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.”