NEW YORK — After going virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice returns to the Sarasota National Cemetery today for the 12th annual Veterans Day Mass to honor the men and women who have served and continue to serve the U.S.
“It’s celebratory. It’s grand. It’s very respectful to people,” Bishop Dewane told The Tablet.
“I think a lot of our faithful are veterans,” Bishop Dewane continued. “They are men and women of faith and I think we need to respond and evidence that on that day we pray for all those who have defended our country in the past, some who have given their life – the ultimate sacrifice, and also, we pray for those who are in service today.”
Bishop Dewane will celebrate the Mass at 3 p.m. At 2:45 p.m. there is an opening ceremony that will include patriotic music, hymns, and the presentation of colors. Afterward, Bishop Dewane and the concelebrating priests will go out into the cemetery, and Taps are played.
“I think it’s a very moving time for many of the people,” Bishop Dewane said.
Bishop Dewane expects about 500 people to attend the Mass. The goal when the Mass was created 12-years-ago, he said, was to “find a Catholic liaison to the veterans that’s deep within the spirit of who we are and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”
Bishop Dewane noted that his diocese tends to be a place that people retire to, therefore, many have served in the military, or had a child or a parent who may have served or even given their lives.
“I think this is what brings people to the ceremony. It’s a personal thing for them,” Bishop Dewane said. “I don’t think they’re looking or thinking about the 499 people around them. They’re thinking about what their loss has been vis a vis the tragedy of war and a lack of peace that we’ve seen at times in the world. I find it spiritually moving for people, individually, in different ways.”
There are, however, many who attend the Mass who have lost a loved one and come for communal support. He remembers in particular a woman from a previous year who lost her spouse and told him what the day meant to her.
“Every year she talks to her children because her husband died in service to our country and the children never really knew their dad and she said it’s moving for her to come,” Bishop Dewane said. “There was the fact that yes, she comes for that individual, but the idea that there was everyone else that she could share in faith, in prayer, that expressive void in her life.”
Another common situation Bishop Dewane said he encounters is parents who lost a child.
“For a parent to lose a child, some of the wounds, if you see someone who’s having a difficult time normally it’s a parent recalling the death of their child serving the country,” Bishop Dewane said. “We need to comfort them in that, but also have them see how appreciative men and women of faith are of the contribution that their child made.”
The Sarasota National Cemetery is one of nine national cemeteries in Florida. It’s 295 acres. There are more than 23,000 veterans and their dependents interred there. The cemetery estimates it will be at full capacity by 2050 and be the final resting place for over 150,000 veterans.
Miach Lee, an administrative officer at the cemetery, told The Tablet they want to do “everything they can to support the community so it’s an honor” to host the Mass.
There are also non-Catholics that participate in the Mass, Dewane said, it’s important to participate for the community.
“They’ll come up and say, ‘bishop, I’m happy to do this. We’re not Catholic, but we’re certainly proud of our country and we’re very happy to enter into this celebration because we make it known that it isn’t just for Catholics, but that it is a spiritual celebration,’ ” Dewane said.