Impact reaches beyond young participants
Hearts are on fire for Jesus Christ for the more than 1,000 young faithful who took part in the Totus Tuus weekly sessions throughout the summer.
In its second, year, Totus Tuus – which means “totally yours” – taught the children of all ages to put a spotlight on sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic faith through evangelization, catechesis, Christian witness, and Eucharistic worship. The goal of the week is to help the children develop a true and lasting longing for holiness.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who personally visited the Totus Tuus session on June 22, 2023, at Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria, was impressed by the response each child had to the uplifting program.
“In each classroom everyone was so excited and alive about their love of the Lord,” Bishop Dewane said.
The goal of the Totus Tuus program is to inspire young people to long for holiness, develop a deep desire for conversion and personally renew their faith with a stronger prayer life. Through evangelization and catechesis, Totus Tuus seeks to foster openness to the sacrifices and blessings of the various Christian vocations.
Carrie Harkey, Diocesan Coordinator of Family Life and co-coordinator of the Totus Tuus program, was impressed by the response not only from the children, from the youngest to the teens, but from the Parish staff and volunteers as well as the parents.
“We saw the participants take to heart the message of developing a true and lasting longing for holiness,” Harkey said. “Then they shared that joy with their priests, staff, volunteers, and whole family. This is having a beautiful and lasting impact for the Parishes. We had many children and parents come to us and ask us to extend the program to a second week and if not please return next year. That is so wonderful.”
Totus Tuus works to complement what the children learn from their parents, who are the first and best educators of the faith. This is something Bishop Dewane has stressed since the program had its trial run in the Diocese in the summer of 2022 at eight Parishes with four missionaries.
This summer, there were 12 missionaries who worked in two teams, though for Parishes with large groups of children the teams merged for the week. The expansion meant that 11 Parishes served as hosts through the seven-week program. The weeklong program was divided into two sessions, with the day component for students grades 1 – 6, and the evening session for middle school and high school students grades 7 – 12.
The younger children participate in four classes each day, attend daily Mass, learn the parts and liturgical songs of Mass, and participate in games, skits, songs, recess and prayer. The older students participate in instruction, small group discussions, quiet meditations, adoration, prayer and fellowship.
The Totus Tuus missionaries (six men and six women plus two Diocesan seminarians who served in a supportive role) went through an intensive training session in early June in preparation for the summer. From there, they were split into teams. Each team had a weekly leader with the missionaries rotating amongst themselves which grade level they taught each week to better enhance the experience for them and the children.
Each missionary leaves the Diocese feeling blessed by the experience.
Missionary Victoria Cardona, who is a student at Ave Maria University, said the Totus Tuus program was an amazing experience as she quickly connected with students and saw them grow in their faith on a daily – and sometimes hourly – basis. She hopes to become a teacher and this experience reinforced her desire to impart knowledge, particularly about the faith.
“It was rewarding to see when a young person begins to understand the beauty of the faith through the Most Holy Eucharist. This is seen at Mass and at adoration. They come to understand what the Real Presence of Christ means to them in their heart. Just beautiful to witness and be a part of them learning this for the first time,” Cardona said.
Fellow missionary Andres Jimenez, also of Ave Maria University, agreed, saying seeing Jesus in a new way for the children, and helping them grow closer in their understanding and love for the Lord, was rewarding.
“It helped reinvigorate my faith as this process opened my eyes to the wonders of the the Church and revealed how the Lord works in each of us, from the youngest child, through the teens and to us as missionaries. I am leaving this experience having learned myself, how to better listen to the Lord and understand that He has a plan for me,” Jimenez said.
The Parishes which hosted the Totus Tuus team this summer were: St. Katherine Drexel in Cape Coral, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Parrish, St. Agnes in Naples, Ave Maria in Ave Maria, St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, St. Catherine in Sebring, Our Lady Queen of Heaven in La Belle, St. John XXIII in Fort Myers, St. Patrick in Sarasota, Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and Our Lady of the Angels in Lakewood Ranch.
Harkey said the praise from priests, religious education leaders and parents has been overwhelmingly positive. The only negative reaction was the request that the camp be longer than one week at a Parish.
“With the feedback we have received, we are going to bring the camp back for the summer of 2024,” Harkey said. “The enthusiasm is contagious and that is a good thing. After two summers, we now have an established program which directly engages young people, from kindergarten through high school, about their faith. That is very special.”