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The Faithful Provide Valuable Feedback for Courageously Living the Gospel

Parish leaders are meeting throughout the month of February to review the results of a survey that provides insight into how they are doing at making disciples.

Last Fall, 30 parishes in the Diocese of St. Petersburg participated in the survey called “Disciple Maker Index,” which was developed by the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI).

CLI has collected and analyzed more than 100,000 surveys nationwide and has been able to demonstrate what impacts a church’s ability to make disciples, which is the mission of the Church that Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 28:19, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

“The purpose of the Disciple Maker Index is to provide a tool that will help us equip and call forth disciple-makers – people who bring others to know Jesus,” said CLI facilitator Deacon John DiTaranto.

For example, the survey asks how often someone has shared their faith story, invited someone to Mass, prayed with someone and recommended their parish to someone.

The survey points out strengths and weaknesses and provides one source of direction as parishes decide what strategies they will implement to achieve the goals for Courageously Living the Gospel. Some parishes, such as St. Lawrence in Tampa, have also arranged listening sessions for additional insights.

“All of this input is important so that we are not making plans in a vacuum,” said Neil Kennedy, who is leading the Courageously Living the Gospel initiative at St. Lawrence.

The survey is one way the Diocese of St. Petersburg is spreading awareness for Courageously Live the Gospel and the call it represents for each baptized Catholic.

“This is reaching into the hearts of our parishioners in a personal way,” said Mylene Taylor, Our Lady of Grace Parish Youth Minister.

In addition to learning how to interpret the survey data, parish leaders are reflecting on what Jesus is calling them to do in response to the survey results and how they will help parishioners grow in their spiritual journey despite challenges that may cause them to become discouraged.

Attendees are also learning the steps for creating a Parish Action Plan and ways to communicate with clarity.

The goals for Courageously Living the Gospel are a response to feedback from listening sessions with Bishop Gregory Parkes in 2017. The three parish goals are:

  • One hundred percent of parishes will establish and/or enhance youth ministry opportunities by July 1, 2020.
  • Every parish will equip parishioners as Missionary Disciples who are inspired to invite and accompany others by Pentecost 2020
  • All parishes will enhance or establish family ministries to respond to the diverse needs of families by Pentecost 2020.

All parishes have been offered training and support from Catholic Leadership Institute and the Diocese of St. Petersburg Pastoral Center. Parish teams have been formed to research their specific needs and to develop a plan for alignment with Courageously Living the Gospel. Parish Action Plans are due to Bishop Parkes by March 1, 2019.


Married Couples Renew their Sacramental Love

Over 280 couples from 57 parishes in the Diocese of St. Petersburg celebrated milestone anniversaries by renewing their vows and receiving a special blessing on Feb. 10 at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg.

Paul and Janet Friederich of St. Patrick Parish in Largo have attended the Marriage Jubilee Mass 11 times. They attended for their silver and golden anniversaries plus 9 other times. This year they are celebrating their 60th Wedding Anniversary.

“Each year we look forward to the Marriage Jubilee Mass because it is so edifying celebrating with hundreds of dedicated married couples who value their marriage commitment as we do, for life,” said Janet.

“Attending this special Mass continues to keep us fully aware of our covenant with God and thankful for His many blessings, including family – our six children, their spouses and our five grandchildren,” added Paul.

During the Mass, couples seek the Lord’s assistance to stay faithful and committed to their marriage covenant. They renew their commitment through this prayer:

“Blessed are you, Lord, for in the good and the bad times of our life you have stood lovingly by our side. Help us, we pray, to remain faithful in our love for one another so that we may be true witnesses to the covenant you have made with humankind.”

The Marriage Jubilee Mass is for husbands and wives who are celebrating 25, 50 or more years of marriage. One couple was celebrating 76 years of marriage.

The Mass was celebrated by the Vicar General of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Monsignor Robert Morris.

To view photos, click here. To view live stream, click here.

Catholic Foundation Gala Celebrates the Gift of Catholic Education


Sold Out Event Raised Over $350,000 for Tuition Assistance

More than 600 individuals representing parishes, schools and local businesses gathered together at the Hilton Downtown Tampa on February 2 for the Catholic Foundation’s 15th Annual Gala in support of Catholic education and tuition assistance programs.

“It is our privilege to help hundreds of students afford a Catholic school education. To them, their families, and their schools, this is extremely important. By your presence here tonight, all of you share in that same privilege,” said Chris Schellman, President of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic Foundation.

One of the major highlights of the Gala was an essay read by 8th grader, Emily Vasti, who spoke about how her faith and her St. John Vianney Catholic School community helped her through a very difficult time, the sudden death of her mother. She won the essay contest, “What A Catholic School Education Means To Me,” sponsored by Saint Leo University and received a $10,000 scholarship to attend the high school of her choice, which she announced will be St. Petersburg Catholic High School.

Also, Saint Leo University presented Owen Hill of Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School with a full tuition scholarship valued at $100,000.

Bishop Gregory Parkes spoke to the large group about what a Catholic education means to our Church.

“Our Catholic schools present an evangelizing environment for all who are involved from administration and staff to families.  They are places in which our diocesan vision, Courageously Living the Gospel thrive. Through our schools, we can see our faith in action, and we can live the Gospel,” said Bishop Parkes

Another highlight of the evening was the keynote address by businessman and philanthropist, Richard Gonzmart, fourth-generation caretaker of the Columbia group, which includes the Historic Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Ulele and Goody Goody. He spoke about the impact Catholic education has had on his life and family.

The Catholic Foundation has been serving the people of God in the Diocese of St. Petersburg since its inception in 1997. Their goal is to work with dedicated parishioners, community leaders, and businesses to ensure the future prosperity of the Catholic Church by secure management of assets for charitable gift annuities, grants, endowments and gifts.

The Gala, made possible in part by Presenting Sponsor BayCare Health System, included:

  • Monsignor Robert Gibbons, pastor of St. Paul Parish in St. Petersburg as the master of ceremonies
  • Art showcase featuring original work from all primary Catholic schools, grades K through 8
  • Silver and Gold VIP reception for special sponsorship levels
  • Top notch dinner
  • Live auction
  • 50-50 raffle

To learn more visit:

Florida Bishops Unite to Rally Pro-Life Floridians

The bishops of Florida join with Catholics and others of goodwill in reacting in horror and disgust to the recently passed law in New York State that legalizes abortion essentially for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy and removes any protection for children born alive after abortion. Sadly, similar bills were proposed in Virginia and elsewhere. As Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, stated, “This legislation is evil, pure and simple.”

The status of abortion in Florida
Floridians can take some comfort in knowing that in regards to our state’s respect for children in the womb, Florida is not New York. Florida’s laws, as well as its present political realities, are substantially different than in the state of New York. With the current make-up of our legislature and leadership in the Florida House, Senate and governor’s office, a New York-type abortion bill stands no chance of passage in the Sunshine State in the near future.

Florida faces its own challenges in prohibiting or limiting abortion. Notwithstanding those challenges, numerous laws have been passed in Florida including:

  • Requiring notification of a parent when a minor seeks an abortion (2005)
  • Requiring the abortion provider to offer the mother the option to view an ultrasound image of her unborn child (2011)
  • Requiring any infant born alive during an abortion to be transported to the nearest emergency medical facility for immediate treatment (2013)
  • Prohibiting abortion if required testing determines the unborn child is viable outside the womb, with exceptions for life and irreversible physical impairment of the mother (2014)
  • Allowing criminal prosecution if a person commits any crime that causes the death of, or bodily injury to, an unborn child (2014)
  • Requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges or the facility have a transfer agreement with a hospital within 30 minutes by emergency vehicle (2016)
  • Securing state funding for pregnancy support services (2005 and ongoing) and including Florida Pregnancy Care Network to Florida statues (2018)

Since 1969, the bishops of Florida, through the Conference, have been a consistent voice for human life and have actively engaged the Florida legislature to promote passage of these life-saving bills. The bishops will continue to be strong advocates for the passage of laws that protect and defend unborn babies and their mothers and fathers.

Much work still needs to be done
As noted above, Florida faces unique challenges in regulating and restricting abortion. As a result of an interpretation by the Florida Supreme Court, the privacy clause in our state constitution was found to provide a broader right to abortion than the U.S. Constitution. Consequently, unjust rulings have kept good laws from going into effect that seek to limit the harm of abortion. Laws blocked by our courts include requiring a 24-hour reflection period prior to abortion, which is still pending appeal, and parental consent prior to a minor’s abortion.

Even if Roe v. Wade was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion could remain legal in our state due to the Florida Supreme Court’s broad interpretation of Florida’s privacy clause. “We advocate for the reconsideration of these decisions, and we remain hopeful that the courts will ultimately protect women in Florida from the predatory practices of the abortion industry,” said the bishops in their Statement on the 46th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, January 22, 2019.

A new resource on Florida’s privacy clause is available in English and Spanish.

Please reach out to your lawmakers
Your lawmakers need to know where their constituents stand on this critical issue. Please send a message urging both your state and federal lawmakers against ever enacting legislation similar to the immoral New York State law. You may utilize our advocacy network to assist with sending your message.

Pray for an end to abortion
Please pray for our elected and appointed leaders. Pray especially for those that support and celebrate abortion, that their eyes will be opened to the atrocity of killing an innocent human life in a mother’s womb. Pray that those who are pro-life and oppose abortion are reassured and strengthened in their convictions. Pray that all may recognize that devaluing the most innocent and vulnerable life leads to a coarseness and callousness towards one another and all life. And, pray that we have the strength to continue to fight until the atrocity of abortion is brought to an end.


Return to the Lord with All Your Heart

The Holy Season of Lent will be observed starting March 6, Ash Wednesday and continues until the Easter Triduum—from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday.

During Lent, we are asked to devote ourselves to seeking the Lord in prayer, service and charity, and sacrifice through fasting. For ideas on celebrating Lent as a family, click here.

Many know of the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, but we are also called to practice self-discipline and fast in other ways throughout the season.

In Lent, the baptized are called to renew their baptismal commitment as others prepare to be baptized through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a period of learning and discernment for individuals who have declared their desire to become Catholics.

The key to fruitful observance of these practices is to recognize their link to baptismal renewal. We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ. We recall those waters in which we were baptized into Christ’s death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ.

Catholics are also encouraged to make going to confession a significant part of their spiritual lives during Lent.  The U.S. Bishops’ statement, “God’s Gift of Forgiveness: The Pastoral Exhortation on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation” can be distributed and shared in parishes.  Dioceses are encouraged to make the sacrament available often during Lent and to use these resources to promote participation.  There are also have resources to help individuals who have not been to confession in a while “rediscover” the sacrament.

Text from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bishop Gregory Parkes Designates March 3 as Safe Haven Sunday


Seeks to Educate Community About the Harmful Effects of Pornography

On Sunday, March 3, parishes in the Diocese of St. Petersburg will set aside time to address the pervasive problem of pornography and its devastating effects on marriages and families. The goal is to make each home a safe haven from pornography.

“Pornography is detrimental to both the physical and spiritual life of each individual and the greater community. The use of pornography by anyone in the home deprives the home of its role as a safe-haven and has negative effects throughout a family’s life and across generations,” said Bishop Gregory Parkes.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg is partnering with Covenant Eyes, a company committed to creating faith-based resources that foster the virtue of chastity and the tools to overcome pornography use and addiction. They will offer resources, available in English and Spanish, that are focused on education and prevention, such as practical tips to create safer digital environments.

It is also hoped that the resources provided on Safe Haven Sunday will both encourage and teach all individuals and families dealing with the effects of pornography that loving support is available.

The idea for Safe Haven Sunday was inspired by the U.S. Bishop’s November 2015 statement, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography” and the theme is Equipping the Family, Safeguarding Children.

Further resources to combat pornography, including a list of Catholic counselors who specialize in helping people recover from this addiction can be found at

Safe Haven Sunday is part of Freedom From Pornography, an initiative of the Diocese of St. Petersburg that started in 2016  to combat the growing problem of pornography that has harmed so many individuals and families because of its distorted view of the human person and sexuality.  Since then, educational events and training programs have been held to equip the faithful to protect themselves and seek assistance and healing.

Bishop Parkes Writes Letter to the Faithful about Protecting Human Rights of Unborn Children


Click here to view the English PDF.
Spanish PDF

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Like many of you, I have been sickened at the legislation that was recently passed in New York, and proposed legislation debated in Virginia.  In New York State, The Reproductive Health Act, as it is called, makes it legal to perform an abortion up until the time of birth under certain circumstances.  In my opinion, this can be called nothing less than infanticide or murder.

The Catholic Church has always promoted the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.  I call on all people of good will to join us in our efforts.  It should be a universal belief on the part of society that each life is precious and is a gift from God.  Then, the right to life will be a fundamental human right that will be protected.  I firmly believe that if society fails to protect life at its most innocent and vulnerable stage in the womb, then what guarantee is there that life will be respected and protected at any stage?

I was recently asked what can be done to address this serious matter which threatens the unborn.  I believe that we need to use our right to vote to elect legislators who believe in the sanctity of life and will promote legislation to protect life, not destroy it.  It is incumbent on each of us to know where a candidate for office stands on life issues before casting a vote for them.  Among the many issues we may consider before voting, certainly life issues must be at the top of the list.

In addition, I believe that we need to advocate for the lives of the unborn whenever possible.  I urge you to participate in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. or the Florida March for Life in St. Augustine, support the many Pregnancy Centers throughout our diocese, and contact lawmakers to let them  know that you stand for life and demand the same of them.

Finally, never underestimate the power of prayer to change minds and hearts.  May Mary, Mother of All Life, help us to respect human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.  Amen.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Gregory Parkes

Bishop of St. Petersburg


Diocese of St. Petersburg Receives National Award from Catholic Relief Services

Sabrina Burton Schultz, Catholic Relief Services’ Diocesan Director for the Diocese of St. Petersburg in Florida is the recipient of the 2019 CRS Rice Bowl award. Schultz is being recognized for her efforts to increase local involvement and generate new funds through CRS Rice Bowl.

“This award is actually for the Diocesan Office of Life, Justice and Advocacy.  This award demonstrates that the Capacity Building Grant that we received from CRS really has an impact. Having Megan Buckler focus more efforts on Rice Bowl and the work of CRS has made all of the difference. It is truly a team effort, with Diane Montemurro supporting all of our Life, Justice and Advocacy efforts,” said Burton Schultz.

Nominations for this national award are collected from dioceses across the country. The award was presented at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, February 2, 2019.

“Sabrina is a dedicated professional and passionate individual that teaches and promotes Catholic social teaching and the need to advocate for social justice,” says Vivi Iglesias, the CRS Relationship Manager responsible for Florida dioceses. “She is able to influence Catholics to respond to the call to end global poverty.”

Thanks to Schultz’s efforts to mobilize Catholics within St. Petersburg, diocesan donations to CRS Rice Bowl—CRS’ annual Lenten program—doubled to nearly $24,000 between 2011 and 2016. Donations continued to grow in subsequent years with more than $40,000 raised in 2018. Because of Shultz’s outreach efforts, 72% of Catholic parishes and 50% of Catholic schools in the diocese participate in CRS Rice Bowl.

Schultz’s commitment to Catholic Relief Services doesn’t end with CRS Rice Bowl. She has been instrumental in launching the Parish Ambassador Corps, CRS’ local parish-based volunteer program, in her diocese. She has also worked on a number of CRS’ advocacy priorities.

CRS Rice Bowl is CRS’ Lenten faith-in-action program, building on the spiritual pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to serve those most in need around the world. Funds raised through the program support CRS’ lifesaving work more than 40 countries every year, and help local dioceses alleviate hunger and homelessness.

CRS Rice Bowl materials are designed for families, parishes, educators, universities and dioceses. They are available in print, on the web, and through the mobile app, and in both English and Spanish.

Printed materials can be ordered for groups of 25 or more for free. Call 800-222-0025 or visit to place an order.

Follow CRS Rice Bowl on Twitter @CRSRiceBowl, join the CRS Rice Bowl group on Facebook and download the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.

To learn more about CRS Rice Bowl, visit

Editors, Reporters and Bloggers:

For photos, FAQs, social media memes, web banners, and bios please visit the CRS Rice Bowl Media Kit online.

Parishes Continue Planning Process for Courageously Living the Gospel

More than 100 representatives from parishes across the Diocese of St. Petersburg gathered for training workshops on January 15 & 16 to gain more insight into developing Parish Action Plans that align to Courageously Living the Gospel.

“The workshop was a helpful experience – especially hearing about other parish’s challenges and how they are brainstorming to overcome them. I felt the workshop bolstered my resolve to use this process to really look at ways for St. Matthew to grow in a variety of ways,” said Sarah Varga, who attended the training.

Bishop Gregory Parkes is asking all parishes to research the specific needs of their community and then develop a set of strategies to help them enhance or establish their family and youth ministries and equip parishioners as missionary disciples. These strategies, plus the desired outcomes, timelines and point persons, are articulated in Parish Action Plans that are due to Bishop Parkes by March 1.

Barbara Eckert of Catholic Leadership Institute facilitated the training and she also reviewed the priorities of the vision that apply to all Catholics: proclaim the Good News, welcome and accompany others on their faith journey and grow in relationship to Jesus and others through a spirit of encounter.

“The vision is to keep Christ with us and to get everyone involved and engaged. It will take courage but as Bishop Parkes has stated, ‘Courageously Living the Gospel is not about doing what is easy. It’s about doing what we need to do to fulfill our mission as a Church,’” said Eckert.

The following Pastoral Center employees were available to provide consultation and continue to be available for support on specific goal areas:

Brian Lemoi, Department of Evangelization, Formation, Youth and Family Life
Diane Kledzik, Office of Marriage and Family Life
Ryan Phelan, Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry
Carlos Flores, Office of Multicultural Ministry

Here are the handouts that were distributed at the workshops in January.

Examples of a Set a Strategies

PowerPoint – January Training

Parish Action Plan Template – Youth Ministry

Parish Action Plan Template – Family Ministry

Parish Action Plan Template – Missionary Disciples

For more information, visit

Florida Catholic Conference Celebrates 50 Years as a Consistent Voice for Life, Dignity and the Common Good

The Florida Catholic Conference (FCC) was established on February 1, 1969, as an agency of the Catholic bishops of Florida. The five founding bishops served the four dioceses comprising the Province of Miami at the time: Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll of Miami; Bishop Paul F. Tanner of St. Augustine; Bishop William D. Borders of Orlando; Bishop Charles B. McLaughlin of St. Petersburg; and Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick of Miami. As the dioceses of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Palm Beach and Venice were established, their respective bishops joined the FCC board of directors. Thomas A. Horkan, Jr., an attorney from Miami, was appointed the FCC’s first executive director and established the office in Tallahassee, Florida’s capital city.

In the mid to late 1960s, Catholic conferences were being established across the country. Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, in his doctoral dissertation on the State Catholic Conference, stated that in establishing conferences, the Church is putting into practice three “very basic teachings of Vatican Council II…cooperation between bishops of a region, participation of laity in the Mission of the Church and involvement of the Church in the community.”

Since its founding, the FCC has taken an active and cooperative role in the health, education and welfare of the people of Florida. Working with state and federal elected and appointed officials, as well as other stakeholders, the FCC has contributed to many policy areas, including social concerns, such as migrants, housing, health care and criminal justice reform; educational matters, including parochial and public schools; life issues, including abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty; and in matters affecting human sexuality, marriage and the family unit.

For five decades, a nonpartisan voice on behalf of the bishops of Florida has served as a bridge between the ever-widening political divide. Positions on issues of concern are determined by analyzing the moral dimension of public policies based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Church. Conference positions do not parallel party platforms or serve to support or oppose elected leaders or candidates. By consistently proclaiming the sanctity of life, protecting the dignity of the human person and promoting the common good, the bishops and staff of the Conference have sought to lead decision-makers to just solutions that allow all Floridians to flourish.

On March 19, 2012, the bishops established the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB), a new corporation, under which policy and advocacy activities related to state and federal legislation and agencies of government continue to be carried out. The earlier established FCC continues to facilitate and provide an easily accessible channel of communication by which the bishops may undertake and direct joint pastoral, educational and social welfare projects. The archbishop and bishops of the seven dioceses in Florida constitute the board of directors of both entities.