Volunteers help restore OLPH

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice has always relied upon volunteers to support its outreach within the Diocese of Venice, never more so than now as the recovery from Hurricane Ian heads into its final phase.

An appeal for volunteers with strong backs was posted to social media on June 13, 2023, to the members of the various Hispanic movements to help plant flowers and bushes while others assembled furniture.

The movements (Charismatic, Emmaus and more) have a strong connection to OLPH with hundreds of members taking part in retreats through the years. With little surprise, the response to the appeal was immediate and overwhelming as dozens agreed to spend a few hours on June 17 helping OLPH return to its previous glory following devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Ian in September 2022.

The flooding washed away or destroyed nearly all the vegetation, and water entered each of the buildings on the property. Access to the property was not available for 11 days. The work to recover began immediately, but due to the scope of the work and many logistical factors, the restoration is not expected to be completed until September, about 12 months after the storm.

OLPH Director of Spirituality Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, was pleased by the number of volunteers, noting that more came than were ever expected. Therefore, Father spent much of June 17 assigning volunteers to various tasks throughout the property and getting them supplies and ensuring they stayed hydrated on the hot and muggy day.

Each volunteer got right to work, giving back to the retreat center which has provided so much to them in the past.

One man who helped assemble furniture had been coming to OLPH for Emmaus retreats for 10 years and called them a highlight of each year.

“This is such a peaceful place and coming for retreats was a wonderful experience. When I heard about the destruction, it was heartbreaking. When the call came for volunteers, I knew this was a way to give back to a place that means so much to me and many others,” Raul Martinez of St. Jude Parish in Sarasota said.

The towering oak trees were among the only vegetation that survived the flood, therefore the focus of volunteers with green thumbs was on landscaping in front of the conference center and dining hall, as well as at two of the villas. Volunteers previously had planted new flora around the OLPH Shrine.

The furniture was destined for Villas I and II, which will be used for a small group beginning on June 30. No other facilities are far enough along in their reconstruction to accommodate any retreats until late July. A full retreat schedule is expected by sometime in September as the last major work will include the installation of flooring and kitchen equipment. The last section of OLPH to be complete will be St. Joseph Chapel, which is currently being used for temporary offices and storage of much of the furniture and equipment.

Father Yavarone said the restoration of OLPH is taking place in the same sequence of the original construction, with the two main buildings and two villas the first priority and the larger villas and chapel last.

While much was accomplished by the volunteers on June 17, much more work needs to be done in the coming months and additional volunteers will be needed for a variety of projects. To be added to the OLPH volunteer list, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/new-volunteer or if you have any questions, please contact Dee Isabelle at isabelle@olph-retreat.org.

How to help OLPH recovery

OLPH is still raising money to cover expenses not covered by insurance. One specific way to help is to sponsor the purchase of a new Chapel chair. OLPH officials were able to locate the vendor that provided the previous chairs in 1999 and have begun the process of procuring new chairs. The new chairs will be very similar, however, the upholstery will be burgundy befitting of St. Joseph. Each chair costs $233.00. If you are interested in sponsoring a chair, a plaque will be installed at the back of the chair with your chosen inscription. To support this effort, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/sponsor-a-chapel-chair.

For additional options on ways to support OLPH, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/the-olph-annual-fund-and-ways-to-give.

21st Annual Christmas Appeal comes at critical time

“Providing Help, Creating Hope, Serving All!” – the mission statement of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc.

That simple statement encompasses a broad spectrum of programs of Catholic Charities which has provided food, clothing, shelter and a network of support services to people of all ages, all races and nationalities, and all religious backgrounds. The organization brings substantial relief and support to the most vulnerable populations in Southwest Florida. Every day, Catholic Charities strives to feed the hungry, comfort the brokenhearted, and shelter the homeless as it works to change lives for the better.

The destructive impacts wrought by Hurricane Ian caused the demand for help from Catholic Charities to skyrocket and the corresponding response was unprecedented.

Catholic Charities’ disaster response team was prepared and quickly opened 11 disaster relief sites throughout the Diocese. Staff and volunteers distributed 2,504 tons of supplies to more than 112,000 people in the immediate aftermath. In addition, teams served hot meals to upwards of 22,000 with the assistance of 2,000 volunteers. Donors and community partners came through with donations and supplies that allowed Catholic Charities to respond swiftly.

To enable Catholic Charities to continue to do its vital work, the 21st Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal is taking place now through January 2023. A donation strengthens Catholic Charities to provide this much-needed support. This is accomplished through more than 35 programs in locations throughout the 10-county Diocese. These programs annually support more than 100,000 individuals and families in ways both large and small.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane noted that the support of Catholic Charities by the faithful of Southwest Florida is inspiring, as was witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, and is critical to ensure “our brothers and sisters in Christ continue to receive the help and support they need. Please remember that every number represents a child, family or individual who relies on the support of Catholic Charities to get through a crisis. Catholic Charities does a wonderful job in providing programs that not only help in a crisis, but assist in improving daily the lives of those they reach.”

Eddie Gloria, CEO of Catholic Charities DOV said a gift to the Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal will aid in the fight to end hunger, homelessness, human trafficking and will help support disaster relief, behavioral health, and education services.

“Your gift makes an impact,” Gloria said. “It is because of donations like yours we were able to supply food and pantry services to 195,354 people, assist 1,513 with housing, offer support to 5,020 victims of human trafficking, help 4,660 people with behavioral health services, and provide 14,007 educational services to children and adults, all in one year.”

One success story during 2022 was from Alexa, a recent graduate of Our Mother’s House, a residential program for mothers and their children who might otherwise be homeless.

Alexa came to Catholic Charities as a new mother with an infant only weeks old; she had nowhere to live, no resources to care for her son, no job, income, or hope for the future. She moved into Our Mother’s House and, during her 2-years there she not only finished her college degree but landed a high-paying project management position with one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

On her last day, while saying goodbyes, Alexa said, “Thank you for providing me with the help I needed to get back on my feet. Now I feel joy, and I’m hopeful about the future – because now I have one.”

Gloria said Alexa’s story is one of the many positive outcomes Catholic Charities has been privileged to support during the past year, and she is one of many who are “prepared for the possibilities of tomorrow because of donations like yours.”

The Christmas Appeal is also a thoughtful opportunity to give in memory of a loved one or to honor a family member or friend. Catholic Charities will send a Christmas card telling the special person about your generous gift.

To donate please mail a contribution to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285, or visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

Schools continue to rebound from Ian

The welcoming back of students and faculty at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School on Oct. 10, 2022, was the result of the hard work of many. The joy everyone felt to gather for morning prayer was electric.

The school was ravaged by Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28 when a large portion of the roof ripped off, allowing water to pour into classrooms. Faculty, families, volunteers and contractors have worked hard since the storm to clean up the mess and ensure the school was safe to open.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Superintendent of Catholic Education, said the repairs will take time, but a creative use of the available space allowed everyone to return to the classroom, even if it wasn’t in the same exact room as before the hurricane.

Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Rector of Epiphany Cathedral, was present for the opening prayer service and offered a special blessing with holy water, just as he did on the first day of school in early August. This time, the blessing included prayers for families struggling to recover from losses caused by Ian, and also to thank the Lord that they were all reunited in praise of God.

By Oct. 10, all but four of the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools had reopened, with the exceptions being St Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte, St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, along with St. Francis Xavier Catholic School and Bishop Verot Catholic High School, both in Fort Myers. Each of those schools had some damage and are expected to resume classes by Oct. 18. The delays in reopening were primarily due to a lack of power and reliable drinking water in the impacted areas.

“It was too soon,” Father Belmonte said. “The extra time allowed us to work out logistical issues for mitigating and repairing damage while ensuring the faculty, staff and Catholic school families were more secure and prepared to return following the devastation of Hurricane Ian.”

The Diocesan schools that were spared the worst of the hurricane quickly rallied to collect needed emergency supplies to deliver to the schools in Lee and Charlotte counties.

St. Ann Catholic School in Naples, where the storm surge stopped short of entering any buildings, reopened on Oct. 10 and students were led in a prayer service by Father William Davis, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and Pastor at the neighboring Parish. This school suffered severe damage following Hurricane Irma in 2017 and the repairs held as there was only minor damage, even though the area had winds in excess of 100 mph and the storm surge was at least 3-feet deep as it surrounded the school. The school also held a collection drive for needy families led by the Minnie Vinnies, a school service club associated with the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Naples. A concurrent outreach collected $75,000 in gift cards to local stores which were then distributed to families.

At St. John Neumann Catholic School in Naples, the apparel company Vans, best known for designer sneakers, delivered dozens of boxes of sneakers, t-shirts, and shorts on Oct. 7. Neumann Principal Sister Patricia Roche, Salesian Sister of St. John Boco, knows someone with the company, and gratefully accepted the donation before having students and staff organize the clothing and box it up to be sent to families in need throughout the Diocese.

St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School, spared damage from Ian but nearly destroyed in Hurricane Irma, also collected items for families in need. The response was overwhelming as more than 300 individual care packages that equated to 10 carloads of food, water, diapers, air mattresses, care packages and more, were distributed to various communities in need.

At St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring, where damage was minimal, the outreach of support was aimed at neighboring DeSoto and Hardee counties which were devastated by record river flooding. Reopened for classes by Oct. 4, the school and Parish accepted donations of water, blankets, clothing, food, sleeping mats, etc., and then loaded school buses to deliver the items.

“The Diocesan Catholic school community has rallied together during this time of difficulty for so many,” Father Belmonte said. “This has also been seen by the outpouring of support from outside the Diocese, with Catholic schools from all over the country reaching out, offering to send prayers, supplies and financial support. It really is heartwarming to see this, and it is particularly appreciated and welcomed by the Diocesan Catholic school communities where the suffering has been the greatest.”

Meanwhile, second graders at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota created special “Thank You!” cards to deliver to the men and women who helped to restore power. The school, as well as St. Mary Academy, reopened Oct. 4, and held collection drives which resulted in being able to send several loads of items to Lee County.

To support the recovery effort of Diocesan Catholic Schools please visit www.dovdoe.org/donate. This provides links on ways you can give directly to the Diocesan hurricane relief or to Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities responds to Ian with compassion, water and food

In the days before Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. was preparing for the worst, making plans to mobilize as soon as the storm clouds cleared.

Since that time, Catholic Charities has set up 8 Hurricane Ian disaster response Points of Distribution (POD), helping to bring water, food and aid to those who need it. Arcadia, Cape Coral, Wauchula, Naples, Bonita Springs and North Port each have one location, and there are three in Fort Myers. Additional unofficial distribution points have opened as the need has increased in parts of Lee and Charlotte counties.

At the Elizabeth K. Galeana Center on Michigan Avenue in Fort Myers there has been a steady stream of cars coming through the parking lot since the Sunday after the storm.

“There is such great need here,” explained Alex Olivares, District Director for Lee, Glades and Hendry counties. “The people who could least afford to lose power and subsequently lose work because of the storm, are really struggling. It is great that we can be here to help.”

Within the first day, the on-hand supplies of emergency food and water were exhausted and then the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers made an emergency delivery. Subsequently, FEMA trucks began arriving in Fort Myers and at the other PODs.

“We were getting low on supplies but now we can help everyone,” Olivares said on Oct. 4, 2022. “Many people are hurting and there is no drinkable water anywhere.”

Nearly all of the Catholic Charities workers and volunteers helping to distribute emergency supplies in Fort Myers had some sort of damage from Ian. Few had power or drinkable water. One worker lost his home when storm surge came up the Caloosahatchee River into Fort Myers. Someone who has an Airbnb home in Ave Maria offered their place for the rest of October for free.

“They lost everything, so that is amazing,” Olivares said. “He has six people who needed a place to stay, now they are out of the area of destruction and have the time to put their lives back together.”

As each car arrived, shouts of “thank you” and “do you have ice” could be heard from the grateful people. “We helped a few hundred the first day and have doubled that since,” Olivares said. “We will keep going as long as there is a need.”

Jane Petry of Fort Myers arrived at the Galeana Center with her three children looking for water and food after a corner of their home was partially crushed by a tree. “The wind was terrible and then the neighbor’s tree fell and hit the house. We were all in another part of the house and are okay. We are still there because we don’t have the money to go anywhere, and we don’t want to go to a shelter and leave our home alone. This food and water will help us get through the next few days. Thank you all for being here.”

At the Centro Juan Diego Catholic Charities offices in Bonita Springs next to St. Leo the Great Parish, the scene was similar with a huge number of vehicles arriving early in the morning before the POD was operational and staffed.

Paulina Matias, who is part of the Catholic Charities Disaster Relief Services, said the need is great for the poorest in the community where damage was widespread. The impacts are being compounded by the loss of a businesses in the region, cutting off a livelihood for many.

Because of the losses and demand for help, Matias said there is a need for donations of food as well as gift cards to local stores.

“We are being proactive in helping people,” Matias said as adults and youth from St. Leo the Great helped sort and bag for later distribution. “We are already providing counseling and telling people how to apply for all available local, state and federal assistance. Every little bit helps. As time goes on, the magnitude of the loss will become clearer. The stories of the people coming in and sharing what they lost and horrors that they saw. We are here for their immediate needs and for the long-term.”

The scenes are being repeated at all of the distribution points. The need continues to grow as the length of time without power and nothing open for many miles put a stress on the poor. Even when power returned, drinking water is often unsafe. Access to gasoline and other necessities is making a very difficult situation harder for people.

At the POD at San Pedro Parish in North Port, the food pantry was emptied the first day before additional help arrived in the community inundated by 10-feet of river flooding. By Oct. 2, Florida National Guard members helped load vehicles, but they were replaced by volunteers after a few days.

Yuri Kaplan, of the Catholic Charities Disaster Response Logistics for the Diocese, scrambled from location to location using a forklift to unload pallets of supplies from trucks. “It is non-stop, but the work has to get done so people can get the help they need.”

River flooding of low-lying areas and standing water has made travel difficult, especially when Interstate 75 was closed in North Port for more than a day and the U.S. 41 bridges in Punta Gorda for several days.

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice CEO Eddie Gloria, who has been on the go nearly non-stop since before and after the storm, is coordinating deliveries of supplies from FEMA and Catholic Charities USA, as well as other agencies. After a few early misunderstandings, the flow became steady and more coordinated.

“We had trucks scheduled to arrive that didn’t arrive, while others couldn’t find our sites because phones and mapping systems were unavailable,” Gloria explained how cellular service was spotty at best. “The first few days after a disaster are always the hardest. Catholic Charities was there on the ground and open after the storm and we will be there to serve the people within the Diocese of Venice.”

Because of the long-term need, Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Catholic Charities sent out a plea to the faithful and Parishes across the Diocese to connect with a distribution point to help augment the incoming supplies. While food and water are in urgent need now, there is a steady supply coming in. The need is transitioning to other necessities such as canned goods, rice, beans, cereal, pasta, oil and, diapers. household cleaning supplies.

There is also going to be a great financial need, with assistance to help people pay for rent or utility bills while out of work and much more, so gift cards are being accepted to help replace lost clothes and other items.

Those interested in supporting can do so online at www.catholiccharitiesdov.org, or send a check to Hurricane Ian Recovery to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 5824 Be Ridge Road PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065. Or call 941-488-5581.

Inflation causes increased demand for food

At 10 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, a line of vehicles wound its way through the parking lot of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples.

It was the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the occupants of the vehicles were not going to Mass, they were waiting for food as part of a local distribution effort to help the needy in the area.

The line of 390 vehicles, representing some 700 families, rivaled the peak demand during the early months of the global pandemic when many were out of work. The people in line all had jobs, some several, but they still needed the food to help their family and children survive. The distribution is part of a community effort with St. Matthew’s House in partnership with the Harry Chapin Food Bank.

The reasons were simple, the cost of everything is going up. Inflation has hit families who are financially on the edge very hard. With rent, insurance and gas prices still high, it is the food price increases that seem to hurt the most.

“I have three children and my grocery bill is nearly $200,” said Shannon Byrd of Naples. “I work. My husband works and it isn’t enough. Buying the basic food for my family is just too much.”

“God bless you!” Byrd said from her car as volunteers loaded her trunk with bags of food on a hot summer morning.

In late July 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the all-items Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of economy-wide inflation, increased by 1.4% from May 2022 to June 2022, or up 9.1% from June 2021.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that the food prices were going up even faster at 10.4%. Specifically, the USDA stated that overall grocery store prices are up 12.2% from 2021, with those prices expected to go up another 10-12% by this time in 2023. The biggest impact on prices is in poultry and eggs which are up 15% in the last year and expected to increase another 29% in the next year. The USDA reported grocery store/food inflationary price increases of only 3.5% in both 2020 and 2021, numbers that have been consistent for the past 10 years.

The reason for the increases varies: Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine; the market still recovering from the global pandemic; a recent avian flu wiping out chicken and egg production; gasoline prices; and the increasing costs at every level for farmers, production and grocers for labor and processing. The impact is real.

For people on a budget, these price increases can be very difficult and lead to them cutting back on healthier foods and products, which tend to be more expensive, leaving them buying lower quality and lower nutrition foods. Combined with the cost of everything, this means families have to make difficult choices between paying rent, utilities or buying less food.

Maria Verde of Immokalee waited patiently at Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc., in Immokalee on Aug. 15, so that she could get a bag of food for her family. She has two toddlers and one child in elementary school.

“I don’t know what we would do without Catholic Charities,” Verde said.

Peggy Rodriguez, who is the Collier County District Director for Catholic Charities, said the demand at the food pantry is very high for the summer months. The Casa Maria Soup Kitchen is serving 300 meals a week and the demand continues to increase.

“We do our best to help people with the donations we can get and from purchases from the local food bank, but the demand is starting to outpace the availability,” Rodriguez said.

At St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, where there is a weekly food distribution on Saturday mornings, the demand is also starting to outpace the food on hand.

Erika Wood, who helps coordinate the volunteers, said that the numbers are as high as they have ever been with more than 300 families seeking help on Aug. 13. “It’s really hard because many are people that we have not seen before.”

Food pantries, whether run by Catholic Charities or at a Parish, rely on donations and the purchase of food from area food banks which are at a substantially discounted rate. But, in some cases, this support is not keeping pace either. This, in turn, means the amount of food being distributed must be stretched so there is always something available when the next family comes seeking help.

Many Diocesan Parishes support a variety of food pantries and food banks within the region. Please check with your local Parish on how you can help this effort.

How to help

If you would like to support Catholic Charities, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

If you need food

For various food distribution sites throughout the Diocese of Venice, the days, times, and locations are listed below:

  • Guadalupe Social Services, of Catholic Charities – 211 S. 9th St., Immokalee, Monday – Friday: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen open daily. The Soup Kitchen Dining Room is open for dine-in and also provides meals-to-go.
  • Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, of Catholic Charities – 3174 Tamiami Trail E., Naples, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
  • St. Margaret Parish, Catholic Charities – 208 Dean Duff St., Clewiston, Fridays: 9:00 a.m.- 12:00 p.m.
  • St. Leo the Great Parish Campus, Catholic Charities – 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, Fridays: 9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.
  • Elizabeth K. Galeana Food Pantry, Catholic Charities – 4235 Michigan Ave. Link, Fort Myers, Thursdays: 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
  • St. Paul Parish – Parish Hall, 1208 E. Oak Street, Arcadia, Fridays 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
  • St. Francis of Assisi Food Pantry – 5265 Placida Road, Grove City, Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays: 9:15 a.m. -11:15 a.m. Contact Matt Egan at megan@sfoachurch.com or 941-697-4899.
  • St. Jude Food Pantry – 3930 17th St., Sarasota, Wednesdays: 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., Saturdays: 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. Please bring ID and do not exit your vehicle. Volunteers will load cars. Call 941-955-3934 if you have any questions or visit: https://www.stjudesarasota.com/info/st-jude-food-pantry-schedule.
  • Wauchula Food Pantry – 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, Saturdays: 7 a.m.- 8:45 a.m. Call the Parish at 863-773-4089 if you require a different time or would like to support the efforts to assist the community.
  • St. Joseph Food Pantry – 3100 26th St W., Bradenton, Monday through Friday: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. Call 941-756-3732 with any questions. To donate money or food, please visit https://www.stjoepantry.com/.
  • St. Elizabeth Seton Parish – 5225 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Mondays. Call the Parish for details at 239-455-3900.

News Briefs for the Week of May 20, 2022

Volunteers sort food

More than 150 volunteers came to the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton to help sort and store 50,000 pounds of food on May 14, 2022. The food was collected during the U.S. Postal Service Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.

CCW council re-established in Sebring

The St. Catherine Council of Catholic Women was re-established during a ceremony in Sebring on May 7, 2022. The installation ceremony included representatives from the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women who aided in this process. The Council acts within the Parish to support, empower and educate Catholic women in spirituality, leadership and service. The installation was presided over by Father Jose Gonzalez, Pastor of St. Catherine.

Diocesan seminarian Valedictorian

Transitional Deacon David Portorreal, a Diocese of Venice Seminarian, graduated on May 12, 2022, from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. The commencement address was by Most Rev. Felipe J. Estévez, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. Deacon Portorreal was the Valedictorian of his graduating class and will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on July 16, 2022, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

SVdP International president visits Parish

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul International President General Renato Lima de Oliveira visited members of the Sacred Heart Conference on May 5, 2022, in Punta Gorda. He congratulated the conference for their spirituality, friendship and their Vincentian Spirit. He was amazed at the size and ability of the conference to help the community in so many ways.

Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate June 18

All are invited and encouraged to attend the Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate for the following candidate: Craig Dutka of Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto. The Ordination will be held at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, June 18, 2022, at Holy Cross Parish, 506 26th St. W., Palmetto. A reception in the Parish Hall will follow.

Our Lady of Fatima Rosary Rally

Please join our national America Needs Fatima Rosary Rally for the Traditional Family and Public Prayers in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to end abortion Saturday, June 4, from noon to 1:00 p.m., at the corner of Daniels Parkway and Daniels Commerce Blvd near Tile Outlet of America and TIAA Bank in Fort Myers. Parking is in an empty lot at Daniels Commerce Blvd and Commerce Park Blvd or John Yarbrough Linear Park off Daniels at Metro Parkways. Please arrive 10 minutes early and bring your Pro-Life signs, chairs, water and umbrellas. For more information, please contact Toni at toni@defendingtheunborn.com.

Charismatic Pentecost Celebration

The Diocese of Venice English Charismatic Renewal invites all to join them for a celebration on Pentecost Sunday at 3:00 p.m., June 5 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 211 West Charlotte Avenue, Punta Gorda. The afternoon will include praise and worship followed by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at 4:00 p.m. Please bring your Prayer Group Banner and Stand as there will be a Banner Procession. For further information, please contact Alice Keough at keough@epiphanycathedral.org or 941-484-3505 ext. 1104.

Youth Conference in July

The 14th annual Ave Maria University Youth Conference – “Fearless” is July 8-10, 2022. Featured talks are by Father Rick Martignetti, Father Joseph Lugalambi, Father Rich Pagano and Chris Padget. The event includes the talks, Mass, Adoration, praise and worship, fellowship, opportunities for confession and much more. The cost is $175 and includes lodging, all meals t-shirt and more. To register, call 239-348-4725, aveconferences@gmail.com or www.aveconferences.com.

Prison outreach does well during Pandemic

The Diocese of Venice is stepping up to provide a pre-recourded Catholic Mass at prisons throughout the State of Florida is helping incarcerated men and women gain spiritual strength during a time when they are isolated as never before.

This was the message given from Florida Department of Correction (FDOC) State Chaplain Johnny Frambo to Diocesan Prison Outreach Volunteers during a gathering on Oct. 30, 2020 at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte.

“Since the COVID began, you have done a great deal,” Frambo explained. “You didn’t get behind the fence; but you were behind the fence in so many other ways.”

Frambo explained how the Diocesan Prison Outreach, with the direct support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, worked to provide a variety of resources to the FDOC to ensure that there was continued access to religious materials and programming that volunteers would normally provide.

The effort included the donation, from a member of the faith community, of televisions as well as the ability to create and upload programs to prison tablets through a program called JPAY. Each state inmate is provided with a tablet through JPAY which provides controlled access for content such as emails, video visitation and other services without wireless services.

This effort was facilitated by Diocesan Prison Outreach Co-Coordinators Bob Hiniker and Joe Mallof, with the assistance of Anne Chrzan, Diocese Director of Religious Education. Items for upload include the Mass and religious education programming and other materials which focused on the teachings of the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This meant that the effort was developed from scratch and uploads to the tablets through the FDOC. This religious education programming is part of a larger effort to increase access to Catholic content for prisoners in the state facilities during the Pandemic and beyond.

“Thank you for all you have done and continue to do to help those men and woman to hear your spiritual voice and guidance during this time of inner discovery and self-improvement before they go back into the world and restart their lives as transformed individuals,” Frambo concluded.

Before the COVID-19 global Pandemic effectively shut down access by volunteers to prisons and jails, some 150 volunteers, including 26 priests and 11 deacons, assisted with religious education and formation at 10 jails, six state prisons and four work camps. These volunteers normally provide a variety of religious programs, such as Bible study, religious education and assistance with formation before receiving the Sacraments including as Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation, as well as the Mass. Bishop Dewane regularly visits prisons for Mass and confers the Sacraments when possible.

Hiniker shared an update on how each prison and jail policy has evolved in recent months with some allowing limited volunteer access while others remain off limits.

“We have adapted many of our programs in the best way possible, but we are limited based on the restrictions each facility has,” Hiniker added.

Bishop Dewane, who celebrated Mass for the volunteers, praised the group for choosing to answer a specific call from God to serve the incarcerated, those who are often marginalized or forgotten by society.

“They are as much a part of this Diocese as anyone else and must have access to pastoral care, which you provide through your selfless dedication as volunteers,” Bishop Dewane said. “You do not go there to solve what put them there. It is not important why they are there. It is important that they are placed before us and we have to be that instrument of the Lord – the evidence of God’s love to others.”

Hiniker and Mallof also presented information about two different outreach programs that are starting to be introduced in the state prisons including grief sharing and an effort to help the incarcerated transition to life after prison.

The Grief Share program is a 13-week process designed to help the incarcerated deal with different types of grief they may face, such as for whatever crime they may have committed, for the loss of freedom, for the loss of connection to family, the death of loved ones and much more.

The Bridges to Life is a re-entry program which promotes healing for the incarcerated and for victims, aiding and placing them in the positive mindset that they will be able to succeed and become productive citizens again. This mentoring effort also helps to prepare those about to be released for the realities of the modern world of technology and transitioning back into society and the workforce. A key component of this effort is the prepare former inmates how to answer questions about their incarceration on job applications and then to handle job interviews.

If you are interested in learning more about the Diocesan Prison Outreach, or perhaps becoming a volunteer, please contact Bob Hiniker at hinbob5@hotmail.com or Joe Mallof at mallofjt@comcast.net.

Cape Coral honored as Diocesan Respect Life volunteers

A Cape Coral couple with a passion for promoting a culture of life was honored with the 2020 Diocese Respect Life Volunteers of the Year at the 34th Annual Culture of Life Statewide Conference on Oct. 24, 2020 which was livestreamed from the Diocese of Palm Beach.

Rick and Paula Hellenbrand from St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral organized the first 40 Days for Life fall campaign in Fort Myers in 2011 and have been leading the campaign ever since. This year marks their 10th fall campaign. The award was presented to the Hellenbrand’s at the opening Vigil of the 40 Days for Life Fall Campaign on Sept. 22, 2020, in lieu of a personal presentation at the Conference.

In her nomination of the Hellenbrands, Jeanne Berdeaux, Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director, wrote: “It’s amazing that they have been able to run successful campaigns every year while operating a successful real estate business. Rick has also served as his Knights of Columbus Council’s Culture of Life Chairman and Grand Knight. We thank them for their hard work and continued dedication to promoting a greater respect for all human life.”

The couple expressed their deep gratitude in being recognized by the Diocese of Venice as the recipients of this award.

“Managing the 40 Days for Life Fall campaign over the past 10 years has been fruitful in protecting the lives of the innocent children,” Rick Hellenbrand stated. “As husband and wife, parents and now grandparents, to serve in such a lifesaving capacity is its own reward. None of which is possible without the many pro-life warriors who are equally engaged on the sidewalks throughout the Diocese to do the same to defend life in its earliest stages. We are humbled and filled with gratitude to receive such an honor.”

While the honor as Diocesan Volunteers of the Year was special for the couple, Rick Hellenbrand concluded by saying there is an ultimate goal to this effort. “It is with much appreciation that this award is received, and with hopes that the efforts of all volunteers together we will soon win this battle to end abortion forever.”

Sarasota Knights Council shines during pandemic

Knight of Columbus Council 15332 of Incarnation Parish in Sarasota has not let a pesky global pandemic cause the group to miss a step in fulfilling its obligation of service to the Church and community.

The Council was already actively using virtual meeting technology before the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the group went into “hyper-mode,” remaining ahead of the curve when everything shut down, explained Grand Knight Dr. Steven Wyer.

“We first worried about members having trouble adapting to the technology,” Wyer explained, “but these men embraced the new ‘toys’ and we now ‘meet’ several times each week.”

The virtual connection has been crucial for many members who have struggled with various impacts from the pandemic, Wyer said. This has included a “Leave no neighbor behind” initiative which directs those in need to resources which offer emotional and financial support.

Council meetings include a Saturday “Cocktail Hour” for socializing and Sunday praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. Most other meetings take place virtually while some small gatherings of less than 10 members are held in large dining areas to ensure social distancing.

Council 15332 recently received the distinction of Star Council, the international organization’s top award for local councils. The Star Council Award recognizes excellence in the areas of membership, fraternal insurance benefits, faith formation programs, and service-oriented activities. Council 15332 has received this award every year since its founding in July 2011.

Incarnation Administrator, Father Eric Scanlan, said the recognition as a Star Council is well deserved. “The Knights have been a great support to our Parish during the last few months of the pandemic. They were quick to adjust to the changing reality of the COVID limitations… It has been a real witness to their strong faith and concern for one another, our Parish and the local community.”

The Knights recently organized a contactless food drive which brought in 2,000 pounds of food to help support the efforts of the St. Vincent de Paul Society Incarnation Conference. Wyer said the success of the food drive has encouraged the Council to begin planning for more.

In addition to the Star Council Award, the Knights were recognized as the top council in the 10-county Diocese of Venice. Earlier in the summer, the Council received eight major awards from the Florida State Council.

To earn these honors, during the past year alone, the Council participated in national and local prayer vigils for life; undertook construction, painting, and/or cleaning projects around the Parish; hosted monthly bingo, pancake breakfasts and trivia; conducted youth activities for Incarnation Catholic School students; and awarded a graduating eighth-grade student a scholarship to Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School. In spite of the pandemic, the Knights have been able to contribute nearly $25,000 to charitable organizations, begin a raffle program focused on raising $10,000 for the Incarnation School STREAM Program, provide financial support to two Diocesan Seminarians, and much more. While fund raising events are not taking place, Wyer said members have stepped-up to donate monthly to meet demand.

To learn more about or to join Knights of Columbus Council 15332, please contact Council Chancellor Matt Dowell at 941-504-6418 or visit www.kofc15332.org.

Calling All Volunteers!

Each Thursday nearly 200 vehicles line up to receive food from the Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. Food Pantry at St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston.

Six dedicated volunteers worked with masks and gloves in the heat for about three hours on Aug. 6, 2020 to ensure every family left with food. Afterwards was the clean-up, which included: breaking up boxes, storing tables, reviewing paperwork, planning for the next week, etc. That is also the time when supplies are checked so orders can be placed to ensure there will be enough to meet demand and the food on hand is organized and prepared for distribution the following week.

The line of vehicles has remained consistently long since March when the COVID-19 Pandemic began, and families started to lose work. Clewiston is a rural community on the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee which relies heavily on farming for work. However, that work is seasonal, and the next planting won’t begin for several months.

The Aug. 6 distribution was made more challenging when a delivery truck arrived just as the cars were lining up. This split volunteers into separate groups.

Yolanda Placencia checked families in, handed out bags of food and got more supplies from the storeroom. Determined to help as much as she could, she hopes more people volunteer, even if it is for an hour. “I know others would feel the same joy I have knowing what little I am doing is brightening the faces of these families.”

Mike Vega supervises the Catholic Charities Office in Clewiston and is based in Fort Myers, said the need for volunteers is growing. Volunteers are needed to safely distribute food, assist with the set-up, clean-up, organize donations, bag food, help with paperwork; and much more. Gloves and masks are provided to everyone.

“We have been at a breakneck pace, but many of the people we counted on in the past are not able to help because they are in at-risk categories,” Vega explained.

Catholic Charities CEO Philomena Pereira said that without volunteers the organization would be unable to continue to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. The six food pantries throughout the Diocese distributed food to more than 20,000 individuals in July, and more than 75,000 since late March, more than triple the normal amount.

“There is no end in sight, and in fact the demand is growing,” Pereira said. “We are looking for volunteers at all locations. Loading cars, doing paperwork, we need help.”

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer with Catholic Charities is asked to contact Joan Pierce at 844-385-2407 or joan.pierce@catholiccharitiesdov.org.