#WYD Reflection

imageAmidst the overwhelmingly massive crowd of three million young people who gathered to celebrate the solidarity of the Catholic faith were forty-five Diocese of Orlando pilgrims. Experiencing the exuberance and excitement of the 31st World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, the land of Pope St. John Paul II, the small group of sojourners were called to reflect on the spiritual theme, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Lasting twelve days, the trip not only transported travelers to cities of magnificent beauty, but also to the glaring atrocities of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The stark contrasts of darkness and light, evil and goodness, hatred and mercy moved us to tears as we prayed for the million plus people slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis.

The trip included visiting the monastery founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe; participating in the celebration of Mass at the Basilica of the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy; celebrating the Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis in Błonia Park; praying at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa; and venerating the relics of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, one of the patrons of World Youth Day. The excursion culminated with the closing prayer vigil and Mass at Campus Misericordia where the Holy Father proclaimed, “Let us remember this encounter, let us preserve the memory of the presence of God and his word, and let us listen once more to the voice of Jesus as he calls us by name.”

This article appeared in the August 11th edition of The Florida Catholic, Diocese of Orlando issue. 

#PopeInUS Reflection

imageThroughout much of last week, Catholics from across the country flocked to Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia to welcome the Holy Father to our beloved nation. While many were fortunate enough to secure a ticket to attend and participate in the many liturgies celebrated by Pope Francis, others were content with simply getting a glimpse of the pope as he drove by in his modest Fiat 500 or Jeep Popemobile. For many, the Holy Father’s first-ever visit to the United States allowed them to encounter the presence of the Holy Spirit and filled them with a tremendous sense of joy and peace.

Many of the seminarians from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach were privileged to make the journey to our nation’s capital for the Papal Visit. The highlight of the trip was Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where Pope Francis canonized Junípero Serra. Prior to the celebration of the Eucharist, the Holy Father entered the basilica and greeted the many seminarians and religious brothers and sisters who were patiently awaiting his arrival.

When he walked through the front doors, the usually tranquil worship space erupted into a thunderous roar of excitement. As Pope Francis approached our position towards the front of the basilica, the seminarians from St. Vincent de Paul, myself included, jumped up onto the pews to get a glimpse of our chief shepherd. The successor of Peter was in our midst, something none of us will ever forget.

Throughout his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires and now as Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis has authentically lived the Gospel. By his words and actions during his time in the United States, he has invited us to do the same. Each of us are called to radically live out the Gospel message and to be authentic witnesses to the love and compassion of Christ in the world. Personally, the Holy Father challenges me tremendously to look at my own life and ask the important questions. Do I live my life in such a way that directs others to Christ? When I encounter strangers on the street, does my interaction with them lead them to an experience of the loving presence of God in their lives? Do I bring the joy of the Gospel to all those I meet during the day?

Throughout the next several weeks, let us pray that the Holy Father’s visit to the United States continue to have a lasting impact on our spiritual lives. May his words and example continue to stir within our hearts a desire to grow closer to the Lord.

Why I March

Life_GiftSome 27 years ago, a 35-year-old mother of three with her fourth child on the way arrived at her doctor’s office for one of her prenatal visits. The pregnancy was going smoothly and she was looking forward to hearing an update on how things were progressing with the little guy forming within her. It was a regular visit to the doctor, or so she thought.

Following his examination, the doctor informed this expectant mother that there was something wrong. Based on his medical observations, he believed this mother’s son would have a whole slew of medical issues. He believed her child would be born severely deformed and suffering from mental incapacity. It was in her best interests and her baby’s, therefore, that he recommended she go forward with an abortion.

Absolutely crushed by this news, the young mother drove home with a stream of tears running down her face. When her husband got home that afternoon, she informed him of what the doctor had to say. Devastated by the news, the husband consoled his sobbing wife. As they talked about the situation, the two parents decided that they would welcome whatever gift God offered them.

In March 1988, their fourth child was born a healthy baby boy. The only deformity was a slight hole on their son’s ear, which closed up within days after being born. Today, this child whose life could have easily been ended because of misguided observations of a doctor is studying to be a Catholic priest. That now-mother-of-four is none other than my very own mother.

Some people often ask me why I care so much about prolife issues, specifically abortion. I think the answer is pretty clear, don’t you? I speak out against abortion because I am a survivor. Imagine what would have happened had my parents not had such a strong faith that God was going to provide for them. Imagine if my parents would have followed the doctor’s recommendations and gone through with the procedure.

Abortion closes us off to the possibility of life and prevents us from welcoming God’s gift. Therefore, in the words of the great St. John Paul II, we must “stand up for life!” We must “never tire of firmly speaking out in defense of life from its conception” and cannot be “deterred from the commitment to defend the dignity of every human person with courageous determination.”

This is why I march! This is why I speak out against abortion. I am a survivor and I thank God every day for the parents that he gave to me. Without their faith and their determination that God would provide, I would not be here today. Thank God they were open to the possibility of life!

St. Luke Recovery Walk

On Saturday, October 18th, St. John Vianney College Seminary hosted the 4th Annual Recovery Walk for the St. Luke’s Center, an addiction recovery ministry of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Miami. The recovery walk helps increase awareness within the community about the good work being carried out at the St. Luke’s Center. It also provides the opportunity to secure some financial assistance to the center so that this work can continue.

Together with several other members of the community, the seminarians at St. John Vianney were able to help raise over $21,000 for St. Luke’s Center. We could not have done this well without your support. A special thanks to all of those who offered their prayers and financial support to my fundraising efforts for the Recovery Walk. Together, you and I raised $546 for St. Luke’s Center.

Below are a couple of pictures from the Recovery Walk. More images are available on the St. John Vianney College Seminary website and on the Facebook page for Catholic Charities of Miami.

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Photo Credit: St. John Vianney College Seminary

 

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 Photo Credit: Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami

Thanks again for all your support!

St. Luke’s Recovery Walk

Every year, St. John Vianney College Seminary hosts the St. Luke’s Recovery Walk to benefit the St. Luke’s Center, a service of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Miami. Each seminarian studying at St. John Vianney participates in the walk, to do our part to help our brothers and sisters facing addiction.

Addicts face an uphill battle in their efforts to achieve sobriety. Many suffer “co-occuring disorders” – medical conditions like mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, trauma/abuse, and genetic makeups that make them vulnerable to addiction. Funding sources cover treatment and lodging costs but they don’t cover medications to address patients’ underlying conditions. Without mental stability they are highly likely to relapse.

St. Luke’s also provides “extras” not covered by grants/funders – like clothing, bus passes, and gas cards so patients can seek jobs. Employment is the cornerstone of self-reliance so it is important to empower patients to rejoin the workforce.

Addicts are ordinary people with children, jobs, and families who love them. Their addictions take a toll on loved ones causing alienation and distress. The lucky ones get help. Others die from overdoses, or suffer debilitating illnesses caused by the substances they consume.

THAT’s why we need YOU!

Your gifts empower addicts to get on the road to long-term sobriety.

Please DONATE. No amount is too big or too small.

For more information or to donate, please click on the banner below:

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Seminary Life: New Year

St._John_Vianney_Seminary_DSC02746On Thursday, August 7th, I, along with approximately 35 other young men, arrived at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami for the New Student Experience, a two-week new student orientation of sorts. It has been an incredible journey thus far, one in which all of the new men have begun to become acclimated with the seminary and what will be our routine for the next year.

Most of our time over the last two weeks has been spent in conferences and academic sessions, covering information on the mission of St. John’s. Primarily, the seminary is here to form us into better men so that we are able to become who God has called us to be. Our time in seminary is all about deepening our relationship with God so that we are then able to recognize the presence of Christ in others.

In order to help facilitate our ability to recognize Christ’s presence in our lives, the seminary provides a three-day retreat for the new men. This year, Monsignor John Cippel from the Diocese of St. Petersburg directed the retreat. The retreat centered around deepening our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. As we are commanded by Christ in the scriptures, love the Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves (Mt 22: 37-38; Mk 12: 29-31; Lk 10: 27; Jn 13: 34; Dt 6: 4-5). We can only love God, others, and ourselves when we recognize the love that God has for us. Something that all of us can reflect on in the coming months.

This morning, we began classes for the semester. My course load is pretty full for the fall semester with six classes: Fundamental Ethics, Social Ethics, Greek World, Psalms in the Liturgy, Ministerial Methods, and Pre-Theology Seminar I. Please pray for all of the seminarians, that we may grow in knowledge throughout this academic year. 

St. John Vianney, pray for us.

5 Essentials for Parish Communications

communicateAs the Coordinator of Stewardship and Development at a parish in Florida, part of my job responsibilities include maintaining all of the parish’s communications. In that role, I have developed a basic understanding of what works and what doesn’t work. So, some thoughts…

First of all, there is no doubt that social media has revolutionized the way the world communicates. In many ways, it is the printing press of our generation. Those of us who utilize the various social networking sites are fortunate enough to be the founding fathers (and mothers) of something that will continue to transform our interactions with the culture. In other words, social media is not just a fad; it’s here for good!

With that in mind, however, it’s also important for us to realize as a Church that not everyone is comfortable in using this new medium. Therefore, parishes and Catholic organizations cannot simply abandon traditional communication efforts. Sorry to say it folks, but the parish bulletin isn’t going anywhere just yet.

So, what’s a parish to do? How is a parish to communicate its message in this 21st century world?

Below is a list of 5 simple things parishes (and any Catholic organization) should be doing in the area of communications to reach out to their parishioners and the larger community.

1. Create a dynamic and user-friendly Website.

Yes, believe it or not, there are parishes out there that still do not have a website—or, that have a website that was last updated back when I was in diapers. To be honest, there is no excuse for it. Nowadays, the parish’s website provides people with that ever-important, first impression. If the website provides recently updated information, highlights pictures of parish events/ministries, and looks halfway decent from a design standpoint, there’s a good chance it’ll attract people to give your community a shot.

There are so many great and affordable resources available out there that can assist parishes with getting a website setup or revamping a website that needs a facelift. Pastors might check out CatholicWeb, eCatholic Websites, or Catholic Web Services—to name a few. All of these companies do great work for an affordable price tag.

2. Develop a presence on Social Media.

Within the last couple of years, parishes and dioceses around the country have begun placing a greater emphasis on the role of social media in their communications. Setting up an account on Facebook and/or Twitter is simple—all you need is an email address, an idea for a username, a password, and a picture or two. Once the pastor or parish employee gets the initial setup completed, you can start tweeting or updating your Facebook status.

Managing social media accounts can seem like quite a daunting task. Many times, parishes lack the resources to put information together and send it out on a regular basis. However, spending an hour or two each week planning a strategy for the parish’s social networking channels can go a long way. Ask the pastor if there are any particular messages he wants to highlight during the week. Ask other staff members—youth ministers, pastoral outreach coordinators, etc.—if they have something they want to advertise. Then, develop a schedule for the social media posts. Thankfully, there are services available on the internet (HootSuite, for example) that can help with the scheduling of posts…you put in information, set the date and time you want it to go out, and you’re done.

At this point, I must also note that there is one very important aspect to keep in mind when communicating via social networks. In recent years as the importance of social media has increased, many dioceses around the country have begun developing specific social media policies that all parish employees and some volunteers are required to follow. These are in place for your protection. It’s always best to check with the communications office at your local diocese for information on establishing a presence on social media. They also might be able to provide some best practices. Why reinvent the wheel?

3. Send out Email Newsletters to parishioners each week.

According to a 2012 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), “more than eight in ten Catholics (83 percent) send email at least occasionally.” Email is, by far, still the most preferred method of communication. With this in mind, parishes should be utilizing this important medium to reach out to and engage with parishioners.

When collecting information on a parish registration form, be sure to include a space for a family email address. A parish might also consider conducting a census once every few years to gather the most current information for all parish families.

Parishes should very much consider investing in online email marketing systems. These services help make designing and sending emails to parishioners relatively simple. Import your parish’s logo, add information, and send—it really is that easy. Services like Flock Note, MailChimp, and Constant Contact provide additional services that may also be useful to the parish. The rates for these services vary and depend on the number of email addresses the parish imports. Parishes can also link social media accounts to these services; this then allows the emails to be shared across all your social networks.

4. Develop a routine of issuing Press Releases.

Often times, people within the larger community are provided very little information about upcoming events at your parish. In order to increase exposure for events, it should be common practice to send out press releases to your local papers, television stations, and radio stations.

Most media outlets have community calendar sections that allow organizations to submit press releases with information on upcoming events. Find the contact and deadline information for submitting details. Compile that information into a document for future usage.

Depending on the submission deadlines for the different media outlets, parishes may need to submit press releases a couple of weeks in advance. If that’s the case, looking ahead and determining a schedule for press releases is crucial. You do not want to be late in advertising for an event.

Press releases should generally be sent out by one person in the parish office. This will help prevent confusion and allow for control of the message coming out from the parish. Be sure to reiterate to the ministries and groups active within your parish that this service is available to them. Encourage them to go through the office when submitting information on events to local papers. Many times, newspaper editors are more inclined to place information in their next issues if that information is coming from the parish itself.

5. Develop a Communications Plan.

One of the most important documents a parish will produce is a communications plan. This plan should include demographic information about the parish and about the surrounding community in order to assist the pastor and the parish staff in developing strategies for communications. It’s important to examine the parish’s current communication efforts and consider some ways where improvements can be made.

After conducting some initial research, develop some communications goals and objectives for the parish for the year. Then, develop some key strategies that will help the parish achieve the desired outcomes.

The communications plan should also include information on branding for the parish. Information about official organization logos—color, typeface, etc.—should be included. If the official logo is to be utilized by various ministries associated with the parish, details should be provided about how to adjust the logo for each ministry.

The communications plan is also a good place to include diocesan policies for social media usage for parish employees and volunteers. It might also be beneficial for parishes to include an acknowledgement form for employees and volunteers to sign, which basically states they agree to follow the guidelines included in the parish communications plan.

Wrapping Up…

I hope these five suggestions are helpful. I, by no means, claim to have all of the answers for communications at the parish level. These are just some of the observations I have made along the way. If you want to add anything, feel free to comment below. I’m always open to suggestions. If there is something mentioned above that you would like more information on, please do not hesitate to comment below or email me: [email protected]