Pope Francis calls for visiting Diocesan priests to be “holy, holy priests”

Six Diocese of Venice priests were among a group of nearly 100 who participated in the annual National Association of Hispanic Priests in the United States convention in Rome in mid-November 2023.

Leading the Diocesan contingent was Father Jiobani Batista, Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish and Holy Martyrs Mission, both in LaBelle, who became the new president of the National Association of Hispanic Priests (Asociación Nacional de Sacerdotes Hispanos). Also participating were Father Lorenzo Gonzalez, Pastor of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers, who was elected treasurer of the organization, as well as Father Marcial García, Pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven, and St. Theresa of the Child of Jesus Mission in Buckhead Ridge, Father Elbano Muñoz, Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Bradenton, Father Felix Gonzalez, Parochial Vicar at St. James Parish and Santiago Mission, both in Lake Placid, and Father Luis Albarracin who is retired but continues to assist at Parishes throughout the Diocese.

One of the highlights of the association convention was an audience with Pope Francis on Nov. 16, 2023, in Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Place in Vatican City.

Pope Francis told the group, the daily rhythm of the life of a priest should resemble “ping pong” – praying on one’s knees before the tabernacle, helping those in need and returning to prayer.

“Do not leave those who suffer alone; do not leave the Lord in the tabernacle alone. Convince yourselves that you cannot do anything with your hands unless you do it on your knees,” the Holy Father said. “It’s like ping pong, one thing leads to the other.”

Pope Francis told them to “beware of ecclesiastical elegance,” because concern for keeping churches pristine increases the temptation to keep the doors closed and “that won’t do.”

During the U.S. National Eucharistic Revival and with preparations well underway for the National Eucharistic Congress in July 2024, the Holy Father focused his remarks on the importance of eucharistic adoration and the essential tie between reverencing the Eucharist and serving one’s brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis said he did not want to make anyone “blush,” so he would not ask the priests how many hours a week they spend in adoration, but “I’ll throw the question out there.”

In the busy life of a priest, there are many possible excuses for limiting time in private prayer, the Holy Father said. “But if you don’t pray, if you don’t adore, your life is worth little.”

Pope Francis told them to be “priests for the people.” While priests often will not get to see the results of the seeds they plant, the Holy Father said, God wants them to trust that he will make them bear fruit.

Father Batista said the annual convention is always a great opportunity to share with other Hispanic priests and some that work with the Hispanic community from across the U.S.

“The atmosphere of friendship and fraternity is what we all consider the best gain we have,” Father said. “Sharing moments of prayer, the Eucharist in the major Basilicas in Rome was a plus. To be able to have deep insights about the Synod on Synodality from some participants brought us closer to what our Universal Church is facing and will continue working on.”

Father Batista added that meeting personally with Pope Francis was a blessing. “I brought him a book of poems written by a priest friend and a letter sent by a parishioner who was a Cuban political prisoner and it led us to share a few words. He asked me to pray for those who live in that condition.”

He concluded by saying that being president of the National Association of Hispanic Priests is a great responsibility but also is a joyful way of serving the Church in the U.S.

Father Muñoz described the trip to Rome and convention as an inspiring experience.

“Getting together with many other priests doing Hispanic Ministry all over the U.S. was encouraging; sharing different experiences working with Hispanic parishioners and realizing that it almost the same kind of situations,” Father said.

He said the private audience with Pope Francis was “incredible. His talk was touching, inspiring and realistic. Pope Francis really wants us to be holy, holy priests.”

While in Rome and at the Vatican, the group had the opportunity to celebrate Holy Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and the final Mass together as a group was at St. Patrick Parish. The main celebrant at this Mass was Father Batista.

Seminarian ordained as Transitional Deacon

Diocese of Venice Seminarian Christian Chami took a major step toward his dream of becoming a priest when he was ordained to the Transitional Diaconate during a Mass Sept. 30, 2021 at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter, in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican.

Celebrated by Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., the ordination of 20 men from the Pontifical North American College is one of the final steps toward priesthood.

Present for the ordination were Deacon Chami’s immediate family and a few from his extended family. Also present in Rome was Bishop Frank J. Dewane who was one of the principle concelebrants; Father Alexander Pince (ordained in July 2021 and is completing his studies in Rome); as well as Diocesan Seminarians Daniel Scanlan (the cross-bearer for the Ordination Mass) and Joseph Doherty who are both studying at the Pontifical North American College.

Deacon Chami, 28, was born in Montreal, Canada, and was raised in Naples, and is a graduate of Florida State University where he first heard the call for a vocation to the priesthood.

“It popped up once at 17, but I really didn’t want to be a priest then, and the Lord also gave me a grace to wait,” Deacon Chami said. “I was well formed by the Brotherhood of Hope at Florida State, a religious order which runs the Catholic Student Union. They taught me how to pray with Scripture, pray silently, and how to properly discern.”

He became a seminarian for the Diocese of Venice in 2016, first attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami before being selected to get his advanced studies at the Pontifical North American College. There he earned a degree in sacred theology from Pontifical Gregorian University and is working on his license in sacramental theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm.

During the ordination, the new Deacons promised to live a life of prayer, celibacy, and obedience to their Diocesan Bishops. The new Deacons will have an additional year of theological studies and spiritual formation before being ordained to the priesthood in their home Dioceses. As part of the ordination rite, the Bishop placed the Book of Gospels in the hands of each candidate being ordained and said: “Receive the Gospels of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

In his homily, Cardinal Gregory pointed out that although the first Deacons of the Church did not have to go through years of formation and pass exams in Scripture, Moral Theology, Church History, and Liturgy, Deacons then as now were required to “demonstrate by their lives that they were men of integrity, responsibility, holiness, and trustworthiness.” He emphasized that “public ministerial office for people of Faith is no casual undertaking – for the ancients and most certainly not for us.” With that in mind, he affirmed that the Church has always held its clergy to high standards of holiness and personal responsibility. The Cardinal added that a Deacon must be “a man of charity, (with) real and heartfelt compassion and concern for the poor, the neglected and the marginalized members of our world. A Deacon without a heart for charity will be a hollow and worthless son.”

Deacon Chami said that he was mostly at “peace with the ordination, but every once in a while, the weight of ordination would make itself felt. I mean, our Faith is a mystery, so the reception of such a weighty Sacrament in the Diaconate which is the confirmation of a man by sacred orders to Christ’s servanthood is pretty heavy. Thankfully I know the Good Lord will do the heavy lifting.”

Since joining the Diocese as a seminarian, Deacon Chami has served pastoral assignments at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, Incarnation Parish in Sarasota, Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Fort Myers.

Please pray for Deacon Chami and each of the Diocese of Venice Seminarians who continue in discerning their vocation and formation for the priesthood.

Catholic News Service contributed information to the report.

Bishop participates in “Ad Limina” visit to Rome

Having a personal encounter with the Vicar for Christ has a special meaning for everyone privileged to have that unique opportunity.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane has met Pope Francis on several occasions, mostly during brief meetings at the Vatican, during World Youth Day events, and at other Conferences.

“It is always an exciting and moving experience,” Bishop Dewane said. “The Successor of Peter is a profoundly holy man and you see that in him. An audience is a special occasion.”

During the early mid-February Ad Limina visit, in which the Bishops of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina journeyed to Rome and presented their report on the status of their respective Dioceses, the audience on Feb. 13 with the Holy Father was an extraordinary meeting for Bishop Dewane. At the conclusion of the meeting Pope Francis presented Bishop Dewane a medal and rosary.

“We met the Holy Father as a group and were able to ask questions and hear his responses to our issues and concerns,” Bishop Dewane said. “He provided us within an insight that showed his pastoral understanding of the Faith and of the Catholic Church in Florida and in the United States. I was struck by his interest in what we are doing in evangelization and in particular the youth.”

This “Ad Limina Apostolorum” (to the threshold of the Apostles), a reference to the pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul that the Bishops are required to make every five to seven years.

During his time in Rome from Feb. 8-16, Bishop Dewane and the others made a visit to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to ask questions as well as to share the faith experiences, issues and challenges faced in the local Church. Other stops included visits to other dicasteries or offices, such as the Pontifical Commission on Protection of Minors; the Congregation for Bishops; Congregation for Consecrated Life; Education; Congregation for Laity, Family and Life, and more.

The pilgrimage also included the celebration of the Holy Mass at the four Major Basilicas in Rome: St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. Bishop Dewane was the principal celebrant for the last Mass with for the regional Bishops at St. Paul Outside the Walls. The day of the meeting with the Holy Father began with an early concelebrated Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter.

In addition to his responsibilities as part of this pilgrimage, Bishop Dewane took time to meet with the three Diocese of Venice Seminarians who are discerning the priesthood at Pontifical North American College. Christin Chami, Alexander Pince and Daniel Scanlan met with Bishop Dewane at St. Peter’s and were present for a special gathering prior to the start of the Bishops’ meeting with Pope Francis. Also present was Msgr. Patrick Dubois, a priest of the Diocese who currently works with the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life.