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Father Francis Pizzarelli

Paris’ famed Cathedral of Notre-Dame suffered a massive fire on Arpil 15.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

On Monday evening of Holy Week this year the world stopped in shock and watched the famous Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris burn. This 850-year-old Catholic cathedral is a symbol of culture, art, spirituality, Catholicism and hope.

For a brief moment people from around the world came together to express their solidarity with the people of Paris and all of France. For Catholics, it was a prayerful reminder that from ashes new life comes — and hope lives!

Since the fire, I have thought a lot about the power of compassion and love that comes from people — ordinary men and women who make a difference every day. They go about their business not seeking the limelight or wanting anything in return for their kindness and compassion.

The present world landscape, our own country’s landscape is wrought with division, hatred and volatility. Those who lead us have failed to challenge injustice, discrimination and violence. Our religious leaders too often are complicit by their silence to the complex social issues of our times.

However, hope does live among us! There are those anonymous people in our midst that remind us every day to build bridges and not walls, to be more inclusive without judgment, to respect the dignity of every human person, no matter what his or her social circumstance might be.

Every day I am fortunate to see firsthand these miracles that make our world brighter and better. A few weeks ago, I was waiting at the railroad station in Port Jefferson for the train to New York City. I was on the platform closest to the street. At a distance, I saw an elderly woman slip and fall. Before I could respond I watched a teenager jump off his bike and run over to help her. He helped her up and he walked her to a bench. He sat next to her for a few minutes to make sure she was alright. She was able to get up and continue her walk. He got back on his bike, continued his journey, turned around and waved goodbye.

So often we are in such a hurry we don’t see anyone around us, especially those that are crying out for our help. We miss those moments for random kindness and compassion for which our world is in desperate need.

Spring is in the air; the flowers are blooming. For Christians around the world, we are in the midst of another new season of hope! Maybe it’s an opportunity for personal renewal, for a renewed focus on what’s really important, a focus that is centered more on people and not systems, more on loving and not hating, more on doing and not just being.

The fire in Paris gave us a moment to see humanity at its best. Let’s keep it going!

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

The American landscape continues to be burdened with conflict, dishonesty and ineffective leadership at every level of government. As I write this column, more than 800,000 federal employees will not be paid because of a government shutdown. They unfortunately are being held captive by a government that is paralyzed on both sides of the aisle.

As the New Year begins, let’s not be distracted by a political rhetoric that is more fixated on ad hominem attacks and divisiveness, but rather let us support positive action on behalf of all Americans.

Our country is founded on the principle of “we the people.” We must renew our commitment to stand up for social justice, for equality and inclusiveness for all people, no matter what their ethnicity, race, color, sexual orientation, economic or social status.

The leaders of our faith community, both locally and nationally, must move out of their coma of silence, not become political or feed the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness, but rather they must stand up and call us to civility and a discourse that supports and respects the human dignity and integrity of every American citizen.

At the beginning of every New Year, we traditionally make a series of New Year’s resolutions that we break by Jan. 2. This year let’s identify some important social issues that urgently need to be addressed and work diligently at creative solutions that will improve the quality of life in all of our communities.

Homelessness is a growing problem across our county. Our traditional approach is a poor Band-Aid that sets most homeless up for failure. The poor and the homeless live in the shadows. They’ve no fixed address so they have no political representation — no one to voice their concerns and struggles.

Our Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged to deal with the homeless, is working with an antiquated model that is outdated and inefficient, therefore costing you, the taxpayer, an extraordinary amount of money and does little to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in our midst.

Let us be mindful that more and more of our homeless are mentally ill, drug addicts and returning veterans suffering from untreated PTSD. We lack the basic human resources to break their cycle of dependency on the system.

The opioid crisis is worse than it was last year. As I write this column, I buried two more young people who died senselessly because of this epidemic.

The president of the United States called the opioid epidemic a national health crisis. It is, but again we pay lip service to a national infection but are doing little to treat it effectively. Evidence-based treatment says we need long-term residential treatment beds for a minimum of one year to 18 months, if we hope to empower the recovering addict to wellness and long-term recovery.

We have very limited resources in this regard. The few resources we do have are overtaxed with referrals and are underfunded. The time for talking is over; it’s time for positive action!

These two issues are massive. However, I am optimistic that we have the people and the resources to make a difference. We need to think outside the box, be creative, be willing to risk and most importantly believe we can make a difference that counts. I do!

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Midterm elections are complete. We need to continue to stand up and give voice to social justice and human rights for all. Those we have elected and re-elected are there to serve us, “We the People,” not special interests, not a particular party but all of us. We have a responsibility to hold those who hold public office to serious accountability. They need to support the issues that are most important to the constituents they represent.

As the holiday season approaches, we need to put the divisive, disrespectful rhetoric of this past election season behind us. Let us look for new ways to build bridges with our differences instead of building walls. Let us engage in conversations that are inclusive and life-giving. Even if after the conversation is complete we agree to disagree, let us still embrace a spirit of respect for one another and keep the door open to new conversations that can make our communities better and stronger.

For Thanksgiving, I am forever grateful to our community. In our diversity is also the foundation of our greatness. I have seen firsthand this community build strong bridges that transcend racial, religious, social, political and economic issues; we are better for these bridges.

We’re not perfect, but in our imperfection we continue to feed the poor, to provide shelter and support for the homeless and to afford mental health services for those who are overwhelmed with life and so much more.

Our local hospitals, our fire departments, our ambulance services are on call 24/7 to respond to any kind of human trauma and/or tragedy. They are among the most compassionate and giving people I have ever been privileged to know; their self-sacrifice and service to others is an inspiration.

Our local schools are among the best in the state and probably the nation. Maryhaven Center of Hope is a historical landmark within our community. For more than 100 years, its compassionate and comprehensive services have provided invaluable support for the most vulnerable among us.

We are blessed to have a wide range of religious traditions actively engaged in our larger community, reminding us regularly of the importance to love, to forgive and to be generous to those in need without judgment or exclusion. Our religious leaders have consistently been an invaluable source of wisdom and support for our diverse community.

As I get ready to celebrate my 39th Thanksgiving in Port Jefferson, I will especially give God thanks for our community that reminds me every day that hope lives and must be the anthem of our souls! I am forever grateful for our community’s warmth, generosity and service. A blessed Thanksgiving to all and thank you!

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.

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.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

So much has happened this past month. We painfully watched the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, ripping open the deepest wounds due to racism and discrimination. The rhetoric that erupted about that horrific event has been scandalous. Hate and violence can never be tolerated, no matter what the politics. There is no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, white supremacists in the KKK and those protesting in support of racial and social justice for all.

As the nation finally settled down after the violence in Charlottesville, Hurricane Harvey ravaged the south of Texas and Hurricane Irma devastated south Florida and the Caribbean. They were two of the worst hurricanes to hit the mainland in a decade. We saw pictures of devastation everywhere. Thousands of people were displaced and lost everything. Families were traumatized throughout Texas and Florida. The aftermath and cleanup is overwhelming and it’s just beginning.

Despite that landscape of destruction and suffering, there has been an outpouring of compassion, love and community service from around the country. So many have stepped up to reach out to those who are suffering and struggling. There have been countless stories of strangers reaching out to strangers, people volunteering and risking their lives to rescue those who were stranded due to the dangerous flooding and amazing stories of people opening their hearts and their homes to those who have been displaced.

It is unfortunate that it takes a catastrophic tragedy like a hurricane to bring out the heart of our American spirit. Hurricane Harvey has become a rallying cry for unity in healing. So many are hoping that this spirit of solidarity and compassion can become contagious and continue beyond the relief efforts in Texas.

Hopefully, those who lead us will see the power of this life lesson, work harder at crossing over the island of separation and begin to build new bridges of understanding and dynamic cooperation for the sake of our nation.

The end of DACA was also announced at the White House through the attorney general’s office. Unfortunately, more than 600,000 undocumented young people must live their lives in limbo and anxiety, producing circumstances that no young person should be afflicted with.

These DACA youth did not choose to come to America — their parents did hoping to find a better way of life for them. For most of them, this is the only country they know. They are hard-working, and many of them are well educated. They definitely add richness to the fabric of our nation, which was founded on immigrants. Hopefully, Congress will step up, do the right thing and pass a law that will protect them and their future.

The summer’s end has also seen a real escalation in the heroin epidemic within our larger community. Unfortunately, with all that has been happening around the country, this national health crisis seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of life.

Within a 10-day period, I have buried five young people who have died from heroin overdoses. Each young person came from a fine family but was burdened with this horrific affliction; and I am only one clergy person in our area. In talking to other colleagues, they have seen much of the same.

Everyone is on the bandwagon saying we need to do more to confront this horrific epidemic. The politicians are claiming there are monies in the pipeline. Well it must be clogged because there are still no new beds for treatment, no new medical detox centers or any new long-term residential rehabs for those battling opiate addiction. Enough of the rhetoric! If you had a son or daughter burdened with a heroin addiction, what would you do? You need a bed now! Where would you go? There are no beds! In three weeks when a bed might be available, your son or daughter could be dead.

Outpatient treatment is ineffective. Heroin addicts need more than a 28-day program. For the record most insurance companies will only now pay for 11 days — that is scandalous and reprehensible! When are we going to hold our insurance companies accountable for all of the senseless loss of life that their internet policies have contributed to? The time for talking is long past. We need action yesterday to protect our children today!

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

On a Friday in May, a very distraught man in his mid-40s barricaded himself in a Catholic Church in Center Moriches. He threatened police to use incendiary devices. After the police retreated, he set the church on fire and killed himself.

The first responders and Suffolk County police were extraordinary; hundreds of people reached out to the young pastor to offer help in the midst of this horrific tragedy.

Located directly next to the church was a regional Catholic school, grades K through eight. A few hundred children were locked in for most of the afternoon. They were petrified. By late afternoon, they were released to their parents.

On the Monday after this horrific tragedy, the pastor designated the 8 o’clock morning Mass as a Mass for healing and peace for the parish and school community. The entire student body assembled in the gym along with countless parishioners and community members. This gymnasium turned worship space was alive with faith and renewed hope.

The pastor began the Mass with inspiring words of welcome. After the Gospel reading, he gave an extraordinary homily that was beyond words. The students were mesmerized by his words of compassion, unconditional love, profound gratitude and renewed hope.

He asked the students that morning how many had been afraid on Friday. More than half of the student body raised their hands. The young priest did too. He said he had been really scared but had drawn on his faith and he knew he would be okay. He went on to say to this very attentive audience that it was okay to be scared but that they would be okay too; that we just need to draw on our faith! All who participated that morning left with a renewed sense of hope and a real belief that everything would be okay!

There was a young social work intern at this peace and healing service. He was a social work intern from one of New York City’s graduate schools of social work. I have known him since he was a teenager; he is an extraordinary young man but like many of his generation not without some real-life challenges.

His graduate school graduation was on the Sunday before that Monday morning Mass. I asked him how was graduation. He told me he had been really excited to get hooded since he had missed his undergraduate graduation. However, because of the tragedy in his field placement, he made the difficult decision to pass on commencement. He said, “my students need me; I think it’s more important for me to be present among them. I want them to know that they will be okay!” I was profoundly touched by the decision he made.

That same graduation weekend two young men who have battled addiction since high school are powerful examples that transformation does take place and recovery can and does lead to new life.

One young man graduated cum laude from a local liberal arts college and will begin his professional career as a quality control scientist for a pharmaceutical company. The other young man, a philosophy major as an undergraduate, graduated at the top of his class with a law degree. Both men continue to give back and express gratitude every day for the lives they have reclaimed.

The drug epidemic is a national health crisis. Those in government pay lip service to this infectious affliction; despite their inaction, people do recover, reclaim their lives and become life-giving members of our society.

These are just a few stories of hope. I am fortunate to see these kinds of miracles every day across a landscape of unnecessary human carnage!

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

As the number of drug-related overdoses on the Long Island grows, one parent refuses to bury his head in the sand.

On the one-year anniversary of his son’s fatal heroin overdose, William Reitzig wasn’t in bed grieving. Instead, the Miller Place parent was on stage at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai asking hundreds of community members to hug one another.

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

—Michael Reitzig

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … don’t let a minute go by without saying ‘I love you,’” Reitzig said to a crowd of emotional parents, extended family members, friends and strangers. “My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

That mission resonated throughout Hope Walk for Addiction, an April 22 fundraising event created by Reitzig and co-sponsored by Brookhaven Town and Hope House Ministries — a nonprofit based in Port Jefferson that supports people suffering the disease of addiction.

Reitzig, whose 25-year-old son Billy struggled for years with opioid pills and ultimately died after a one-time use of heroin last April, kickstarted “a war on addiction” by raising awareness, educating about addiction, raising money to help those struggling and unite the community.

“This is [really] for the community — it’s not about me, it’s not about my son, it’s to try and make a difference moving forward,” Reitzig said. “I can’t do anything about the past at this point, but going forward we can all chip in … we’re all in the same boat. Today is about all the families that struggle every day with this disease getting together because this is no longer acceptable and we need to do something.”

The large crowd, mostly loved ones of those battling addiction or those who died from it, collectively walked Cedar Beach’s Nature Pathway in memory of those who overdosed. About a dozen names could be seen on signs along the scenic trail.

“I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable.”

—Francis Pizzarelli

Local leaders, self-help experts and bands occupied the stage to address the issue that brought everyone together. Various sponsors, including WALK 97.5 and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, were set up at tables taking donations and educating others, and representatives from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office gave seminars on how to use Narcan, a life-saving nasal spray that can revert the effects of an overdose.

More than 500 people registered for the event, and all proceeds — totaling more than $34,000 at the end of the day — went to Hope House, which currently doesn’t have enough space for the overwhelming amount of people who need its services.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, founder of Hope House, counseled Billy while he was rehabilitating in the facility’s outpatient treatment program for a few months, and ultimately presided over his funeral.

Reitzig worked closely with Pizzarelli, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), to make the Hope Walk a reality.

“Billy was a loving and caring guy, but like a lot of people today, he had his demons and struggled with that,” Pizzarelli said. “I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable. [William] elected to say ‘we’re not going to let this continue, we’re going to do something about it and we’re going to protect the quality of life of all our younger and older people addicted to heroin.’”

This is a time to come together as a community, Pizzarelli added, and celebrate the hope Reitzig embodies.

“We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision.”

—Sue Meyers

“I don’t think I’ve met more resilient, strong, dedicated and passionate people in my whole life as I have in William and his family,” Bonner said. “He’s changing the future of so many people by doing this. We’re losing a generation to addiction and this is an opportunity to lift each other up and strip the layers of shame back. It’s all around us and no community is safe from it.”

Patty Eiserman, of Sound Beach, wore a shirt bearing the face of her nephew David Smallwood, who died in 2013 when he was just 22. She said her goal is to educate children as young as possible so they don’t start using.

“I don’t want to say it’s impossible to get them clean,” she said, “but it’s very, very hard.”

Manorville resident Melanie Ross, whose brother died last year after a 10-year battle with addiction, said the situation ravaged the family. It was the first time she’d attended an even like this.

Sue Meyers, a Setauket resident, said she was walking for her son, Michael Moschetto, a Ward Melville graduate who died in December at 28.

“It’s in his name, but I’m also here to help show support for other people and donate as much money as I have in my pockets,” Meyers said. “We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision. I think events like this really give people hope and a sense of direction.”

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Recently, I participated in the Freshman Investiture Service at Joseph’s College in Patchogue. I have been privileged to be a faculty member in the social science department for more than 30 years. This service of welcoming is very simple. It is an ancient tradition practiced in many colleges and universities around the world as a formal way to welcome the new community of scholars and learners to the college. This year the theme for the Class of 2020 was integrity.

As I watched more than 500 college freshmen walk into our athletic center, representing every community on Long Island and beyond, I said to myself: “What an important theme for this class!” It seems that genuine integrity has truly been lost or buried in the rubble of human selfishness and narcissism. The present political and social landscape in our country seems to be devoid of any real sense of integrity.

What is true integrity? It is honesty, truth, principal, character and respect woven together in the fabric of one’s soul. It should be the foundation of every person’s life! It should shape how we treat each other, socially, politically, morally and religiously. Integrity is critical to sustaining a peaceful and respectful world.

Unfortunately, it seems like some people in power on every front have lost their way in this regard. Dishonesty and lack of respect is infectious everywhere. It wears many faces. It is the senseless violence in our streets. It is the blatant lack of respect for people who risk their lives to protect us every day — as well as the lack of respect on the part of some who use their power abusively.

We lack integrity when we discriminate against people because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their immigration status, their race and their ethnic origin. That Investiture Service provided for me a renewed sense of hope because more than 500 college coeds were reminded in a variety of ways of how profound and important real integrity is, if they hope to reach their goals and live their dreams.

The world desperately needs a new generation of leaders who are grounded in integrity. The class of 2020 potentially has the next generation of business leaders, college professors, compassionate doctors, lawyers and trades persons. The next generation of political leaders are among this class; our next representatives and senators and possibly the next president of the United States of America!

We must work hard to change the national discourse because of our integrity. We must work harder at being more inclusive, less judgmental; we need to build less walls and better bridges. We need to celebrate that which unites us and not that which divides us. We must focus on building people up and empowering the next generation to use their gifts and talents to make the world a better and more peaceful place to live. Hopefully, we in education will challenge the members of the class of 2020 to strengthen their integrity as they begin this new chapter in their lives.

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

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