“My Lighthouse, my lighthouse; Shining in the darkness, I will follow You” is sung with great enthusiasm each morning during the Totus Tuus weekly program taking place this summer at 11 different host Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice.
First and second grade students at Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria performed the song (“My Lighthouse,” by Rend Collective), and its accompanying dance, during a classroom visit by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on June 22, 2023.
“It was so uplifting and enlightening to see these young children so full of energy and life,” Bishop Dewane said. The Bishop observed other classrooms at Ave Maria and was impressed with their knowledge and enthusiasm. He also celebrated Mass for the children.
“In each classroom everyone was so excited and alive about their love of the Lord. It is a strong reflection of the good work of the missionaries and the teen volunteers in getting this important message across; that is to grow in your relationship with the Lord, accompanied by the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The missionaries, 12 trained college-aged men and women, teach the children of all ages to put a spotlight on sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic faith through evangelization, catechesis, Christian witness, and Eucharistic worship. The goal of the week is to help the children develop a true and lasting longing for holiness.
“Totus Tuus does a great job complementing and supplementing what the children learn from their parents; the first and best educators of their faith,” the Bishop said. “This is why Totus Tuus doesn’t stand alone. It is an additional program that is offered and makes available important components of the faith which are needed as children age and mature. In this, the Church can make a meaningful contribution.”
“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. The weeklong program are divided into two sessions, with the day component for students grades 1 – 6, and the evening session for middle school and high school students grades 7 – 12.
Carrie Harkey, Diocesan Coordinator of Family Life in the Office of Evangelization and a co-organizer of Totus Tuus, said the program is different than the traditional Vacation Bible School model.
“There is an intentionality about helping the children and youth live out a relationship with the Lord. It is really fostering those daily habits of discipleship that help with their relationship with the Lord. This is accomplished because there is a heavy emphasis on the Sacraments. Most importantly, there is daily Mass,” Harkey said. In addition, there is the opportunity for confession, holy hours, praying the rosary and much more.
The impact of the Totus Tuus program is widespread in the host Parishes, as local support is crucial for success, with teen volunteers helping during the day and adults in the evenings, and family events scheduled at key points in the week.
The example the missionaries are for not just the youngest children but for the faithful of all ages is readily apparent.
Father Jose Gonzalez, Pastor at St. Catherine Parish in Sebring, invited the missionaries to speak at Masses the weekend ahead of the program’s start (June 25-30) and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“It is wonderful to see these impressive missionaries serve as examples for the children to learn from and to follow,” Father Gonzalez said.
So far, the program has taken place at the following Parishes: St. Katharine Drexel, Cape Coral; St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, Parrish; St. Agnes, Naples; St. Peter the Apostle, Naples; Ave Maria; and St. Catherine.
While many of the students are from the host Parishes, the reach of Totus Tuus is more regional. For example, at St. Catherine, children and youth also participated from St. James in Lake Placid, Our Lady of Grace in Avon Park, and St. Michael in Wauchula.
Missionary Abel Fernando Cordero said the positive experiences in the first four weeks of the program have been beyond his wildest dreams.
“It is an amazing opportunity. It’s most rewarding and allowing me to grow in humility before the Lord,” Cordero said. “At the end of the day, we are teaching faith and we are having fun doing it. It is showing everyone – the students, the missionaries, the volunteers, the Parish staff, and the parents – that the faith is really alive.”
The remaining Parishes hosting the program are as follows:
- Our Lady Queen of Heaven in La Belle, July 9-14;
- John XXIII in Fort Myers and St. Patrick in Sarasota, July 16-21;
- Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and Our Lady of the Angels in Lakewood Ranch, July 23-28.
Several parishes still have limited openings for this program. To inquire, please contact the individual Parish religious education office by visiting https://dioceseofvenice.org/find-a-parish/. For further information regarding this program, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/totustuus2023/.
For additional reflections from Bishop Dewane about the Totus Tuus program, check out the June “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” radio program on Relevant Radio. The program can be heard at 8:30 a.m., June 30, on 106.7 FM and 1410 AM in Fort Myers and 93.3 FM and 1660 AM in Naples. The show can also be found at any time at https://dioceseofvenice.org/our-bishop/relevant-radio-podcasts/.