To celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Venice in Florida students at Catholic middle schools were asked to answer the question: “What does it mean to be ‘A Disciple of Christ?’” Each student could respond in one of three ways, through language arts, visual arts or video production.
The response from the students to the 35th Anniversary Student Showcase Competition was impressive and overwhelming as a select committee went through 277 submissions to choose the winners. Announced in mid-January, the winners and honorable mention for each category were as follows:
- Visual Arts – Winner: Sara Blandon, 8th grader, St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School, Naples; Honorable mention: Taylor Copeland, 8th grade, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, Fort Myers;
- Language Arts (Essay) – Winner: Ava Irion, 8th grade, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, Fort Myers; Honorable mention: Christopher Wasdin, 8th grade, St. Mary Academy, Sarasota;
- Video Production – Winner: Jasmine Aviles, 8th grade, St. Catherine Catholic School, Sebring; Honorable mention: Theresa Harwell, 7th grade, St. Martha Catholic School, Sarasota.
As Ava Irion says to start her winning essay: “There are many ways in which a person can be a disciple of Christ.”
This was true with the essay, art and video submissions, reflecting the different ways in which Catholic middle school-aged students view this important idea.
The select committee reviewed each submission and struggle to come up with the winners. The criteria that helped to narrow the choice was based on who most closely related their submission to the contest guidelines and prompt: “What does it mean to be ‘A Disciple of Christ?’”
Jennifer Falestiny, Diocesan Curriculum Specialist, was one of the judges and said the quality of the submissions was impressive. “It was difficult, but we were able to narrow it down to know that we made the right choice.”
Each of the winners will receive a $100 gift card and be presented with a certificate a ribbon and later an ice cream truck will come for a formal celebration. The honorable mention recipients will each receive a ribbon and certificate.
Ave Irion’s essay states that using the traits of Jesus as an example in one’s life is critical to becoming “A Disciple of Christ.” These include kindness, acceptance to others and a strong character. Each can turn an ordinary person into someone who loves Jesus with all of their heart, mind, and soul.
In her video submission, Jasmin Aviles cited the Gospel of Matthew 28: 19-20, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Jasmin went on to say that disciples “are called to love, obey, keep an eye on heaven, and carry crosses. Discipleship has to start somewhere.”
Bishop Frank J. Dewane initiated the idea of being a “Disciple of Christ at the start of the academic year when he went to each Catholic School in the Diocese and celebrated Mass. It was then that he noted how 2019 was the 35th Anniversary of the Diocese so it was appropriate to initiate a new initiative, that they learn how to become “A Disciple of Christ.”
Sara Blandon, winner of the Visual Arts category drew a stunning image of St. Teresa of Calcutta holding a malnourished baby along with an accompanying poem. She wrote that her mind went directly went to the saint when thinking of “A Disciple of Christ.”
The image represents “the love that she put in caring for those who were in need. St. Mother Teresa has exerted a great influence on all individuals. She loved people with all her heart, even those with the worst diseases… With the devotion she gave, she became that true reflection of our Lord. A true disciple is one who gives up everything and helps those who truly need help. But most importantly, a true disciple is one who leads people closer to God.”
The Honorable Mention artwork by Taylor Copeland, 8th grade, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, Fort Myers, is a drawing of St. Dorcas, also known as St. Tabitha, who is noted by scholars as the first woman disciple. Known for helping the sick and poor, when St. Dorcas died, St. Peter came to her and said “Tabitha, get up.” She then opened her eyes.
Beginning with the Advent Season of 2019 and to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Diocese of Venice, the Diocese formally launched a campaign for all to become “A Disciple of Christ.” The campaign is running through the Liturgical Seasons; it began with Advent, then Christmas, and now a portion of Ordinary Time, to be followed by Lent, Easter, and concluding with Pentecost. A Bishop Dewane wrote in a letter to the faithful, these Seasons allow each of us to discover and experience what it means to be A Disciple of Christ. The Liturgical Calendar provides an emphasis on how to live during each Season with its special focus; how to personally follow Jesus and become more united to Him in the daily life of each Liturgical Season.
The call to be “A Disciple of Christ” requires a response from everyone. It may involve speaking out, giving up certain things in your life, or even taking on extra responsibilities, Bishop Dewane wrote. “To be ‘A Disciple of Christ’ does not mean only to follow Him in external practices and the traditions of the Church, but to respond to Jesus from the heart in loving obedience and trust.”
In this regard, Pope Francis said, “We cannot be tepid disciples. The Church needs our courage in order to give witness to truth.”
As Bishop Dewane stated: “You may think, ‘I am already following Christ’ but the call is to intentionally choose to become ‘A Disciple of Christ’ each and every day. Every moment provides an opportunity to be filled with Christ’s love. Allow it to transform your heart and life. Then bring this love to your family, your friends, and as well to your enemies.”