By Fr. Francis Pizzarrelli
The Christmas season is upon us. The village of Port Jefferson is decked out with lights and wreaths — there is definitely a spirit of Christmas in the air.
The world is a crazy place. The violence and hate has become infectious, but the reason for the season has taken a hold of us once again in a number of places. People are reaching out and bridging differences.
One such instance is Christmas Magic, an event that magically touches hearts old and young alike with the spirit of giving, sharing and serving others. Started more than 25 years ago by a young attorney who wanted his children to understand the real meaning of Christmas, his act of kindness and generosity has touched thousands of people across our county every Christmas season.
Hundreds of caring high school students to college students, from youth programs and church communities sacrifice their time and reach out to thousands of children living in our shelters during the holiday season.
Close to 3,000 people gathered at Carnegie Hall on the second Monday in December this year for a Christmas concert. The headliners were powerful: Andy Cooney and his band, the Hibernian Festival Singers, the Irish Tenors, the New York Tenors and eight young men who have become a band of brothers supported by an extraordinary female voice that makes the H.I.M.S. and Her such an extraordinary musical talent.
This band of brothers are young men who are broken and wounded, from all over, trying to reclaim their lives while living in a long-term nontraditional treatment program for addictions. The story of these men is a story of powerful change and transformation. Their performance at Carnegie Hall brought that packed house of concertgoers to their feet. It was a night of inspiration to remember.
A few days before their performance at Carnegie Hall these gifted and talented men volunteered to sing Christmas carols at the retirement home for the Dominican Sisters at their motherhouse in Amityville. I started to visit these sisters every Advent because I’m a product of Dominican education. In my junior high school years, I was profoundly influenced by three very dynamic women of faith. This has been my simple way of saying thank you.
After serving the church in a variety of leadership roles for more than 50 years, my former eighth-grade teacher took a job at Pax Christi, an emergency men’s shelter in Port Jefferson. She began working five days a week until she was 85 years old cleaning toilets, making beds and bringing hope to countless men who thought their lives were hopeless.
Today Sr. Beata is in her mid-90s. She is still as sharp as can be but has a difficult time getting around. The sisters she lives with range in age from their mid-70s to 107 years old.
After caroling that Saturday morning, the young men walked among these extraordinary women hugging and kissing them; the room was aglow. The sister who is 107 years old came over to me to thank me for bringing these young men. She said it was her greatest Christmas present. All her family has died and her friends as well. She has no visitors. After one of the young men hugged her she started to cry. She hadn’t been hugged in over a year and she said thank you for helping her feel alive again.
As we drove home, these men on the road to recovery and wellness were on fire — not realizing how in their brokenness with their simple carols they brought so much joy to a community of women who were such a source of hope and light for so many generations.
Christmas seems to be that time of year to remind each other of the profound goodness that lives within each of us and to be conscious that each one of us has the power to make a difference that really does count.
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.