devotion to Mary.” It signifies our desire to give ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ through Mary.

Each Parish hosting the event will welcome children and teens from Sunday evening to Friday afternoon.  These sessions are divided into daytime camp for children from first grade through sixth, and evening retreats for teens seventh grade through recent high school graduates. The week is filled with faith, fun, and friendship and there are messy games, crazy skits, and music. The college-age leaders provide an authentic witness to the students.

Only one Parish hosts the camp each week. The Parishes hosting Totus Tuus this summer are: St. Katherine Drexel in Cape Coral, June 6-10; St. Agnes in Naples, June 13-17; Our Lady Queen of Heaven in La Belle, June 20-24; St. Catherine in Sebring, June 27-July 1; St. John XXIII in Fort Myers, July 11-15; St. Joseph in Bradenton, June 18-22; St. Elizabeth Seton in Naples, July 25-29; and St. Patrick in Sarasota, August 1-August 5.

Additionally, Totus Tuus strives to bring an awareness of vocations in the young adults who serve as missionaries. Each missionary begins the day with morning prayer, praying the rosary and attending daily Mass.  These missionaries serve as teachers for the camp by leading a small group of children or teens each day with lessons and activities to enhance the theme of prayer.

From May 26 to June 6, the missionaries prepared and trained at the Venice retreat center structuring their studies around how the daily camp will progress. Hannah Tuong, of the Diocese of Tulsa, headed the training program.

The 2022 Totus Tuus missionaries are Sam Salyer of the Diocese of Gary, Kate Ihlefeldt, of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Garrett Willie of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and Marianna Evangelista of the Archdiocese of Denver. Additionally, assisting the missionaries will be Diocese of Venice Seminarians Juan Contreras, James Gates and Daniel Scanlan.

These missionaries were selected for their energy, enthusiasm, love of the Faith, commitment to spiritual growth, ability to work with a team and a desire to work with youth.

Ihlefeldt took part in Totus Tuus from second grade into high school and described it as the highlight of her summer. She loves singing, playing piano and guitar, reading, hiking, and of course, spending time with Our Lord.

“God is my nearest and dearest friend, and I could not imagine who I would be without Him,” she explained. “One of the many passions in my life is bringing people closer to God, and I think the best way to do that is through the example and testimony of our own lives… The youth need this program now more than ever, and it’s a huge blessing to be part of a team that is dedicated to that mission.”

Slayer is an artist who loves images that give glory to God. While his goal is to help teach everyone he encounters how to fall in love with Christ, “as a missionary, I not only want to help those I teach. I want to have a heart that can be moved by what they teach me about my faith.”

Chrzan said while many of the Parish Totus Tuus camp slots are full, some openings are available by contacting the individual Parish religious education office which can be found by visiting www. https://dioceseofvenice.org/find-a-parish/, For Further information regarding this program contact Anne Chrzan@chrzan@dioceseofvenice.org.

Parish helps dreams come true for youth

Over the years the parishioners of St. Leo the Great Parish have forged a strong bond with Catholic Charities programs in Bonita Springs.

“We proudly host their presence on our campus in the Juan Diego Center and constantly witness and support the good works provided by their staff and volunteers, many of whom are our own parishioners,” said Anne Bellows, Assistant to the Pastor.  “We partner in providing donations from our St. Leo Food Bank, as well as annual holiday food and gift drives at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. We receive the most delight in this relationship when it impacts our area children.”

The Positive Youth Development Program is one such Catholic Charities resource which helps area children and operates after-school tutoring and summer camps, explained Jose A. Perez, Positive Youth Development Program Manager.

Each of the 40 children who participated in the Program’s Summer Enrichment Camp received scholarships from parishioners of St. Leo the Great Parish. During the summer the children received tutoring in math and reading, as well as enjoying enriching activities during their seven weeks on campus including a number of day trips.

“This year we wanted to do something special for the youth we have the privilege of working with,” Perez said. “The last two years have been hard on everyone, but especially on youth who will look back and remember the Pandemic as a significant life event, and it has not been a very positive one.”

Perez figured that perhaps the Program could do something that will leave a positive memory for these challenging times in all this sadness.

“After much thought, I decided to reach out to the most magical place on earth (Disney World) since the kids have always asked about visiting since none had ever been,” Perez said. “Looking back on my first time at Disney, I remember what a fantastic experience it was, but it was also expensive.”

With this goal in mind, Perez worked tirelessly to put the pieces together to make this marvelous adventure happen within budget and without a hitch. The effort included reaching out to Disney for discounted tickets and to a local company for economical transportation.

“St. Leo Parish has always been there for our Positive Youth Development Program,” Perez said. “They help us with whatever comes up. Once the time came for us to meet about scholarships, they asked if we’re doing anything different this year, and I said ‘Yes!’ I explained what we were trying to accomplish making a lasting memory for the students, and they were on board. So, we came up with what we wanted to call the trip: ‘Making Dreams That Last Forever.’”

St. Leo the Great Parish covered the cost of nearly everything, including additional funding for t-shirts and money for souvenirs, Bellows noted. “’Making Dreams That Last Forever’ became a joyful reality made possible through the generosity of our parishioners.”

The parents were as excited as the kids were when they learned about the trip, Perez explained. One mother said: “Thank you for giving our children an opportunity we could never give them.”

Therefore, on the July 31, 2021, the group, including 40 youth, nine high school-aged volunteers, and Catholic Charities staff went on a trip of lifetime.

Upon entering the Magic Kingdom, a girl named Arianna said to Perez: “Mr. Jose, look, it’s the Castle! It’s real!”

Camper Briana described her experience this way: “This was amazing. I had always dreamed of going to Disney. I am so glad I was able to come to summer camp. Thank you!”

Other campers had similar reactions: “It was such a magical feeling when we entered the park.” “This is so cool!” “Thank you for making my dream come true!”  “This was the most fun I have ever had!”

Perez said the trip was “beyond what I thought possible, the kids had a fantastic time. Getting to see their faces as we entered the park as they were greeted with the sight and sounds was priceless.”

To learn more about the Catholic Charities Positive Youth Development Program please contact Lose Perez at 239-390-2928 ext. 2302 or email Jose.Perez@catholiccharitiesdov.org. To support the Program, visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

To learn about St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, please visit www.stleocatholicchurch.org/ or call 239-992-0901.

Prayer, formation, fun at summer program

“Great!” “Amazing!” “Awesome!” “Fun!” “Fantastic!”

These were just a few of the descriptions from the young boys and girls who took part in the annual St. Michael Parish Summer Fun Day Camp held in Wauchula during the first two weeks of July 2021.

The summer programs were for children from kindergarten through fifth grade and had more than 100 children taking part in a variety of activities, all grounded in helping the boys and girls grow closer to the Lord.

The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará (SSVM), women religious who serve at the Parish, were helped by a number of other women from their order as well as teen and adult volunteers as they kept the children engaged.

The schedule was simple: an 8 a.m. sign in and then a talk about the Holy Mass with a presentation covering different aspects of full, active and conscious participation in the Mass. They also reviewed the prayers and music. This was followed by going to and actively participating in the daily Mass. At the conclusion of Mass there were additional prayers lead by either a religious sister or teen volunteer.

Following a hearty breakfast, they broke into smaller teams to participate in outdoor activities and games with friendly competitions that helped build teamwork, kindness, compassion and respect for others. A special treat was the inflatable water slide.

In the afternoons, different activities included learning about the life of different saints, presentations on the stage in the Parish Hall including singalongs, and more indoor games followed. Other activities involved some art and crafts that included making a personal rosary and drawing.

Each day concluded with snack time, singing and then a recitation of the Holy Rosary.

In the middle of the week, the eligible children and teenagers (helpers included) had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There was even a half-day field trip to an indoor gaming center.

Sister Maria Gema de Jesus Ruiz, SSVM, Director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish, helped organize the camp. She noted how the success of the annual camp is thanks to the collaboration of hard work by the entire Parish community, including the parents and volunteers, as well as help from other Parishes. Those who could not volunteer donated essential items used throughout the week.

One young lady, Angelica, summed up the camp by saying: “This is the best. I love being here with everyone, and I love the (religious) Sisters who are so much fun!”

If you would like to support the children and youth programs led by the religious woman at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, please send donations to: St. Michael Church, Attn: Sisters Program, 409 Alice St., Wauchula, FL 33873.

Camps teach lessons in Faith

Two groups of youth from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula participated in separate camping trips to the mountains of north Georgia in a journey designed to develop self-confidence while at the same time helping to build a stronger relationship with the Lord.

Twenty-two young men travelled from June 7 to 15, 2021 to Vogel State Park in Blairsville, while the 25 young ladies were there from June 17 to June 25.

While based at the state park, the groups began each day with morning prayers, then travelled throughout the region and made certain to attend daily Mass at one of the local Catholic Churches. The evening routine included 30 minutes of talks and small group discussion, 30 minutes of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, followed by dinner and light recreation such as board games and ping pong.

Days were filled with a variety of activities, including daily hiking, rafting, swimming, as well as visits to water parks and more casual walks through mountain towns. Two destinations included Brasstown Bald, the tallest peak in Georgia at 4,784 feet, and whitewater rafting on the Middle Ocoee River near Ducktown, Tennessee. The one difference between the two youth trips was the men opted to take part in a paintball course, while the ladies chose horseback riding,

One young man described his camp experience saying, “This year’s boys summer camp was above my expectations. This would have to be the best one I have been to. It had an equal amount of fun and spiritual learning. The highlights would have to be paintball and whitewater rafting. I also looked forward to the talks we would have in the evening. Overall, I enjoyed it. I will definitely go for years to come.”

One of the young ladies described here experience saying, “This year’s girls summer camp was everything that I hoped for. I was glad that COVID-19 didn’t stop us from going to Georgia as it did last year… The hikes were challenging, but they taught me not to give up even when things are hard to do. In the end, I was able to reap the reward of the beautiful scenery at the mountain tops. We went tubing, horseback riding and ate ice cream. We began each day with morning prayers and finished the day with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We were always well fed. My favorite activity was white water rafting. I have been going to this camp since 2017 and by far this was my favorite year.”

Another young lady described the trip as the one of the best decisions she has ever made, explaining how she grew in her Faith. This occurred not only through the participation in Mass, prayers and Adoration, but through being in the forest amongst nature, reaching magnificent vistas and seeing waterfalls, all part of the glory of God’s creation. While she said there were challenges, she returned home with new and amazing friends and memories to last a lifetime.

The groups were led by religious women from the Parish, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, and they were assisted by a number of adult chaperones. Father Juan Lorenzo, St. Michael Parochial Vicar, was able to participate in the first five days of the boy’s camp.

Sister Maria Gema de Jesus Ruiz, SSVM, Director of Religious Education at St. Michael, who organized the trips, said that they “enabled everyone to overcome unexpected obstacles placed before them and to grow stronger in their Faith at the same time by putting their life and experience into the Hands of God.”

Sister Gema said the trip was made possible thanks to a number of benefactors and with the support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane. “It has been an incredible experience for them, and we pray to our good Lord they will always remember the good things they learned.”

The religious sisters have a short time to rest as they will be hosting a two-week day camp at the Parish for elementary-aged children from July 5 to July 16.

If you would like to support the children and youth programs led by the religious woman at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, please send donations to: St. Michael Church, Attn: Sisters Program, 409 Alice St., Wauchula, FL 33873.

Bradenton Catholic School hosted a STREAM program

St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton hosted a two-week virtual STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) program in June 2020 for students of all ages.

Connected to their teachers via online Zoom sessions, students were empowered to follow the “Invention Process” as they collaborated, innovated, designed prototypes and learned from their failures. Program kits were sent directly to the students’ homes ahead of time so they could actively follow along and learn.

Students learned about flight with gliders, rockets, and robots. They constructed paper airplanes and measured their flight path and even built air traffic control towers. In addition, the students also investigated, took apart and customized a high-tech flight simulation robot.

They drew sketches, built prototypes, and designed logos for a new invention they created. Later the students created parachutes to air-drop different animals into different environments.

The inventors also designed and produced energy-efficient LED plant lights and even manufactured their own biodegradable pot and later planted seeds.

Participants discovered the unseen inventors behind their favorite sports and then designed and built their own ultimate sports complex. Students used simple machines to roll a ball during a table-top game.

Through these activities, students gained essential skills they can apply throughout their lives.

This STREAM program is just the latest in cutting-edge educational opportunities provided to students at St. Joseph Catholic School. To learn more about the school, please call 941-755-2611 or visit https://www.sjsfl.org/

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