On November 5, nearly 1,300 people who contributed to Alive in Christ or made a gift to Our Catholic Appeal over the past year attended the annual Mass of Thanksgiving at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando. The event marked the first time Bishop John Noonan celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving in the Diocese of Orlando, as well as the first time speakers gave witness to the remarkable work being accomplished by both efforts.
“I am eternally grateful for your generosity and commitment to our Alive in Christ capital campaign and Our Catholic Appeal,” Bishop Noonan said during his homily. “Without your generosity, commitment and love, the Word, the light and the commitment of Jesus Christ would not be preached.”
In addition to Bishop Noonan’s words of gratitude, several speakers described how their lives have been touched by each effort.
“This is the first year that we have invited witness speakers to share in their own words how a spirit of generosity really does change lives – not only the lives of those who have been touched by the ministries that are supported through Our Catholic Appeal and Alive in Christ, but also the lives of those who give,” said Jim Edwards, President of the Catholic Foundation of Central Florida.
Ron and Celeste Henkelman, parishioners at Church of the Resurrection parish in Lakeland, spoke about their decision to support Our Catholic Appeal because of their belief in the importance of Catholic education. This year nearly, 20% of Our Catholic Appeal was designated for schools and religious education.
“As parents, we have the duty to educate our children’s minds, and we also have the duty to educate our children’s hearts to be good stewards in Christ,” said Celeste. “Choosing a Catholic school environment where education excels, and Catholic values are taught and practiced outside the home, our faith comes full circle—full circle in our families, in our schools and in our society.”
Shedrak Morales, a ninth grader at Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland, receives tuition assistance funded by Our Catholic Appeal. She thanked the donors for enabling her to receive a Catholic education.
“Attending Santa Fe is important for me because I will be a good Catholic and I will live each day with God actively present in my life,” said Morales. “My family and I have a hard time financially, so for me, my Catholic education is the only possession I own.”
To highlight the work accomplished through Alive in Christ, Nativity parishioner Dan Hardester explained why his Alive in Christ contributions support San Pedro Center in Winter Park.
“As our spiritual retreat center, San Pedro is holy ground,” said Hardester, who is Diocese of Orlando’s Secretary of Evangelization. “I am happy to know that I have played some small part in the center’s new construction and renovations as a contributor to Alive in Christ.”
Deacon Juan Cruz, who serves at St. Mary Magdalen parish in Altamonte Springs, described San Pedro Center as “a place where I can turn to time and time again.”
“Training for deacons is now based at San Pedro Center, and there cannot be a more perfect place for a future servant of Christ to grow, pastorally and spiritually,” said Deacon Cruz. “I am able to do what I love, which is to serve the people of God as a permanent deacon. And I am able to serve because you have given to our diocese that gift of San Pedro through Alive in Christ.” Edwards noted that the generosity of parishioners throughout the Diocese of Orlando has kept the goals for both efforts within reach.
“To date, our families have raised more than $147 million in cash and pledges for Alive in Christ, with a few parishes still campaigning and other parishes continuing to receive great gifts. Our overall goal of $150 million is well within reach,” said Edwards. “We are also grateful to celebrate the tremendous success of Our Catholic Appeal 2011, which recently surpassed the $12 million mark – a milestone that has not been reached since 2008. We are currently at 99% of our goal of $12.25 million, and our families continue to make new pledges.”