Plain Talk

Photo by Alex Petroski

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

June is the month to celebrate so many wonderful connections. We celebrate the beginning of summer, various graduations and the gift of our fathers.

This year our schools have been in crisis because of the conflict around gun safety and the unfortunate tragedies caused by reckless gun use in a number of our schools across the country. We continue to struggle around the value of common core, teacher evaluations and empowering students to learn not just academic lessons but also life lessons.

Our schools are an invaluable resource that we are destroying. They are environments that have helped countless students find their way in the world and have provided a context for children to grow and become all that they can be. Schools have helped many to build positive self-esteem and self-worth and have empowered our students to dream dreams and believe that their dreams really can happen.

Nationally, our educational system seems to be broken. We are more fixated on test scores and teacher evaluations than on providing an environment where students can thrive and excel; a place where teachers can teach and be creative; a place where their spirit of love of education can be contagious. We’ve lost that and now we are failing our students and setting them up for disaster. 

Despite the landscape this year, an extraordinary group of young men and women have graduated from our high schools. Our communities are better and brighter because these young men and women have spent time in our schools. They are our future leaders, our future Congress and our future president. Hopefully they will continue their educational journey with passion and energy, believing that they can make a difference in our world.

Photo by Alex Petroski

Seniors, as you graduate from high school this year, look to discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace and be willing to work for peace grounded in justice.

May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending; teach love to those who only know hate; and let the love embrace you as you continue your journey in the world.

Think positive, make positive choices — choice not chance determines one’s destiny. You may make a living by what you get but make a life by what you give. Give generously of your heart, your time, your talent and your treasure; the autograph you leave will make a tremendous difference in the world.

Don’t judge a book by its cover or stop at the introduction. Read it through, see the meaning and message it offers for life. Everyone’s life is sacred and important, even those who are different from you or those you do not like. Be more inclusive than exclusive; don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame, guilt and religion to shackle people and divide them. Set people free with your respect and your nonjudgmental way.

These are troubling times. The rhetoric of our country is despicable and disrespectful. As the next generation of leaders, raise the bar, dare to be different. Have the courage to stand up and be counted, challenge injustice, disrespect and dismissive rhetoric. 

Make America good again by rejecting the unconscionable behavior of those who lead us. Do not allow them to shape how you see the world. Commit yourselves to building bridges and not walls. Live a balanced life. Learn a little, think a little, dance, play, have a great sense of humor. But most of all be aware of wonder and respect it!

May your moral compass be grounded in respect for all human beings, no matter what their color, their race, their creed and/or sexual orientation. May this compass guide you on a path that is committed to working for peace, human rights and social justice for all. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Congratulations graduates of 2018. Thanks for making the world a little richer, a little brighter and a better place to be and thank you for being our beacon of hope!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

On day 5 ... we visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem ... It was breathtaking.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Greetings from Jerusalem, Israel! I am writing this column from the Notre Dame Hotel right outside the Jaffa Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem.

Twenty-three pilgrims from all over the metropolitan area made the commitment to journey together for eight days. We began our pilgrimage as strangers but are leaving as real friends who shared the journey of a lifetime.

Our pilgrimage began by landing in Tel Aviv where we boarded a bus that took us to the ancient seaport of Jaffa. From there we drove along the Mediterranean coast to the ruins of the ancient Roman capital of Caesarea built by Herod the Great in around 22 B.C.

We then went on to see the great Roman theater and the aqueduct in the Herodian port. From there we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I celebrated Mass on the Mount of the Beatitudes. We then proceeded to Capernaum — the city of Jesus and St. Peter. After that we visited the famous biblical city of Caesarea Philippi.

We began day 5 with a visit to the ancient city of Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. We visited the ruins of this first-century town and its synagogue, where tradition tells us Jesus himself visited, taught and preached. In the afternoon, we visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where tradition says the child Jesus was born. It was breathtaking.

On days 6, 7 and 8 we visited Masada, the fortress where Jewish zealots held off the armies of the Roman Empire — choosing suicide over surrender. We went to the Dead Sea where one floats and never sinks. It was 110°F that day and most of our trip. We visited a variety of other historical and religious sites outside of Jerusalem.

The rest of our pilgrimage was spent in the Old City. We prayed at the famous Western Wall, visited the room of the Last Supper as well as the Garden of Gethsemane. I had the privilege of saying Mass at the Church of All Nations, where Jesus prayed to be spared of the cross. After Mass, we had a panoramic view from the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. We went into the Old City and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and actually walked the Stations of the Cross — Jesus’ final walk to the cross and crucifixion.

Each day was a powerful reminder of history and faith. By the end of our journey, we had gone from being a band of strangers to a community of friends grateful for the journey. 

This is my third visit to Israel. Each time I feel more enriched when I return home. The Scripture becomes more real and alive because I’ve seen firsthand the places of which it speaks.

This trip was unique because we went to Israel prepared for a lot of upheaval because of the news reports here in the States. We saw some signs of a nation at war; however, I heard firsthand a very different account of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

On my free day, I spent my time walking in the old and new city of Jerusalem talking to Jews, Muslims and Christians hearing their stories about life in Israel. Each person had the same hopes and expectations that we do — to live freely with respect, dignity and untapped possibilities to dream and make those dreams come true!

For every believer and/or lover of history, Israel should be on your bucket list. You will not be disappointed!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

The band H.I.M.S. performs at the War on Addiction Rally. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

On Saturday, April 21, more than 1,000 people gathered to rally against drug addiction at Bald Hill in Farmingville. It was a powerful demonstration of our human spirit!

The event was spearheaded by two parents, who buried their son, who died of a heroin overdose, two years ago. Instead of burying their heads in the sand, they decided to become proactive and raise people’s awareness to the painful affliction of addiction. They urged greater advocacy for more accessible residential treatment beds for those battling addiction.

The speakers were challenging and heart wrenching. Each one eloquently reminded us to be a voice for change — urging us to speak loudly about the stigma and shame that so many people live with because of addiction and its infection.

A mother wrote a piercing letter that was read about her son who overdosed and died last year. She spoke of the heartache she still endures a year later. N.L. was in his mid-20s. He was bright, handsome, very athletic and born into an extraordinary family. After an athletic injury and being prescribed opiates for pain, his nightmare began. His family’s nightmare began as well.

N.L. constantly struggled with long-term recovery and abstinence. His mother recounted that during one of the periods of abstinence, her son was working hard at recovery. One day he was at a local bagel store in his community waiting on line and saw the father of a friend. He went to shake his hand but the man turned his back and walked away! What was that about? 

N.L.’s sister was also tortured on social media. What happened to reaching out and providing support and encouragement for those struggling with recovery?

The rally that Saturday morning did provide support. However, it was bittersweet. So many who attended have already buried their children, and many others were struggling with sons and daughters who are still out there and using.

Too often when we talk about addiction, we talk about the dark side of this painful health epidemic. The day ended on a note of hope. So often we focus on all those who’ve overdosed and died because of this horrific health crisis.

People do recover! A group of young men who live in a long-term nontraditional rehabilitation residence in our community formed a band known as the H.I.M.S. — Hope Inspired Men Sing. They closed the rally with a powerful rendition of “Go Light Your World” by Chris Rice.

“There is a candle in every soul. Some brightly burning, some dark and cold. There is a Spirit who brings a fire. Ignites a candle and makes His home. … Cause we are a family whose hearts are blazing. So let’s raise our candles and light up the sky. … Make us a beacon in darkest times. … Hold out your candle for all to see it. Take your candle, and go light your world!”

These extraordinary young men, ranging in age from 25 to 46, stood before this crowd as a reminder that people do get better. People can reclaim their lives, rejoin their families and contribute to making the world a better place.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Steven Korth, of Rocky Point, was charged with robbery and attempted robbery. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County police arrested a man May 10 for attempting to rob a bank, and then allegedly robbing another bank.

Steven Korth, 29, of Rocky Point, walked into Chase Bank at 60 North Country Road in Port Jefferson May 10 at approximately 1:38 p.m. and allegedly presented the teller a note demanding cash, but fled without proceeds, according to police. He then entered the TD Bank at 320 Route 25A in Rocky Point at approximately 2:10 p.m., and again allegedly handed a note demanding cash to a teller. The teller complied with his demands, and Korth fled, police said.

After an investigation, police found Korth in the woods on West Street in Middle Island at approximately 2:54 p.m.

Major case detectives charged Korth with third-degree attempted robbery and third-degree robbery. Attorney information for Koth was not immediately available. He was held overnight at the 6th Precinct and is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip May 11.

Local officials showed their support at last year's Walk Agains Addiction at Cedar Beach. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank

Last year more than 64,000 people died of drug overdoses across our country. In Suffolk County alone over 600 deaths occurred due to opioids. That doesn’t include the countless deaths of young people written up in our newspapers as dying from “heart attacks” because too many families are embarrassed and ashamed that their sons and daughters are addicts.

So our count of deaths due to heroin overdoses I contend is much higher than the quoted 600 deaths. As one clergy person in our community, I preside over one overdose death every other week. At this point, in Suffolk County, we are burying at least two or three young people each week.

Two years ago this month, a young man from our community tragically passed away from an accidental heroin overdose. Billy had struggled with addiction for a number of years. He was totally supported by his family with all of his recovery efforts. He had extended periods where he was drug-free. Unfortunately, he was not able to sustain long-term abstinence and recovery.

His parents were beside themselves. Their grief was beyond words. It was overwhelming. Billy’s dad spoke at his son’s funeral; using his son’s voice to address the extremely large crowd of young people that gathered to honor their friend.

He urged them to take care of themselves, reminded them that life is fragile and that they need each other. Instead of burying their heads in the sand, Billy’s parents decided to become proactive to celebrate the gift of their son’s life, raise awareness and educate people specifically about heroin addiction.

Probably one of their greatest gifts to this war against addiction is their power of example. Their love and positive energy led to the creation of the Walk Against Addiction, which was held at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai on April 22 of last year to honor their son’s life and struggle and provide support for other families who are struggling.

More than 600 people gathered on that rainy Saturday morning to make a statement that all life matters. Countless families came with signs honoring their children lost to addiction seeking the solidarity and support of other families.

Billy’s parents’ tenacity to raise awareness and educate people about the perils of recovery and wellness has been profound. As an addiction specialist, I know people do recover, reclaim their lives and live fully productive lives, but the journey is long and oftentimes very, very difficult!

Their energy and commitment gave birth to the War on Addiction Rally to be held on Saturday, April 21, 2018, at the Pennysaver Amphitheater at Bald Hill in Farmingville from 10:30 a.m. to noon. While this event is free to attend, donations are appreciated. The major purpose for this rally is to educate, raise awareness, rally for compassion, change and hope! The organizers are hoping to fill the amphitheater with more than 3,000 people.

This event is intended to be more than just a rally, to hopefully be the beginning of the movement that will inspire people to challenge the government to stop paying lip service to this national epidemic health crisis and actually begin to do something that matters. 

We need more treatment beds today, not tomorrow. We need to take on the insurance industry that is sentencing our kids to death in record numbers because they are denying residential treatment.

We need a greater network of support services for those battling addiction that is accessible to the person in early recovery. People who are afflicted with addiction need greater access to mental health services that are affordable and confident.

These are troubling times — disrespect, prejudice and discrimination are everywhere. We need to remove the stigma from people afflicted with addiction. We need to end the shame, blame and disrespect!

Our leadership on the federal and state level is a disgrace. They are an abysmal failure. They need to be challenged to give voice and support all those who are attempting to walk the difficult road of recovery, one day at a time. Sometimes it’s one hour at a time. However, hope is the anthem of our souls.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank

How many more mass shootings have to claim innocent lives before we have the courage to stand up for justice and common sense?

The rhetoric that has erupted since the Parkland shootings in Florida is reprehensible. Innocent lives murdered, hundreds of survivors suffering from PTSD and we still cannot move forward with common sense federal regulations to protect all of us as citizens without infringing on someone’s Second Amendment rights.

The articulate, dynamic students from Parkland have given clear voice to the real issues that must be addressed since the massacre — thorough background checks on all who purchase guns, a national registry for all guns and their owners, raising the age to 21 for the purchase of any gun with few exceptions, banning assault weapons with the exception for law enforcement and the military and developing a standardized mental health screening to flag those with potential mental health issues.

Our schools are vulnerable, but as a longtime educator and former school administrator, arming teachers and increasing police presence with weapons is not going to deter a mentally ill person from killing people, if he or she is determined to do that.

We need to be more efficient and effective at identifying students who demonstrate by behavior, school deportment and their writing that there is a real problem.

Every difficult student cannot merely be expelled from school. We need to work with those at-risk students. However, that really becomes a problem every time a school district is on austerity. The first people who are laid off are school social workers, psychologists, nurse teachers and other support staff that are critical in the time of crisis.

Instead of building up an armed security force, we should build up our support services so that they can effectively intervene with the growing number of students who are at risk.

After Parkland, all the politicians from the president on down have talked about doing more to strengthen mental health services. However, our own president has reduced funding from his budget to support mental health services. His opioid commission made substantial recommendations to fight this national health crisis, but to date he has not allocated a dime to support new treatment initiatives and support services for addicts and their families.

The young people from Parkland have sparked a powerful new conversation across our country that speaks beyond the issue of gun control and gun safety. Their courageous voices are challenging us to come together as a nation, urging us to work together to protect all life because it is sacred and fragile. We need to start practicing what we preach!

Divisive and demeaning rhetoric is not going to make America great again; only constructive action on the part of all Americans will. Every citizen who is of age must register to vote. We must do our homework and know what the real issues are all about and not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by political operatives. Our political process and system is broken and ineffective. It needs immediate surgery!

We need to urge the best of the best to run for public office. We must be sure that they are not connected or beholden to the insurance industry, the NRA, the unions, just to name a few powerful entities that seem to be indirectly controlling our nation and its policies.

As Gandhi once said, we must “be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Over the last number of weeks we have been reminded of the seriousness of the opioid epidemic that is plaguing our country and our larger community. There have been a number of op-ed pieces in a number of respectable newspapers speaking to this issue. Our president in his State of the Union address underscored how serious this health issue is and promised all Americans that his administration is working feverishly to end this lethal health epidemic.

In Blue Point, the St. Ursula Center convent on Middle Road is for sale. A profit-making business wanted to purchase this property and use it as a residential rehab for women. After much back and forth and intense push back from the local community this business has withdrawn its offer.

Let’s be clear, we are in desperate need for residential treatment beds for people battling the heroin epidemic. We especially need more beds for women. The Ursula Center would have been ideal.

However, some rather important facts and figures were never publicly addressed that are critical to understanding the complexity of this health issue and how it must be treated if we hope to be effective supporting people who are afflicted with this addiction. There is compelling research and evidence-based treatment research that is important to review and understand. We need long-term residential treatment beds for those battling the opioid epidemic. Very few recovering opioid addicts sustain recovery after only 30 days in residential treatment.

If the truth be told, most insurance companies will not pay for any kind of residential rehab until the consumer fails at outpatient treatment. The recidivism rate for heroin addicts in outpatient treatment is off the page. People are trying outpatient treatment first because they have no choice and they are failing, they are dying — that is unconscionable.

Our insurance companies should be held accountable for every unnecessary death caused by the industry’s unwillingness to do its job. For the record most insurance companies, if they agreed to pay for residential care, only end up paying for 11 days. They decide that after 11 days it’s not a medical necessity! The average hard-core addict struggling to survive takes at least 30 to 45 days to truly detox their bodies from all the toxins with which they have been infected.

It is very disturbing that those who lead us within our political bureaucracy are unwilling to take on the insurance companies for making life-and-death decisions regarding people who battle addiction. Taking a person into residential treatment with the promise of at least 28 days and then discharging them at day 11 because the insurance company won’t pay is a disgrace and a scandal.

The Blue Point community has every right to be concerned. We do not need any more short-term residential programs that do not honor their commitments. If we’re addressing the opioid epidemic, we need long-term residential treatment programs that work on transitioning the recovering person back into the real world, hopefully with the skills to survive a drug-infested world.

The governor of our state has promised millions of dollars for residential treatment. That promise was made over a year ago. Since that promise, not one dollar has been released for residential long-term treatment.

This health crisis is getting worse by the day, not better! As a community, we need to demand the distribution of the money promised to those who are trained to work in the area of residential treatment for addiction so we can begin to support recovering addicts and their families. People are petrified and they should be; this epidemic is out of control. Change and transformation can happen and it will with the right support.

As someone who has lived and still lives with struggling drug addicts, I watch them struggle to recover. I see their pain every day but I also see the miracle of change and transformation. Addicts do recover and reclaim their lives and enrich our communities. Hope must become the anthem of our souls!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

A child receives a present from Santa Claus at the Christmas Magic event on Dec. 6. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Once again the holiday and Christmas season is upon us. For Christians, this is a season of hope. If we’ve ever needed hope it is right now.

The political landscape around the world is explosive. Violence, hate and human exploitation seem to be everywhere. At home, although economic prosperity is growing, respect for human rights and the diversity of people is at an all-time low.

Our elected leadership, at every level starting with Washington, is scandalously lacking. Our human discourse is a disgrace. It is a sad day in America when people with differing viewpoints have to deteriorate to name-calling and ad hominem attacks because they have differing opinions. What happened to rigorous debate ending in agreeing to respectfully disagree and remain friends?

This holiday season we have been painfully reminded of the abuse of power and the abuse and misuse of human beings especially the human exploitation, abuse and harassment of women.

What are we teaching our children? What life lessons are they learning? What happened to leading by example? It is shameful that those elected to public office have remained painfully silent when it comes to the disgraceful and abusive behavior especially from those who possess the ultimate power.

Despite all of this, we still celebrate the season of hope — the hope that change and transformation are possible; the hope that in most human beings there is a reservoir of compassion and goodness. I am fortunate in the midst of all this chaos to witness every day the magic of Christmas-simple, ordinary wounded people reaching out and touching others with love and goodness.

For more than three decades I have lived among the most broken among us. I continue to stand in awe as I watch these young men change and transform their lives and others.

Over 30 years ago, a young lawyer named Charlie Russo founded an organization, Christmas Magic, to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas for his children. Never did he think all these years later that a simple organization would ultimately become a powerful not-for-profit outreach that touches thousands of young children in our bi-county shelter system each Christmas.

It has also become a wellspring for thousands of volunteers who share their love at this time of year. It is a concrete reminder for all of us of what the real reason for the season is. Russo’s powerful example is an inspiration to all those who are privileged to know him.

Every year the residents of Hope House with whom I live participate voluntarily in Christmas Magic. To witness firsthand these wounded young men reaching out to the poorest of the poor among our children is a powerful life lesson.

Seeing these struggling young people interacting with little children, holding their hands, watching the children open up their Christmas presents from Santa, seeing the tears in their eyes as these little ones say thank you is probably among the best Christmas presents for which one could hope.

So despite a nation that has lost its way and a government that seems narcissistic, this is still the season of hope. The real miracle of Christmas is things can get better if you believe! I do believe! This holiday season let hope become the anthem of your soul!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs has turned into a memorial after the mass shooting on Nov. 5.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

As a nation we have been plagued with one human tragedy after another over the last few months from Charlottesville and Las Vegas, to the terrorist attack in New York City and now the massacre in the Baptist Church in Texas. Even with that as the landscape, we are still not willing to have a conversation about gun control and human safety as a means to protect the lives of all Americans.

As a nation, our human carnage is out of control. No other industrialized country has suffered so much human tragedy and loss of life in such a short period of time. Since the Texas massacre, a disturbing statistic has been released saying that we lead the world with people who have been diagnosed with serious mental health issues. Whether or not that statistic is correct, every human tragedy other than terrorism has been committed by people who have been clinically diagnosed as seriously mentally ill.

It is time to put aside the political rhetoric and begin to have a conversation that is centered around protecting human life for all Americans. We need federal regulations that protect human life from rageful out-of-control Americans who are using violence and weapons to vent their rage. Too many innocent people are losing their lives. Too many innocent families are being destroyed before they’ve had an opportunity to truly live.

We must create a protocol that is the same in every state; that screens every person who seeks a gun permit. The screening must be as rigorous as the screening for the military and the uniform services. Washington should create a central registry for all those who have committed serious crimes and/or have been imprisoned.

We must become consistently more vigilant in our enforcement of all the laws already on the books. People who own guns and lose them should be held accountable. If you sell a gun that you own that should be reported to a central registry.

Those who lead us in government are shameful in their consistent unwillingness to address this very complicated but important life issue. How many more human tragedies have to happen before Washington, starting with the president, addresses this very serious crisis in American life?

The Texas tragedy is a painful reminder of our irresponsibility when it comes to keeping America safe. How can we sit back after whole families have been massacred and a 18-month-old baby senselessly killed and not be moved to action to do more?

It is very troubling to note the dramatic change in our political landscape and public discourse since the election of November 2016. Hate crimes are up, massive protest demonstrations around the country having increased exponentially and Americans are unsettled in every socioeconomic circumstance across the country.

Our moral compass is broken. Basic human respect for people has been lost. Our leadership is accepting a narrative that is crude, disrespectful and at times vulgar. Instead of challenging that narrative, our elected officials make excuses or minimize it and, worst of all, are painfully silent!

What kind of example are we setting for the younger generation? How will their moral compasses be calibrated? Who do we encourage them to look up to? Is there anyone on the horizon?

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By our silence, we affirm the destructive behaviors and destructive rhetoric that have become a cancer among us.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Once again our nation is in shock after the worse gun violence massacre in American history: 58 innocent people killed and more than 500 people severely wounded and/or injured during a Las Vegas concert.

At the time of this horrific attack, the nation was in the midst of recovering from three catastrophic hurricanes that left major areas of our country, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands overwhelmed and powerless.

Each tragic circumstance brought out the best in our American spirit. Countless heroes risking their lives to save others; the spirit of selflessness and compassion has been inspirational. If only those in elected office learned from the power of their example!

These past few months the public discourse across the country has bordered on disgraceful. The demeaning rhetoric is fueling the heat and violence that is erupting across our nation.

The recent debate around the actions of many NFL football players regarding the appropriate posture during our national anthem has sparked a national conversation that all Americans should be attentive to. No matter what your politics, the conversation it has provoked around racism, police violence and hatred is vital. We need to discuss these issues with passion, commitment and open hearts but grounded in a profound respect for one another.

So many of the events that have erupted since January have underscored that there are many serious social issues that as a nation we must confront. They go beyond the scope of our differences around health care and tax reform.

Our criminal justice system is in dire need of reform. The way we treat drug addicts who commit nonviolent crimes is scandalous and needs to be addressed. The growing incidences of discrimination based on race, religion and sexual orientation need to take center stage as part of the national agenda.

The social indifference that has become so infectious is counterproductive. By our silence, we affirm the destructive behaviors and destructive rhetoric that have become a cancer among us.

We need to be more proactive on every level. Our students need to be a part of these important conversations. The average citizen needs to become more involved in our political process and understand that his/her voice does matter and does make an important difference.

The people’s voice needs to be heard. Those who have been elected must be held accountable to the people who elected them — not to a specific political party.

These are challenging times; however, we are all part of the challenge. We must lead by example. Our churches, synagogues and mosques must address the social issues and become a part of the national conversation. Our clerical leadership must urge their congregants to take a more active role in the political landscape of our communities.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world!” Hope must be the anthem of our souls.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

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