Judy Siegel of St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers speaks during a segment of the “Words of Encouragement” video series online. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Fort Myers Parish gives ‘Words of Encouragement’

Fort Myers  |  The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down social gatherings within Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice, but through the initiative of staff and the faithful, with a little help from technology (social media and Parish websites), alternative ways of reaching out have been developed.

One example of this can be found at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers, which began an online video series called “Words of Encouragement.” This series of short videos – one minute or less – include reflections from leaders of various Parish outreach programs, as well as everyday parishioners who wanted to share their thoughts about staying strong in the Faith during the pandemic.

Jennifer Engelman, coordinator of Parish Engagement, who compiles and edits the videos for length, said the first “Words of Encouragement” video was posted in mid-April, and the response has been great. 

“We sent out a request for videos asking parishioners to share a prayer that strikes them; what they are doing when anxious or concerned; how they shelter in place with Faith,” Engelman explained. “We based it on how people were coping while staying at home. It is a whole new life away from Church, but also away from each other.”

The video series content generated a great deal of interest among the parishioners. Some videos include prayers, others offer music or information about a devotion to find comfort in difficult times, such as to Our Lady, Christ or a specific saint.

One video message was from Judy Siegel, a sacristan and member of the Crafty Ladies. She encouraged everyone to focus on the Light of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who will help everyone get through these dark times. “He will do it. He will never leave us. He chose each and every one of us, and His love is eternal.” Siegel concluded her video by reminding everyone to wash their hands and wear a mask when they go out.

“We are thrilled with those who stepped forward,” Engelman said. “They range in age from 8 ½-years-old to 90. We’ve had such a good response that some days we’ve posted videos in the morning and afternoon. Much of what is being shared is relevant and timely. Initially the comments were people recognizing friends, but it really has opened an avenue to comment. It’s a nice way to keep the parishioners engaged when we are not coming to Mass or being together and socializing.”

The idea of the video series came out of the regular Parish strategic planning committee and is a spin-off of the regular spiritual reflections from Pastor Father Bob Tabbert.

“The response to the Father Tabbert videos made people feel good about the Church and gave comfort in knowing that the priests were praying for them,” Engelman said. “People felt very good seeing their Pastor and from that the idea of having others share their ideas was born.”

To view the “Words of Encouragement” video messages, go to Facebook and search for St. John XXII Catholic Church in Fort Myers.

This is just another example of the many ongoing outreach efforts from Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice as they try to keep the faithful engaged while most Parish activities are indefinitely suspended.