Bishop Frank J. Dewane blesses some rosaries at the Catholic Center in Venice surrounded by students from several Catholic Schools. About 20,000 rosaries, blessed by the Bishop, will be distributed to Catholic School and Diocesan Religious Education students in the coming weeks.

Looking back, moving forward

Venice | When a new year begins it is often appropriate to look back at the previous year and reflect on what has happened. However, at the same time preparation is needed for engaging in the new and exciting activities in the new year.

As 2019 begins, the Diocese of Venice is involved in a number of initiatives to support the faithful in their pursuit of achieving the ultimate goal of salvation with Our Lord in heaven. In many instances, initiatives planned for 2019 build upon the success of programs and events from 2018, which impacted the faithful on many levels. However, there are exciting new events planned as well.

While taking time to look back covers many pivotal events in the life of the Diocese, the following is by no means a comprehensive listing of the initiatives and events that took place throughout the Diocese.

Ordination and Vocations
One of the most important building blocks of the Catholic Church is the ordination of men to the priesthood. The Diocese of Venice was blessed to have one man ordained in 2018, which was presided by Bishop Frank J. Dewane at Epiphany Cathedral. One other seminarian was ordained to the transitional diaconate in 2018.

Also encouraging is that there are currently 17 active seminarians in the Diocese, including the transitional deacons. The Vocation’s Office hosts several informational trips to the seminaries in Florida for prospective young men. To help plant the seed of a vocation among young people, Vocations Awareness Days are held for Diocesan Catholic School sixth-graders. The day-long gatherings introduce the idea of vocations for boys and girls in a less formal environment.

Chrism Mass
During Holy Week, priests of the Diocese gathered for the annual Chrism Mass, which serves as a powerful sign of unity as more than 100 priests stand on the altar at the Epiphany Cathedral with Bishop Dewane. This annual Mass is one of the most critical and unifying moments for the Diocese during Holy Week as priests and deacons who celebrate milestone anniversaries are honored.

In addition, and in conjunction with the World Day for Consecrated Life, religious men and women participate in an annual Mass celebrated by Bishop Dewane at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center. Each year several religious jubiliarians are recognized. Men and women religious work tirelessly throughout the Diocese to help bring people closer to God and celebrating their anniversaries is one way to show appreciation and thanks for all of their good work.

Religious Freedom and Persecuted Christians
One large Diocesan initiative that will continue into 2019 is raising awareness for the plight of persecuted Christians around the world. In the Diocese there were three events held during Religious Freedom Week‚ which is designated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The weeks informs parishioners about the ongoing travesty of people being killed for their Faith. Students from Diocesan religious education programs were encouraged to read the worldwide news accounts of Christian persecutions, and then they were asked to produce a film incorporating this plight.

That led to the Diocese of Venice Religious Freedom Film Festival. The Diocese showcased six films to parishioners, who then voted to determine the top three winners. Producers of the newly released documentary “Christians in the Mirror” came to present their findings from the making of the film.

Then in late November Epiphany Cathedral was illuminated in red as part of the worldwide “Courage in RED” campaign. Students in Diocesan Catholic Schools wore red to school for the day and learned age appropriate studies on Christian persecution. The high school students viewed the documentary mentioned – “Christians in the Mirror”.

Respect Life
The Diocese of Venice hosted the 2018 Florida Respect Life Conference in late September in Punta Gorda. It was a weekend of events for pro-life representatives from across Florida. In addition, 2018 had huge numbers participate in prayer vigils at abortion facilities throughout the Diocese of Venice. The 40 Days for Life campaign is active during Lent in Naples and Port Charlotte, and resumes throughout October in Sarasota and Fort Myers. Other prayer walks are held each January to coincide with the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Each year, a group of more than 250 youth and young adults make an annual pilgrimage to the National March for Life in Washington, D.C. That will continue in 2019. Additionally, a prayer walk is planned in Sarasota Jan. 22.

Sacrament of Marriage
Bishop Dewane takes time out each year to honor the men and women who have dedicated their lives to living the Sacrament of Marriage. Two Mass are held during the year which the Bishop celebrates for couples enjoying significant wedding anniversaries. Many coupled were celebrating more than 50 years of marriage and some more than 70 years. These couples represent a shining example of this important Sacrament in the face of many attacks on this vital institution. For 2019, the Masses are scheduled for March 2 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and on March 16 at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs. Couples wanting to register can do so through their local parish.

Marian events
It was in December 2017 that Bishop Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to Mary through Jesus. Throughout 2018 there were several Marian initiatives including a Walk to Our Lady, which spanned 6.6 miles between Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice. The rosary was prayed, and people sang, along the way with the culmination of the walk a traditional May Crowning ceremony. The 2019 walk is scheduled for May 4.

Bishop Dewane also blessed and distributed 20,000 rosaries for faith formation and Catholic school students in the fall. This culminated in a Facebook Live event in which the Bishop led the praying of the rosary from Epiphany Cathedral as students across the Diocese joined in from their respective schools.

Catholic Charities
Each year the programs of Catholic Charities within the Diocese of Venice help more than 40,000 individuals and families through more than 30 different programs. The Judy Sullivan Family Resources Center completed a major renovation in the spring and reopened to great fanfare offering a variety of services to working-class families in the area. Bishop Dewane also blessed additional apartments and office space for Our Mother’s House, which serves homeless mother and their babies in Venice. In addition, there were seven successful Catholic Charities events were also held to raise money to support the programs in each part of the Diocese. Work has also begun on a 64-unit senior housing project for the needy in Arcadia located next to the existing Casa San Juan Bosco farmworker housing complex.

Interfaith Relations
The interfaith relationship with area Jewish communities by the Catholic Church in the Diocese continues to grow. This is demonstrated through a variety of commemorative events including Kristallnacht in Naples in the fall, and Yom HaShoah in Venice each spring. Each event celebrates the shared history of the two faiths and remembers in prayer the atrocities of the Holocaust.

An ongoing Catholic-Jewish Dialogue speaker series takes place in Collier County and middle school students at Diocesan Catholic schools are taught extensively about the atrocities of the Holocaust with the hope and intention that such attacks on human dignity will never happen again.

Men’s and Women’s Conferences
The Diocese once again sponsored Women’s and Men’s Conferences at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers. Internationally renowned speakers drew large crowds and helped to inspire those present to be evangelists for the Faith.

The 2019 conferences will be Feb. 2 for the men, and Feb. 16 for the women. The events are expected to bigger and better than ever, with popular speakers such as Dr. Mary Healy, Hector Molina, Jennifer Fulwiler and Leah Darrow.

The Office of Evangelization also sponsored a number of events and programs throughout the year including a new bereavement outreach for those who suffered a loss and training for those who will provide counseling. In addition, there are regular pre-Cana courses, Scripture and Bible study seminars and prison volunteer outreach efforts at locations throughout the Diocese.

Youth Outreach
The annual Youth Rally held in 2018 at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Convention center in Punta Gorda drew another large crowd with more than 1,900 young men and women, and encouraged them to be proud of their Faith. Along with other musicians and speakers, Matt Mahr was a crowd favorite as he connected with the youth during his speech and performed Christian music that left them wanting more. The rally is one of the largest gatherings of youth anywhere in Southwest Florida. Planning has already begun for the 2019 Youth Rally which will occur sometime in early November.

For 2019, Bishop Dewane plans to join a Diocesan group at World Youth Day in Panama City, Panama, from Jan. 22-27. In addition, a series of annual retreats for middle and high school-aged youth will also continue to play an important part in encouraging young people to become more active in their Faith.

Social Media
Early in the year, the Diocese of Venice Offices of Information Technology and Communications worked with Diocesan Publications to design the new website ( layout that reflects our Catholic mission and is easy to use for Parishioners and Parish staff. The Diocese also expanded its social media footprint by posting additional photos and video from more events in 2018 than ever before. There were several Facebook Live initiatives, including broadcasting the weekdays Mass of Advent from parishes throughout the Diocese.

Recovery and construction
2018 was a big year for the continued recovery from 2017’s Hurricane Irma, while new construction continued on several projects. In Naples, St. Elizabeth Seton Parish and School received major renovations and reopened. Lots of work took place simultaneously at St. John the Evangelist Parish where the Parish Life Center was repaired. The Church is still undergoing repairs and a new Family Life Center was completed.

St. Peter the Apostle Parish finished its repairs early in the year and opened at new Parish Center. Now work is taking place on the office and rectory. St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers also opened a new Parish Hall.

Bishop Dewane presided over the November rededication of St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral following a major facelift after Irma. St. Raphael Parish in Englewood reopened Christmas Eve after a years-long renovation. The newest church can be found at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch where Bishop Dewane blessed the new Church to great fanfare in the Spring. During 2019. a new Parish Church at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee and new Parish Halls for St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers and St. Leo the Great in Bonita Springs will be completed. These are just some of the ongoing construction projects taking place within the growing Diocese of Venice.

Upcoming events
New in 2019, Bishop Dewane is celebrating a Mass for all widows and widowers at 3:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 20 at Epiphany Cathedral, 310 Sarasota Street, Venice. The concept for the Mass grew out of the popular annual Mass honoring couples celebrating significant wedding anniversaries. Each year there are empty spaces in the pews when a spouse passes away. The celebration will include a display of photos available for viewing and be part of the Mass for widows and widowers.

As in the past, the Diocese will again be recognizing its volunteers. Bishop Dewane is inviting all of the volunteers throughout the Diocese to a Mass 11 a.m., Feb. 23 at Our Lady of Light Parish, 19680 Cypress View Drive, Fort Myers. The intention of the Mass is expressing appreciation and thanks to all volunteers.