Music, faith bring Lee County youth together

A question which has baffled religious scholars for millennia – “How do you get teens to get excited about their faith?” – may have found a solution in Fort Myers.

The answer, good music, and a chance to let loose for an evening which ultimately focused on the Blessed Sacrament and an examination of their faith.

On Aug. 28, 2022, the regularly scheduled youth outreach meetings at Parishes across Lee County were instead directed to St. John XXIII Parish, where the Parish Youth Council hosted a free summer concert event featuring EPIC the Band, for a night of music, adoration, faith and fun.

EPIC the Band is a young and vibrant group of artists based in Miami, who have dedicated their lives to sharing the Gospel through music. EPIC will be touring with Matt Maher in 2023. The band has appeared in the Diocese of Venice in the past and theirs is a sound that blends multiple genres.

The night opened with some beachballs being tossed around and music blaring as the teens got into the fun of the night.

Lead Guitarist Luis Castro spoke to the teens during and between the various songs, sharing the meaning of the music and how each member of the band has gone through a spiritual journey to bring them to this point.

“Ups and downs, from darkness to the light of God,” he said, adding that everyone’s spiritual journey has these moments which are comforted by an undeniable reality. “The Lord is the One who always believes in you; who never gives up on you; who loves you no matter what; who will comfort you; who will lift you up; who will help you find your way. He does this because you are His child, precious and beautiful.”

Guiding the youth, and many adults, through their songs, Castro and the band members encouraged everyone to join in as the songs were created out of their collective love for God and His people which is poured out in musical praise.

While some teens stayed in the background, for much of the music was unfamiliar, many others joined in clapping to the beat and echoing lyrics they learned.

“This is great,” said one girl from Resurrection Parish. Another from Our Lady of Light Parish said she had “lots of fun.”

During the second set of music the evening pivoted to include Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament when Castro called on everyone to “point your gaze toward the Lord; He is why we are here.”

Father Simon Hoang Minh Dao, CRM, came forward to the stage and placed the Blessed Sacrament into a monstrance on a prepared table.

While everyone kneeled, the music continued in a solemn tone with a mix of sacred music and instrumental background. Father then led everyone in prayer before taking the Blessed Sacrament to a place of repose.

Following Adoration, the evening continued with more music and spirits lifted high.

The event was free for everyone, but there was a concession for pizza and drinks, and a 50/50 drawing.

Kelly Evers, St. John XXIII Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Outreach, said the evening was a huge success, with 338 in attendance, adding that this is the latest joint youth effort among Parishes in the area.

“We are working to help reach our youth in different ways,” Evers said.

The Parish has a High School Social program after Masses once a month. This program is intended to build a strong connection to the Parish because high school-aged students are often at risk of straying from their faith during these formative years.

Meanwhile, a Middle School Youth Group meets Wednesday evenings, providing a place for youths to identify their place in the Church, grow in their faith, and together in fellowship. The outreach is intended to help youths and families become more actively involved in the parish life.

Other Parish youth leaders also had groups at the St. John XXIII event. The Sunday night gathering served as an unofficial kick-off to the fall religious education season. Several Parishes are also expanding their middle and high school outreach efforts, trying to keep the teens connected to the faith. Many are nearing, or at the time they should be seeking the Sacrament of Confirmation, while others may have completed this goal and are now seeking a security of their future place in the Church.

Evers said the answer to that is simple, these teens are the Church, the present and the future.

News Briefs for the week of August 26, 2022

Mooney football team hears from coaching legend

The Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Football Team was both humbled and honored to have had Coach Urban Meyer give an inspirational talk before their Preseason Classic Game against Seffner Christian in Sarasota on Aug. 19, 2022. Meyer’s is a three-time national championship college football coach, twice as head coach of University of Florida and once with Ohio State University.

Gliders fly through classrooms

Fourth graders at St. Mary Academy in Sarasota had fun with their latest STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) challenge on Aug. 19, 2022. Their task was to build 3-hoop gliders, alternating the location of the hoops on each glider, and then let them fly. Each glider flew to determine which design performed the best and traveled the farthest. This was a lesson which challenged the students to think creatively and build a glider from paper and then see the results of their hard work.

Verot track and field champ receives ring

Bishop Verot Catholic High School senior Wyatt Whalen received his State Championship Ring on Aug. 19, 2022, in Fort Myers. Whalen took the Class 2A shot put title with a throw of 16.32 m (53 feet 6 ½ inches) during the Florida High School Athletic Association Track & Field State Championship May 11 -12, 2022, at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Whalen also took third in the discus with a toss of 46.36 m (152 feet 1 inch).

Eucharistic Conference in September

Inspired by the National Eucharistic Revival movement, St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples is creating the opportunity for people to learn more about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. The one-day Eucharistic Conference is 9 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. The day features talks and worship music in both English and Spanish. There are sessions only in Spanish at the same time as the only English sessions followed by Eucharistic worship in both languages. Father Casey Jones, Pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton, and Jon Niven, Music Director at Seton, are hosting the English track. Special guests Juan De La Rosa, Director de la Renovación Carismática and Fernando Torres, Ministerio Agnes Dei Líder de Adoración, both from the Archdiocese of New York, are hosting the Spanish sessions. The day will end with a bilingual Vigil Mass at 4:30 pm. Breakfast and lunch are provided. Cost is $10 per person. Registration is on Seton’s website, The Parish is located at 5225 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples. Please call 239-455-3900 for any additional information.

Students visit Venice retreat center

Eleventh grade students at Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria spent time on Aug. 18, 2022, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice as part of a retreat. The students prayed together, had some fun and learned about how they need to hear the call of the Lord in their lives. Ave Maria Parish Pastor Father David Vidal celebrated Mass for the teens.

Students have a ball with robotics

At St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, students are working hard to improve their coding skills during a robotics class on Aug. 22, 2022. This specialized skill is being learned as part of a broader STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum. This curriculum, called, “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence,” is growing out of a robotics program which broadens the opportunities for each student. The coding skills learned at St. Andrew enabled the students to perform various fun tasks with a Sphero Bolt Robot.

Ave Maria men’s program returning

The Ave Maria Parish “This Man Is You!” interactive men’s program is returning for weekly meetings beginning Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in the Parish. The program combines the best research from science with the teachings of the Catholic Faith and the wisdom of the saints to develop the vision of man fully alive. By honestly addressing the pressures and temptations that men face in our modern culture, “That Man Is You!” seeks to form men who will be capable of transforming homes and society. The theme for the year is “Thy Kingdom Come: Claim Your Royal Dignity and Inheritance.” The schedule includes 7 a.m. breakfast, with a weekly presentation from different speakers, small group discussions, concluding with Mass in the Parish church at 9 a.m. For more information and to register, please contact Dr. Charlie Thomason at or 860-460-7195.

Sarasota Laps for Life Oct. 8

Join the Sarasota Laps for Life 5K on Siesta Key Beach from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. This year the Knights of Columbus are running to benefit SOLVE maternity homes in Bradenton, Sarasota and Englewood. SOLVE provides cost-free housing, counseling and support for women and teens with unintended pregnancies. Why run? Promote a culture that encourages life in abundance by providing the support and resources available for both mother and child so they can flourish. Join us as we celebrate life in abundance! See for details and registration.

Priest appreciation dinners coming soon

The Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women invites all to one of two Priest Appreciation Dinners the group is hosting. The dinners are intended to honor all priests serving in the Diocese. The first dinner is 6 p.m. – 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 16, at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Hall, 1301 Center Road, Venice, while the second is at the same time on Friday, October 7, at Our Lady of Light Parish, 19680 Cypress View Drive, Fort Myers. The dinner is $45. For those interested in attending either dinner, please contact Ellen Bachman at 941-721-7393 or

First Responders Mass

The Knights of Columbus Saints Cosmas and Damian Council 13341 is honored to sponsor the First Responders Mass at 1 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 10, Our Lady of the Angels Parish, 12905 E. State Road 70, Lakewood Ranch. The Mass will honor the work of public safety personnel, including law enforcement officials, firefighters, and emergency medical service personnel. This Mass is a way to recognize the sacrifice of first responders and to remember those who have given their lives in service to their communities. All are welcome.

40 Days for Life Fall Campaign begins soon

The Fall Campaign of 40 Days for Life begins Sept. 28, 2022, and ends Nov. 6. Check with your Parish coordinator to join your Parish’s day on the sidewalk or go to (look under the locations tab for Sarasota or Fort Myers). Your presence can be a powerful sign to women in need that there are better options available. Questions? Contact Jeanne Berdeaux at or 941-374-1068.

Support CCW Seminarian Fund

Support, encourage and educate future priests through the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women Seminarian Fund. Join the VDCCW in celebrating Priesthood Sunday on Sept. 25, 2022, in a special and lasting way by sending your Parish a Seminarian Fund “IN HONOR OF” card. This is a gift that keeps on giving. The Diocese is currently educating 13 men in various seminaries and a donation of any amount would be a great help (The donation amount will not be revealed to the recipient. To take part, please send your donation, made out to VDCCW Seminarian Fund (plus $1 to cover postage and printing) to: Cornelia Zanetti, Seminarian Fund Guardian, 5808 Gulf Drive #204, Holmes Beach, FL 34217. If you have any questions, email Cornelia Zanetti at



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

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 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:
  • 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
  • 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.

Parish helps youth reach for the stars

The parishioners of St. Leo the Great Parish have developed a strong bond with Catholic Charities programs in Bonita Springs.

The Parish hosts Catholic Charities in the Juan Diego Center and supports the good works provided by the staff and volunteers, many of whom are their own parishioners.

The faithful provide donations for the St. Leo Food Bank, as well as annual holiday food and gift drives at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, explained Anne Bellows, Assistant to the Pastor.

Of particular focus is support for the Positive Youth Development Program, which offers an after-school tutoring program and summer camp for underprivileged children in the area.

This summer, each of the 46 children who participated in the Program’s Summer Enrichment Camp received scholarships from parishioners of St. Leo, explained Jose Perez, Positive Youth Development Program Manager.

During the summer, the youth received tutoring in math and reading, as well as enjoying enriching activities during their seven weeks on campus including a number of day trips.

Perez works to ensure the children have a well-rounded experience. In 2021, for the first time, the campers finished the summer by taking a magical trip to Disney World in Orlando. This was something none of the campers had experienced as the price was too much for the participating families. When the call went out for support, St. Leo parishioners responded with love and kindness, covering many of the costs for each student to have a wonderful experience in Orlando at the conclusion of the camp.

“We know this is a really wonderful program and opportunity for these kids,” Bellows said. “Our parishioners are so generous in supporting it every year.”

When looking at the end of summer trip this year, they wanted to do something a bit different than returning to Disney.

“This summer turned out to be, in a sense, themed on Florida, from the native wildlife to the historical places in our state,” Perez explained. “Most of our guest speakers and field trips were related to Florida in some way. This year, however, was about what kind of mark you want to leave behind. When speaking with the youth in our program about this topic in our afterschool program, one thing that came up a lot was discovery, space, and the future. We knew then where we were headed – the Kennedy Space Center.”

With an “out-of-this-world” trip in mind, Perez worked tirelessly to put the pieces together to make the adventure happen within budget and without a hitch.

Once again, Bellows said St. Leo parishioners stepped up and generously covered many of the costs for the trip such as food, t-shirts, money for souvenirs and more. One parishioner generously covered the admission costs.

“It is a joint effort of love and outreach to underprivileged kids in Bonita Springs,” Bellows said.

Boarding a bus, the campers and their chaperones spent the early part of the day travelling to the Space Center, being immersed in the history of exploration of outer space and getting a glimpse into the future. The group even had the opportunity to talk with NASA Astronaut Steven Smith who has travelled to outer space four times.

Perez said the trip was a fantastic experience, “getting to see the kids in our program be in awe of the sheer size of the rockets and shuttles that have been launched into space. We had many moments of wonder. One was getting to ‘experience’ the first launch of Apollo 11 from the original control room.”

Two of the younger kids (Gael and Abraham) wondered if what they were seeing was real. “They were awestruck, and the look of amazement in their eyes and their smiles told me that it was the perfect choice for a trip. After that, they had so many questions about how they could be astronauts which were answered by an actual astronaut!”

Perez said the best part is that he and his team are blessed for the opportunity to be part of expanding a child’s world beyond what they know or have experienced, showing them that they are not limited or bound to their zip code.

“We would not be able to do this without the support of remarkable individuals such as St. Leo’s parishioners and staff,” Perez added. “They have supported us and have helped us make these fantastic experiences possible for the youth of the community.”

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

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

‘Totus Tuus’ leaves impacts for a lifetime

When you note something took 40 days, that number has a significant connection to Sacred Scriptures, uniquely elevating the impact and meaning of an activity.

For example, the Bible states: 40 days and nights of rain during the great flood, Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai; Jonah preached 40 days to Nineveh; Goliath taunted Israel for 40 days; and Jesus fasted for 40 days, as well as other examples.

Therefore, there is a special significance in that the “Totus Tuus” summer camp was active in the Diocese of Venice for 40 days. This is not only because of its symbolic connection to the Bible, but for its wide-reaching impact on the hundreds of children and teens who participated. However, this positive impact was not limited to the campers; it was felt at the host Parishes, by the volunteers, and in the families, not to mention the missionaries and seminarians who led the camp each week.

In the Bible, after 40 days a great event always occurs, and the same is true in the Diocese at the completion of the “Totus Tuus” camp on Aug. 5, 2022.

Word has been spreading about the passionate growth in a love for Christ by the children at the host Parishes achieved in a single 5-day period. There is already a call to bring the missionaries back in the summer of 2023 at more Parishes, reaching even more children and teens.

Beginning June 6, at St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral, host Parish priests have raved all summer about how this summer camp was different than anything that has been offered. Each of the five days of the “Totus Tuus” camp was an intensive and enriching time for the young participants as they learned about their faith and grew closer to the Lord.

By the time the camp reached its eighth weekly home, St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota from Aug. 1 to Aug. 5, the results were abundantly clear, the camp was a success and there was a demand for more of the same.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane visited the St. Patrick camp on Aug. 4, witnessing what the young children (aged from kindergarten to sixth grade) learned in just a few days.

The children, led by the “Totus Tuus” missionaries and accompanying Diocesan seminarians, were able to recite a variety of prayers and enthusiastically sang songs. When asked about the camp, eager little hands rose in excitement because the lessons of the week excited their minds and souls helping them to grow in their passionate relationship with the Lord.

Bishop Dewane praised the children on their knowledge of the lessons they had learned. These lessons focused on the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary, prayer, key aspects of a devotion to Jesus, all with a special focus on the Mass.

“You learned so much,” Bishop Dewane said. “That is very good. Remember, we all have more to learn about the Lord and our relationship with Jesus Christ and how that must continue to grow.”

Among the lessons during the camp, the children were taught how to view others as brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, when they see someone in need, they are to help, acting as Christ did.

“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 welcomed children and teens from Monday morning to Friday afternoon.  These sessions were divided into daytime camp for children from first grade through sixth, and evening retreats for teens seventh grade through recent high school graduates. The weeks were filled with faith, fun, and friendship as well as games, crazy skits, and music. Throughout, the college-age leaders provided an authentic witness to the students. They were in turn supported by teen helpers for the day camp and adult volunteers in the evenings.

During this initial introduction to the “Totus Tuus” summer camp in the Diocese, only one Parish hosted the camp each week. In addition to St. Katharine Drexel and St. Patrick bookending the summer, other host Parishes included: 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 (July 18-22); and St. Elizabeth Seton in Naples (July 25-29).

The “Totus Tuus” program strives to bring an awareness of vocations to 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.

“Totus Tuus” missionaries were Stephanie Lovetere of the Diocese of Venice, Epiphany Cathedral and a student at Ave Maria University, Sam Salyer of the Diocese of Gary, Kate Ihlefeldt, of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, and Garrett Willie of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Additionally, assisting the missionaries were Diocese of Venice Seminarians Juan Contreras and James Gates.

Salyer finished his missionary work on fire for the Lord. “It has been an amazing journey,” he said. “I grew as a person, as a missionary and as a man of God. The interaction with the children of different ages opened up a whole new way for me to see how the Lord works in each of us. I saw the transformation of these children from uninterested to totally engaged in a short period of time. It was incredible.”

Seminarian Gates enjoyed helping connect the children with the wonders of Christ through the lessons, during Eucharistic Adoration and at Mass. “When you see the faces, the reactions, it is very special. Their enthusiasm validated the hard work we put into each day.”

Carrie Harkey, Diocesan Director of the Office of Family Life, who helped bring the “Totus Tuus” summer camp to the Diocese, said the praise from priests, religious education leaders and parents has been 100% 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 2023,” Harkey said. “The enthusiasm is contagious and that is a god thing. This summer was a test to see how it worked and we have our results. Going forward, we now have an established program which directly engages young people, from kindergarten through high school, about their faith. That is very special.”

Teen “Service Week” in Sarasota

Service, prayer, music, fun and food.

Combine those things and you have a formula for a successful “Teen Service Week” for youth who are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota.

Robbie Anderson, the Director of Religious Education and Youth Outreach at St Thomas More, views the service week as an opportunity to challenge the youth and get them thinking about the world in which they live. The theme for Service Week 2022 was “On a Mission of Peace.”

On each morning of the week of Aug. 1-5, the teens met with assigned leaders at the Parish and prayed together. Several days during the week, depending on the daily schedule, there was the opportunity to participate in Mass.

Father Gordon Zanetti, Pastor of St. Thomas More, encouraged the youth remain open to the Lord as they participated in the service. They must also be open to a vocation, or calling of the Lord, whether it is as a priest, in religious life, or in a vocation to help the poor. “Whatever vocation you are called to, hear the Lord and respond.”

Among the activities the youth took part in throughout the week included a trip to the Sarasota National Cemetery where they assisted in a cleaning project; delivered food for Meals on Wheels; organized the Moms Helping Moms store; heard a talk from counselors at NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness), and helped at their youth center; built a garden around the Parish peace pole near the main entrance to the property; made and delivered lunches to homeless on the streets of Sarasota (with adult chaperones); and lastly, sorted and packed food at All Faith’s Food Bank.

The service week provided Lilly Mae Stewart, 17, an opportunity to challenge herself as the group reached out into the community and helped people in a variety of ways. “It was about making a real connection.”

Charlie Flint, 15, said “this week has been really touching,” because he saw how “good work can really effect the people in the community.”

Each day began by 7 a.m. and concluded by 9 p.m. To keep their experience humble, they made their own bag lunches each day, and were allowed limited time on their phone, something that can sometime be a hardship, but did not bother the team as they remained focused on their tasks. In addition, as the week progressed, the teens were asked to create a banner with key images, words, and messages they learned, as well as symbols from their “Service Week.” The words and messages on the banner included: “Peace!” “Give!” “Happiness!” “Forming Strong Connections!” “I Love Humility!” “Friends!” “Helping Mothers!” “God Loves You!”

At the conclusion of each day, the teens finished with a sponsored meal, played outdoor games and prayed together. There was also time for group reflections. This time gave the teens the opportunity to discuss their experiences and properly put them into the context of their living as children of God.

It was obvious to Anderson, as well as to the other adult volunteers, that the week made a real impact on the youth in various ways.

“At our daily reflection many said they were made much more aware of the poverty right here in Sarasota that they never imagined existed,” she said. “They were also saying they need to raise awareness about what they learned.”

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.

News Briefs for the Week of August 5, 2022


After consultation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announces the following:

Father Thomas Carzon, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, as Pastor of San Pedro Parish in North Port, effective Aug. 1, 2022, and thus is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

New Marian statue blessed

St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers hosted the blessing of a new Marian statue on July 31, 2022. The statue of Mary was donated courtesy of Retired Pastor Father Stanley Dombrowski, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, and his sister Mary. Father Dombrowski led the blessing ceremony for the statue which sits outside, under the portico at the entrance of Marian Hall. The statue was dedicated to their parents, Stanley and Mary Dombrowski.

Men’s Retreat held in Lake Placid

Members of the John XXIII Retreats Movement gathered at Campo San Jose Retreat Center in Lake Placid on July 31, 2022, to celebrate the conclusion of another retreat. More than 25 men took part in the three-day retreat with their family and others taking part on the final day for the closing Mass. This makes more than 1,000 who have returned to the faith in the Diocese of Venice through the John XXIII Movement. The Movement is a private international association of laity, with the goal of leading marginalized communities to God. After completing an initial retreat, participants are encouraged to attend faith-formation classes and weekly meetings to strengthen their faith and personal relationship with God. Rooted in Eucharistic Adoration, the ministry serves the Church and its people through love, surrender, and sacrifice. For more information about the John XXIII Movement, please contact Father Stewart at or Jose Pastor Ramirez, Diocesan Coordinator, at

Catholic Charities Summertime Appeal ongoing

Every day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., serves its most vulnerable population by feeding, housing, empowering, and helping all in need. This summer, you can be the one that makes a difference. Your acts of kindness have the power to transform lives and leave a positive impact in our community. Catholic Charities, “Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal” is asking for your support. The giving is easy! Your gift will make a positive impact on our less fortunate brothers and sisters! Please visit or mail a check to Catholic Charities, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Walking With Moms in Need

Would you know how to help a pregnant woman in need? Maybe it’s your neighbor, cousin, niece, sister, granddaughter, or daughter. Maybe it’s someone you see in a store, restaurant, or church. Perhaps she is crying, looks distraught or is obviously being treated poorly by someone. Through a new national initiative from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called Walking with Moms in Need, now you will know how to help. Walking with Moms in Need teaches the faithful how to help pregnant women in need, starting by letting them know they are not alone. The nationwide Catholic program calls every parishioner to learn the names of their local pregnancy help centers, the first responders for women with unexpected or difficult pregnancies. If you know of someone who is pregnant and needs help immediately, visit

Parish youth help out  Do not run on same page as above brief

The St. John XXIII Parish Youth Outreach in Fort Myers has been working hard. First they organized shoes and backpacks collected from parishioners and to be delivered to families in need. Then they shifted their efforts to helping to organize and clean the Parish thrift store. Please keep all the youth in your prayers that they too will also say yes to living His word through action.

National Eucharistic Revival

A three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist begins with the Diocesan phase, from June 19, 2022, through June 11, 2023. During the Diocesan Year, there will be a series of events and retreats that encourage the renewal of the Church “by rekindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.” The pinnacle of the coming year will be a Diocesan Eucharistic Congress on March 24 and March 25, 2023. This event, which is in the early planning stages, will take place at the Convention Center and Luminary Hotel on the Fort Myers riverfront. The National Eucharistic Revival is a focused effort by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to revive a devotion to and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. To learn more about the National Eucharistic Revival, visit Stay tuned for more information for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress by visiting

Support after abortion – Project Rachel

Most women who choose abortion eventually realize that they made the wrong choice and face a lifetime of regret. Even if they confess this sin to a priest, they often find it difficult to accept God’s forgiveness and forgive themselves. Project Rachel is the Catholic Church’s program to help women and men come to terms with an abortion decision and find the hope and healing they need. Watch for more on post-abortion healing in the next edition of The Florida Catholic. For confidential help in English and Spanish, call 941-412-5860 or email

Do You Need Help?

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance, or tele-mental health counseling, please call 941-355-4680 in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands Counties; 239-390-2928 in Charlotte, Lee, Hendry, and Glades Counties; and 239-793-0059 in Collier County between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 pm., Monday to Friday.

Retreat Center Fall Schedule Available Online

The Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center (OLPH) fall group retreats are now available for registration at This includes a new one-day retreat on “Meditation in the Catholic Tradition,” scheduled for Saturday, October 22, the biannual silent Ignatian Preached Retreat, scheduled for Friday, November 18 to Monday, November 21, and the Monthly Day of Prayer series. Would you rather a private, directed retreat? OLPH offers 3-night, 5-night, and 7-night private retreats. To learn more about these retreats, please call 941-486-0233 or visit

Food pantry needs help

The St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton is in need of peanut butter. This staple is an important part of the pantry’s Family Bags and provides a key source of protein for children in need in Manatee County. The Food Pantry is happy to accept bulk, large, and small containers of peanut butter, as well as other non-perishable food items. If you wish to make a financial contribution, your donation can be doubled thanks to a partnership with the Flanzer Trust. Donations can be delivered to 2704 33rd Ave. W. Bradenton, FL  34205, Monday thru Friday 9 a.m. till noon. Please call 941-756 3732 or email if you have any questions or if you need to make arrangements for drop off. For more information about how you can help, please visit

Friends of the Seminary Gala

Please mark your calendars to participate in the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary Friends of the Seminary Gala, in person or via our on-line experience, on Friday, October 21, 2022. You will find information at (This page will continue to update as we get closer to the event). This event is the Seminary’s largest fundraiser and your support is essential to ensure the continuity of this important mission: Forming priests after the Heart of Christ for the future of the Catholic Church. The virtual portion will be open to all and include live feed of the Mass at 5:30 p.m., and an online auction. We pray that with your support and God’s Providence, we will have a successful event. For more information, please call 561-732-4424, Ext. 162.

‘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.

Youth Conference draws more than 400

Youth from across the Southeastern United States spent July 8 to 10, 2022, listening to dynamic talks, hearing moving music, praying, participating in Eucharistic Adoration, going to Confession, attending daily Mass, and making new friends.

With a theme of “Fearless,” the goal of the 14th annual Ave Maria University Youth Conference was to allow high school-aged youth to come to know God in a more personal way as well as to learn how to touch the lives of others through their own life. Many young men and women from throughout the Diocese of Venice participated in the Conference and they were joined by youth from each part of Florida and beyond.

The youth raved about the weekend, one young man from Naples said “this was so awesome. Jesus was everywhere.”

The weekend was not just simply listening to inspirational speakers and musicians who encouraged the young people to become more involved in their faith and to be guided by the Word of Christ; it was an interactive experience meant to awaken the Holy Spirit for the Conference goers.

The Conference was capped with Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane at Ave Maria Parish on July 10, directly across from the University.

Bishop Dewane said he prayed the youth took advantage of the Conference and that they “will go forward for the Lord, and the Lord with them.”

Citing the Gospel reading, Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Bishop said the lesson is for each of us to follow the Lord’s example, showing mercy and compassion.

“We have been made in the image and likeness of God; called to live that ethical moral example of the Good Samaritan, that is given to you, and to me, in our lives,” Bishop Dewane concluded. “It is my prayer that you go forward and live that life, to be the Good Samaritan, in union with Christ.”

Following the Mass, Bishop Dewane took part in a large group picture and other individual and Parish-centered photos, while the youth thanked him for celebrating the Mass and offering his inspiring words. In return, the Bishop again challenged them to live those words each day.

One young lady from Cocoa Beach summed up the weekend this way: “My spirit is filled with Christ’s love. I am now ready to do more, to show my friends and family how much love, joy and comfort the Church provides.”

Featured talks were by Father Rick Martignetti, Father Joseph Lugalambi, Father Rich Pagano and Chris Padget. The event included the talks, Mass, Adoration, praise and worship, fellowship, and opportunities for confession.