The first-ever Family Faith Fest on Oct. 27 with over 10,000 participants was an opportunity to celebrate the diocesan golden anniversary as one Family of God. It was also a day of great music, games, exhibits and cultural experiences. Most importantly, the Fest was a moment to encounter our Lord Jesus Christ in a powerful way.
Many at the Fest felt this emotional connection, including Gretchen Robens, a parishioner of St. Stephen Parish, who attended the event at the Florida State Fairgrounds with her son and grandchildren. While there, she spent time at Faith Village praying before the Holy Eucharist at Adoration.
“I felt like there was a skylight that the bishop opened for grace. You felt like you were at Fatima or Lourdes or something except you were right here and I felt like I should pray for everything and everybody, anything that was on my heart. I was just on fire. It’s a wonderful experience and it’s affecting everybody who is here,” said Robens.
However, just four days before the Fest, the event was in jeopardy because of wet ground conditions discovered at the original venue that prevented the set-up of equipment needed for the two stages and tents. Over the next few days, the Fest Planning Committee, chaired by Meegan Wright and John Morris, and assisted by event vendors at The Link, worked non-stop to find a new venue, resolve hundreds of logistical details and announce the venue change.
During the homily at the Fest Mass, Bishop Gregory Parkes acknowledged that the days leading up the Fest were a bit dark as uncertainty about the venue loomed. However, he believes the patron saint of the Diocese, who is also the patron of desperate causes, St. Jude, interceded and made the event not only possible but extraordinary in every way.
“God always provides for his people and he provided this place for us to gather today as a diocesan family as brothers and sisters, believers in Jesus Christ, to celebrate this day. God’s plan is not always our plan. His plan is very different often from what our plan might be. But He knows what is best for us. I have faith and trust that this is where we were meant to be on this day,” said Bishop Parkes.
October 27 was chosen as the day for Family Faith Fest because it’s the day before the Feast of St. Jude and the Mass, celebrated on a 60-foot stage flanked by two large video screens, was the Memorial Mass for St. Jude. Bishop Parkes was the principal celebrant and there were three honored concelebrants Bishop Robert Lynch, Monsignor Robert Morris, Vicar General and Father Joseph Waters, Judicial Vicar. There were also 47 priests who concelebrated the Mass and six seminarians who served as altar servers. The Mass began with a prelude of the song, “Joshua,” which is the theme song of the new diocesan vision, Courageously Living the Gospel. The music ministers were the band from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish led by Eric Hoegstrom.
The participants of the outdoor Mass sat on blankets, camping chairs or on the ground. Instead of traditional Communion lines, the Eucharist was distributed at various locations throughout the grounds where the Ministers of Holy Communion could find space. They were escorted by members of the Knights of Columbus holding yellow and white umbrellas to help thousands of people find their way to receive Communion or a blessing.
Many in attendance said the Mass was the highlight of the day.
“My favorite part of the day was seeing all the faithful Catholics going to Communion with all the priests under umbrellas to be able to find them in the crowd. It was beautiful to see so many people receiving the Eucharist at one time,” said Meagan Eastman, who is a leader with USF Catholic Campus Ministry.
Friends Amanda, 16, and David, 15, from Brooksville attended the Family Faith Fest with Amanda’s parents.
“I heard it was going to be a lot of fun and there’s a lot of good Christian music here, especially Jeremy Camp,” said Amanda.
Asked about his favorite part, David said, “I think it’s cool because there’s a lot of diversity.”
There were four other nationally known performers at the Fest: Colton Dixon, Ivan Diaz, ValLimar Jansen and Sarah Hart. Plus, there were cultural performances by the Vietnamese, Hispanic, Filipino, Koreans and Polish communities of the Diocese.
Also, there was a performance by two diocesan youth choirs of 35 students each from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus counties. The students sang Christian songs such as “Go Make a Difference” and “Amazing Grace.” They also sang a rendition of “Joshua” that included an acapella of the lyrics “Be strong and courageous.”
Around 150 volunteers helped with staffing the midway games, arts & crafts, hospitality, and general support. They also led prayers in our Faith Village. Plus, the 14 sponsors and six underwriters listed below enabled the event to be free for all!
BayCare Health System
CIS –Critical Intervention Services
Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine
Spirit FM 90.5
Tampa Bay Times
Video Contest: Shalom Media
Rising Tide Initiative
Letter Concepts, Inc.
Rolling Thunder/Tampa Bay Lightning
Saint Leo University
Knights of Columbus
Chick-fil-A Tampa Bay
Our Sunday Visitor
Dunedin Blue Jays
St. Petersburg Concessions
Tampa Bay Rays