The Blessed Blog

News, photos and stories from St. John XXIII Catholic Church.

Oct. 4th, 2015 | The 23rd Times

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You Are Not Alone


By: Joanne Halt & Danielle Koleniak

When many think of Respect Life Month, the first thing that comes to mind is abortion. While abortion is a huge issue that has also recently gained even more media attention, the value of life stretches far beyond a baby in the womb. Over the month of October, a team of volunteers are providing opportunities to learn, pray and generate change in awareness sessions titled “You Are Not Alone.” The sessions focus on four respect life issues- Mental Illness, Crisis Pregnancy, Human Trafficking and Homelessness.

This week, St. John XXIII Catholic Church centers in on mental illness- the topic that likely comes last to mind when thinking of ‘Respect Life,’ but to parishioners, George and Sandy Szymanski, it is part of their every day. Their youngest son, who they love dearly and glow when talking about, suffers from schizophrenia. Though this article is filled with a heartfelt yet raw story of a family, powerful statistics and resources available, it may not be suitable for young eyes.


Respect Life Month is a good time to expand our emotional bandwidth by gaining information about these vulnerable populations who truly are “our neighbors” and to say “You are not alone.” The challenge will then be, to use that information to help out in some personal way, or to help change the systems which allows injustice and neglect of our neighbor to continue.

Danielle Koleniak: For parishioners who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourselves and your family.

Sandy Szymanski: George and I are originally from Buffalo, New York. We were married 15 years when we began the process to adopt a child from Korea. We were very fortunate to get our first son, Michael in 1978. He was almost 3 years old. He’s is a joy! Then, we later decided to get a brother for Michael. We got John when he was 5 years old. He was being raised by his grandmother after his birth mother died of tuberculosis. John was quiet, but adjusted really well. He was very smart and learned English very quickly.

George Szymanski: Mike and John went in different directions with sports and interests, but they got along very well. They were so compassionate towards one another. They were just a year apart in age. People always told me they were lucky to have us, but I really believe Sandy and I are the lucky ones.

SS: We knew John was definitely the quieter of the two. His closest friend, Joe, was blind. He is all heart. He is the dream kid. We noticed in high school and college that he was having issues of not believing in himself. He really wanted to go back to Korea. He thought he would fit in more there. After graduating college, he wanted to go into the military and work in Korea. He didn’t make it through basic training and was released. He sent us a letter thanking us and saying he didn’t want to stay with us because he didn’t want to be a burden. When he came back to Buffalo, we had no clue where he was. We then found out he was staying in the city mission. He went from one extreme to the other. That’s when we really started to see signs that something was not right. After I was diagnosed with cancer, we persuaded him to move in with us to help. We knew if he we said we ‘needed him’ he would move back home. Soon after, the three of us moved to Florida.

DK: When did things begin to take a turn?

GS: He got a teaching job in Korea and was there for 11 months. It was working out well for him, but he said he just couldn’t eat the food. He told us he was coming back home because he was sick. When he came back home he was really thin. We took him to a doctor and the doctor said he could help John with his stomach, but he needed more help. That’s when we decided to Baker Act him.

SS: When he was at the Ruth Cooper Center, John agreed to stay and receive medication and treatment. He was doing well and was taken off of medication. He was fine for four months. He got another contract and work visa to go back to Korea. He was really excited about the opportunity again.

Unfortunately, on the plane ride over, the anxiety of everything brought back the voices in his head. The second he got off the plane, he bought a ticket to come back. Instead of coming home he went to a hotel in Immokalee.
GS: He was so distraught, he tried to kill himself in an incident at the hotel. The saving grace was that this happened in Collier County. The deputies there have Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), so they knew what they were facing. They talked him down and arrested him.

A few days later, we got a call that he was in jail. He was in jail for 11 months. We were only allowed to see him through a TV monitor twice a week. The only person who had contact with him was Father Bob. He was allowed to be with him. We are still so grateful for that. It was a very difficult time.

During this time I took a course with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) called “Family to Family”. I wanted to better understand my son and his mental illness. When we got involved with NAMI, it gave us hope and direction.

SS: We didn’t want to shove this under the rug, we wanted to bring it to light and share it with our church family and ask for them to pray for us. We wanted ourselves and our faith community to let go of the stigma of mental illness. John is who he is because he has a genetic disease- schizophrenia. John’s voices tell him that he is worthless, stupid and everyone hates him. There is nothing worthless or stupid about John that would cause anyone to hate him. He’s a beautiful human being who is quiet, but a very supportive, loving person.

We’re telling our story because we know there may be other families who are going through this and don’t know where to turn. Our involvement is not only to help John, but to bring awareness to help other people who are in the same boat. We have an incredible support group here at the parish for those who have a loved one with mental illness. It’s called Journey to Hope. It’s small, it’s private and it’s a group that truly offers hope.

GS: We went through all the stages of this. We went through denial, and then a long period of anger, then we accepted where our son was, which then brought us to an understanding. Now, we’re at a place of understanding and looking for solutions. We’re seeing the great need in this area for funding to help people who are in distress. It opened our eyes.

We work together as a team for each other, our son, and for the people who are out there in need of help. Human life is too important to be disregarded or disrespected. We’re called to be Christ for one another and take care of the least.

This month’s series of awareness sessions “You Are Not Alone” begins on October 6th when Kevin Lewis CEO of SalusCare at 9 A.M. and Psychiatrist Stephen Machlin, M.D. at 6 P.M. present information on treating severe, chronic mental illness and dual diagnosis in Lee County. With proper treatment, and community and family support, those with mental illness can manage their symptoms and lead functional lives. October 4th -10th is National Mental Illness Awareness Week and this year’s theme is “I Pledge to be Stigma-free.” October 6 is the National Day of Prayer for those suffering with these disabling illnesses. Besides praying for ill individuals on October 6th, we can also become informed. We hope to see you there on October 6th.

Sept. 27th, 2015 | The 23rd Times

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The Fight for Freedom

By Danielle Koleniak

There is no denying that everyone has a story about a journey in their life. It may be a story about how they achieved their dreams, or how a moment in time changed the course of their life. For St. John XXIII Parishioners and Hispanic Community Members, Ricardo and Regla Davalos, their story is about leaving behind everything and everyone they knew and loved in Cuba, all in hope for a better life in America. Ricardo doesn’t sugarcoat his journey and admits, it was a struggle where just about nothing came easy, but the result—freedom, family, and his Catholic faith—are all well worth the fight.

Danielle Koleniak: Tell us about your journey to America?
Ricardo Davalos: I’m originally from Cuba. My Journey to America could be as long as a book! When Cubans get out they don’t get out easy. I got out of Cuba when I was working as a technical assistant. They needed a worker in Peru, so the company sent me. I then left Peru for America in 1994. I mainly wanted to leave Cuba for political reasons, specifically the lack of freedom. My wife and I felt like we couldn’t breathe. It was not easy to leave because all our family was in Cuba. But, I had the opportunity and had to take it. At the same time, my wife received a tourist visa to go to the United States. That’s when she quit her job. At that time, no one received a tourist visa, it was like winning the lottery. Today we are American Citizens and we love America and our freedom.


DK: What was it like coming into America with all the changes including the language?
RD: It was a stressful situation. It was also like breaking away from your past. We had no family members here. It was really hard. I came to America with nothing but 25 cents in my pocket. I used it to call my wife, who was already in Miami. I made the call on a payphone to tell her I made it.

I came with the understanding that America is a country of opportunity, but I knew I was going to have to work very hard for it, but I had the right attitude and desire. There were times where we worked two to three jobs to get by.

It was particularly hard when my father passed away. I wasn’t allowed to go back to Cuba because I was considered “defeated” by the Cuban Government.

English was a tough language to learn, but I knew I needed to learn it for my future and for my children. I learned the language by watching the closed caption on the TV.

DK: How did your Catholic Faith change when you came to the USA?
RD: We were Catholic in Cuba, but how we practiced was very controlled. Catholic Cubans don’t go to Church too much because it will create a lot of trouble for you and your family. If you said you were Catholic, the government would give you the worst job available. If you expressed your faith, no matter what the religion, you were trouble. They would kick you out of the university because you were not representing the ‘revolution.’ Now, we can practice our faith freely. Coming to America and practicing our faith made our marriage grow and it is so strong. We’ve both cried on each other’s shoulders at time. Because of what we’ve been through, we are solid.

DK: How has the Hispanic Ministry at St. John XXIII brought a greater sense of community in you and your family’s life?
RD: The Hispanic Community is an important factor in our life. It is a place where you meet new friends within your culture with the same beliefs. Our family is more engaged in the church now, too. We volunteer with the food pantry and our kids help out with the Mass. We found family with the community. Over the years we’ve made great friendships- we don’t feel alone. We all get together and share. Every month we celebrate Mass together and have hospitality. It’s like a party. Hispanics love to party.

One thing we work so hard for now is for our kids’ future. We have a 19 year-old daughter, Rachel, who is a student at FGCU and we have a 15 year-old son, Ryan. We want them to get a good education, graduate college and be successful in life. Our kids are wonderful. We pray for them and with them every day. I’m so thankful to God for my family and our Catholic Faith.

Mark your calendars for Sunday, October 11th! After the 11:15am Mass, the Hispanic Community will serve food from their countries in Celebration of the Feast of St. John XXIII. All are welcome! There is no cost for this event, but donations are welcome!


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am writing to let you know that effective September 28th, Fr. Marcin is leaving St. John XXIII and is being reassigned.

On behalf of the entire Parish Community and myself, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Fr. Marcin for his years of service at St. John XXIII. For the past 5 years, he has effectively dedicated his life to God and the service of God’s people.

His inspirational reflections at Mass have enabled everyone to walk their path of life with Christ in a more meaningful way. And who didn’t love the special touch he had blessing the children at Mass?
We wish him well and pray that God blesses him.

Rev. Bob Tabbert

Sept. 20th, 2015 | The 23rd Times

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World Meeting of Families – Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive

By: Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

I had the pleasure of making public Pope Francis’ theme for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia: Love is our mission: the family fully alive. The theme was inspired by the words of the early Church Father, St. Irenaeus, who said that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” In like manner, the glory of men and women is their capacity to love as God loves. And rarely can that love be lived out more intimately and fruitfully than in the family.


As we begin the “heavy lifting” to prepare for the World Meeting of Families and a possible papal visit, it’s a good moment to pause and reflect.

Every moment of every day, a mother and father are teaching and guiding each other and their children, while witnessing about their love to the world beyond their home. The structure of marriage — if lived faithfully — naturally points a man and woman outward toward the world, as well as inward toward one another and their children. As Augustine once said: “To be faithful in little things is a big thing.”

Simply by living their vocation, a husband and wife become the most important living cell of society. Marriage is the foundation and guarantee of the family. And the family is the foundation and guarantee of society.

It’s within the intimate community of the family that a son knows he is loved and has value. In observing her parents, a daughter first learns basic values like loyalty, honesty and selfless concern for others, which build up the character of the wider society. Truth is always most persuasive, not when we read about it in a book or hear about it in a classroom, but when we see it incarnated in the actions of our parents.

Marriage and family safeguard our most basic sense of community, because within the family, the child grows up in a web of tightly connected rights and responsibilities to other people. It also protects our individual identity, because it surrounds the child with a mantle of privacy and personal devotion. Most of the laws concerning marriage in our culture were originally developed precisely to protect family members from the selfishness and lack of love so common in wider society.

The family is the human person’s single most important sanctuary from mistaken models of love, misguided notions of sexual relationships and destructive ideas about self‑fulfillment. All these painful things, unchecked, can be a centrifugal force pulling families apart.

Love is a counter-force. Love is the glue both for family and society. This is why love is the fundamental mission of the family. It’s why the family must be a sanctuary of love. We most easily understand love when we, ourselves, are the fruit of our parents’ tenderness. We most easily believe in fidelity when we see it modeled by our father and mother.

Love lived generously is the unanswerable argument for God — and also for the dignity of the human heart. And marriage is transformed and fulfilled when spouses cooperate with God in the creation of new life. A husband and wife are completed by sharing in God’s procreative gift of life to their children, who are new and unique images of God.

In my years as a priest and bishop, I’ve seen again and again that the human heart is made for truth. People are hungry for the truth; and they’ll choose it, if it’s presented clearly and with conviction. Therein lies the need for every Christian marriage to be engaged in preaching by example. A husband and wife who model a love for Jesus Christ within their family — who pray and worship together with their children and read the Scriptures — become a beacon for other couples. They also more easily acquire an outward-looking zeal for consciously spreading the Gospel to others, teaching the faith and doing good apostolic works.

Our God is the God of life, abundance, deliverance and joy. And we’re his missionaries by nature and by mandate. In a developed world increasingly indifferent or hostile to God, no Catholic family can afford to be lukewarm about the Church. No culture is so traditionally “Christian” that it’s heard enough about Jesus Christ, or safe from the unbelief and disregard for human dignity which mark our age.

Catholic families have a key role in God’s healing of a broken world. So let’s pray for each other — beginning right now — that the World Meeting of Families 2015 will become for each of us and all of Philadelphia a new Pentecost; a new birth of the Church in each of our hearts … for our own salvation, the salvation of our families and the redemption of the world.

Take the Pledge to Walk With Francis

Welcome Pope Francis to the USA by committing to follow his example of faith and service. At you can pledge to Walk with Francis and transform our community through one or more of these commitments:

  1. PRAY regularly for the Holy Father and learn about his message on the joy of the Gospel, the mercy of God and the love of Christ.
  2. SERVE by reaching out and caring for those in need and supporting charitable efforts in our communities and beyond.
  3. ACT to promote human life and dignity, justice and peace, family life and religious freedom, care for creation and the common good.

Sept. 13th, 2015 | The 23rd Times

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Why Obedience Always Matters

By: Fr. Nnamdi Moneme, OMV

At a recent Mass for college students in Manila, I began my homily by exclaiming, “God is good…!” and the students responded in unison and with great energy and enthusiasm, “All the time!” I then exclaimed, “All the time…!” and they responded with the same energy as before, “God is good!” My next statement had a completely different reaction from the previous ones. I said, “So God is good all the time; what about His commandments? Are they good for us all the time?” They were reluctant to answer in the affirmative with enthusiasm as they did before. We easily attest to God’s constant goodness but we are less convicted that His commandments are equally good for us all the time.


In First Reading, Moses gives the Israelites two reasons to persevere in obeying God’s statutes and decrees. Firstly, they are to obey because God has been good to them all the time even in their frequent rebellions against Him during their journey. God, in His goodness, never abandoned them, but constantly drew closer to them, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon Him?” Secondly, they should obey always because God’s commandments are as good for them in their new and improved condition in the Promised Land as it was in their sojourn in the desert, “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” The Israelites will enter into and hold on to the gift of the Promised Land as long as they continue to obey God’s commandments. “Observe them…that you may live and enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” It is definitely not their obedience that earned them the Promised Land but it is only through their obedience that they will enter into, possess, and enjoy the gift of the Promised Land.

In Second Reading, St. James teaches us that God does not change, “With the Father there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.” Just as God cannot change in Himself, neither does He change in His promises to us or in His words to us. Mere observance of His words cannot bring us salvation but we possess and enjoy the salvation that Christ has won for us by our obedience to His words, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” We deceive ourselves when we only listen to His words without acting on them, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” In the words of St. Paul, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.” Constant obedience to God in good works remains our loving response to God, “We are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should work in them.”(Eph 2:8-10)

In this Gospel, Jesus declares the worship of the Pharisees and scribes as vain because they obey God’ commandments as along as it does not contradict their human tradition, “You disregard God’s commandments but cling to human tradition.” Despite their exterior perfectionism in observing the law, it is through loving obedience that they will offer true worship by bringing their hearts closer to the heart of Jesus and dispose their hearts to receive the good things that God has promised and prepared for them. Evils that defile come from the hearts that are not acting on the truth of God’s laws with love but who approach the commandments conditionally, obeying them only when convenient, socially acceptable or beneficial for our earthly gains.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is necessary for us to enter into a personal relationship with the ever good God in and through Jesus Christ. We Catholics have been accused of not emphasizing much the necessity of developing an intimate relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. I believe we can lay greater emphasis on this personal relationship with Jesus Christ even as we live our sacramental life and moral lives. But it is also ironic to notice that side by side with this seeming emphasis on the primacy of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the rampant dismissal, disregard, or comfortable re-interpretation of God’s laws that we see in our times. Our world today manifests much more deviant forms of the list of evils from the heart that Jesus mentioned in today’s Gospel – evil thoughts, unchastity in all its forms, mind-boggling theft, heartless murder of the innocent and unborn, adultery and depraved sexual unions, unbridled greed, intense hatred of others, deceit, shameless licentiousness, envy, blasphemy and sacrilege, arrogance and folly.

Is our personal relationship with Christ focused exclusively on His goodness to us and dismissive of the goodness of His commandments to us? Without a firm and unwavering commitment to live by His commandments, we deceive ourselves about being in a personal relationship with God. God is always good to us and He shows this to us in constant action that climaxed with the gift of His Son Jesus to us on the Cross that we might have life. Likewise our personal relationship with Jesus Christ must be reflected in action, acts done out of loving obedience. Personal relationship with Jesus alone is not enough because, as a friend of mine once reminded me, “Even Judas had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and we know how that relationship ended.” Our constant loving obedience to His commandments is the basic and fundamental response we can make to His abiding goodness to us.

Indeed, God is good all the time whether we are good or not. He has brought us into a life-giving relationship with Him in this life with a promise of eternal glory in the life to come. His commandments too are good for us always, constantly shaping our hearts and disposing us to receive that which we do not have a claim to in the first place apart from His grace.

This unchanging divine goodness is shown to us in the sacrament of Reconciliation where our sins are absolved by the merits of Christ. It is our personal relationship with Him that moves us to seek His forgiveness with confidence and with resolution to fight sin without respite to our last breath. But above all, God’s constant goodness is offered to us in the Eucharist we celebrate as Christ makes Himself present to us under the forms of bread and wine irrespective of our fidelity or infidelity to Him. He has come to us “not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.” With His grace we can hope to obey His commandments always such that our obedience to His words will be unconditional. What will we gain by this obedience that never ceases? We will receive that which Christ has prepared for us and we will know for certainty that indeed God is good all the time!
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Sept. 6th, 2015 | The 23rd Times

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For Year of Mercy, Pope Extends Possibilities for Absolution

By: Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

In an extraordinary gesture for the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has extended to priests worldwide the authority to absolve women for the sin of abortion and has decreed the full validity during the year of the sacrament of confession celebrated by priests of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.

“This jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one,” the pope wrote in a letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization, the office organizing events for the holy year, which opens Dec. 8.


Pope Francis said one of the most serious problems facing people today is a “widespread and insensitive mentality” toward the sacredness of human life.

“The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails,” while many other women believe that “they have no other option” but to have an abortion, the pope wrote in the letter, released Sept. 1 by the Vatican.

The pressures exerted on many women to abort lead to “an existential and moral ordeal,” Pope Francis said. “I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.”

When such a woman has repented and seeks absolution in the sacrament of confession, he said, “the forgiveness of God cannot be denied.”

Although church law generally requires a priest to have special permission, called faculties, from his bishop to grant absolution to a person who has procured or helped another to procure an abortion, the pope said he decided “to concede to all priests for the jubilee year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”

Pope Francis urged priests to welcome to the sacrament women who have had an abortion, explain “the gravity of the sin committed” and indicate to them “a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters the pope’s letter “highlights the wideness of God’s mercy” and is “not in any way minimizing the gravity of the sin” of abortion.

In his letter, Pope Francis also granted another exception to church rules out of concern for “those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests” belonging to the traditionalist Society of St Pius X. Although the society is no longer considered to be in schism and the excommunication of its bishops was lifted in 2009, questions remain over whether the sacraments they celebrate are valid and licit.

The pope’s decision was “taken with the faithful in mind” and is limited to the holy year, which runs through Nov. 20, 2016, Father Lombardi said.

The spokesman also confirmed that the Vatican’s contacts with leaders of the Society of St. Pius X have continued. Pope Francis wrote in his letter that he hoped “in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the fraternity.”

Pope Francis’ letter also explained expanded opportunities for obtaining the indulgences that are a normal part of the celebration of a holy year. An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment a person is due because of his or her sins. In a holy year, it is offered to pilgrims who cross the threshold of the Holy Door at the Vatican or in their local diocese, confess their sins, receive the Eucharist and pray for the pope’s intentions.

The celebration of God’s mercy, he said, is “linked, first and foremost, to the sacrament of reconciliation and to the celebration of the holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy. It will be necessary to accompany these celebrations with the profession of faith and with prayer for me and for the intentions that I bear in my heart for the good of the church and of the entire world.”

Those who are confined to their homes can obtain the indulgence by offering up their sickness and suffering, he said.

Pope Francis also included special consideration for people who are incarcerated, touching on the Old Testament tradition of a jubilee year as a time for granting prisoners amnesty.

Those who, “despite deserving punishment, have become conscious of the injustice they committed,” may receive the indulgence with prayers and the reception of the sacraments in their prison chapel, he wrote.

“May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom,” he wrote.