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Father Frank Pizzarelli

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

“Acting responsibly in an irresponsible world!” was a topic I created for a class conversation in my Introduction to Social Work class at Suffolk County Community College. 

The conversation that ensued was beyond words. These college students represent the next generation of leaders and thinkers. They were insightful and challenging. It was clear to me that they were not being influenced by our present class of leaders or lack thereof.

What does it mean to live in an irresponsible world? They immediately pointed to our federal government and the lack of leadership. They expressed amazement at how so many bright, well-educated and experienced lawmakers could not have a civil conversation on any real issue. It should not matter if the participants are from the same political party or different political parties. They have been elected by the people to build bridges not walls.

This dynamic group of college coeds, most of whom are juniors and seniors, continued to talk about our irresponsible world. They touched on everything from undocumented immigration to health care, gangs, gun safety, racism, human trafficking and our poor care for the poorest of the poor among us.

As the conversation moved from an irresponsible world to acting responsibly, these students spoke about what really matters to them. No matter who is speaking, from the president to a homeless person, no one has the right to speak disrespectfully of another, to demean, name call and put people down.

Words matter. Calling people scum and lowlifes, making fun, calling people negative names; the list is endless and is clearly inappropriate. When people in public office engage in that kind of language, they dishonor and disgrace the office they hold, from the presidency to Congress. 

What my students found most disturbing is that so many respectable people elected to serve the needs of all Americans have been silent about this reprehensible language or have made lame excuses for why it is not a big deal. Some of our religious leaders have also have been painfully silent on this issue. 

My students pointed out that if their teacher or clergy person acted in this way, he or she would be sanctioned immediately and removed from their position. They expressed sadness that this behavior has clearly lessened respect for the most important office in the land — the office of the presidency.

So how do you act responsibly in an irresponsible world? Despite their poor role models in this regard, my students spoke passionately about being responsible, caring for the poor, being men and women of honesty, respect and integrity.

They acknowledged the need for more civic engagement on their part so that they can change the social and political order. They expressed a genuine commitment to restoring the social and political order to a civil and respectful landscape where all Americans are treated equally with dignity and respect.

These students expressed there is no place on the American landscape for racism, discrimination, violence, hate groups, divisiveness — no matter what one’s nationality, religion, economic status and sexual orientation.

We are a nation that was founded on religious liberty and freedom for all; a nation committed to social justice and human rights; a nation that must work to build bridges and not walls.

When the class finished on that Wednesday afternoon, I left renewed and hopeful that things will get better for all of us thanks to the next generation!

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

Vaping is a new health hazard. Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It is hard to believe that summer is over and another school year has begun. This year the landscape for the opening of the new school year has been marred with another mass shooting and Hurricane Dorian, which has paralyzed the south eastern part of our country.

Schools around the country are beginning a new school year with intense anxiety around gun violence and the country’s inability to come up with reasonable, effective gun safety regulations that protect people’s safety and people’s Second Amendment rights.

The lack of decisive leadership on the part of those we have elected to lead is scandalous. The lack of clarity and the profound silence from the White House is deafening and shameful. Gun safety should be a priority issue that should not be buried in the political rubble of partisan politics. People from both sides of the aisle should be able to come together and pass legislation that protects the quality of life for all Americans. If they cannot, then simply vote them out!

As an educator and mental health professional, it troubles me deeply how those who lead us are quick to blame the mentally ill for all of our mass shootings. Every mass shooter has not been mentally ill. Yes, a number have, but our system for support of those battling mental illness at best is poor and honestly is so broken and fragmented that de facto it is useless.

We have an insurance system that sets people up for failure; when it should empower people to wellness. We must address the stigma we impose on people who need help with mental health issues and/or addiction issues.

Finally, we are holding the big pharmaceutical companies accountable for fueling the opioid epidemic. Will any of those billions of dollars be directed to long-term residential treatment or will they get lost in a bureaucracy that has lost its way?

We have to have the courage to do things differently, and the new school year is an excellent opportunity to live differently. Education is a gift, and our children should learn early on what a tremendous opportunity is being given them. Attending class, doing homework and excelling should be everyone’s expectation. We need to hold our children accountable; as parents we need to collaborate with teachers and school administrators to create the most life-giving environment for all of our children to grow and excel.

We also need to be concerned about our children’s social behavior. It is troubling that a growing number of our children in junior high school through college age spend more time on social media and texting than they do on face-to-face human communication and studying.

Ask your junior high and/or high school student if he or she could give up his or her cellphone for one month. Most will tell you no! Remember life before cellphones and social media? This present generation is not learning how to effectively communicate and build healthy human relationships.

One last concern as the new school year begins — vaping, e-cigarettes — are a new health hazard. Don’t be brainwashed by advertisements to believe that e-cigarettes and vaping are an excellent deterrent to smoking. They are not! Our children are not just vaping their favorite flavors, but cannabis.

These are not social behaviors that are healthy for our teenagers and young adults to indulge in. We need to take our blinders off and do our homework if we genuinely care about our children.

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

Father Frank speaks at candlelight vigil for Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These past two months have been an extraordinary time. Mass shootings occurred in California, Texas and Ohio. The Democratic debates in Detroit captured the nation. The unfortunate, reprehensible rhetoric that came out of Washington that lacks substance and is focused on hatefulness and attacking the character and integrity of people in leadership was most disturbing.

The presidency is supposed to be about unity, not dividing us. The presidency is supposed to provide support of the moral fabric of our nation, which is founded on diversity, integrity and the respect for human rights for all. Painfully, the end of July underscored everything we are not.

However, more disturbing than the despicable rhetoric coming out of Washington has been the deafening silence of our religious leaders across the country.

Shame on the leaders of all of our major religious traditions — religions that preach compassion, forgiveness, respect, inclusiveness of all; religions that claim they are founded on social justice and human rights, focused on building bridges and not walls. Your silence is deafening at a time when we desperately need your prophetic voices and leadership to challenge the infectious behavior in Washington. By your silence, you are complicit!

There are a few local clergy who are courageous, who are speaking out against injustice, who lead by example! There is a sign outside of a church in Mount Sinai that reminds us boldly that, “We must protect the environment. Care for the poor. Forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. And enjoy this life.” Amen; hope lives.

In the midst of this craziness, I witnessed firsthand the power of community at its best especially in a time of crisis and pain. In late July, a very dynamic and compassionate educational leader died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 49.

Rob Grable was the principal of Mount Sinai High School. I first met him when he was the assistant principal in the junior high school. I did a program on social responsibility for the eighth graders. We reconnected when he became the principal of the high school and collaborated on a number of projects for his high school students to build and strengthen community and social responsibility.

After his sudden death on a Monday night in late July, the district held a candlelight vigil to honor this dynamic, educational leader. Close to 2,000 people gathered in the rain to honor a man who was everyone’s principal. Mount Sinai was his life. He was everywhere for everyone. He walked with academic students, with the athletes, with the students who struggled, with the fringe students. They all claimed that Mr. Grable was their principal. His colleagues talked about a man of impeccable character and integrity, a mentor, a friend, a confidant, with tears in their eyes.

That night I was honored to be asked to offer prayer, but more importantly I felt privileged to be a part of a moment in history where we were a community at its best — men and women, students and former students holding hands in solidarity to honor a man who profoundly made a difference in so many lives, reminding all of us that we can all be people of integrity; that we have the power to make a difference in our world. It is fitting that the school district plans to rename Mount Sinai High School the Robert Grable Memorial High School.

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

Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Father Frank in front of the new plaque at the Cedar Beach basketball courts. Photo courtesy of Councilwoman Bonner’s office

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These are difficult days for our country and for the world. The rhetoric all around us is infectious and vile. Recent images from our southern border about undocumented people being detained in squalor and filth is unconscionable. There is no humane justification for separating children from their parents no matter what their legal status is.

What has happened to our moral compass that was once able to transcend political parties and nonsense and do what is right for humankind?

Despite this troubling American landscape, hope and compassion still lives. On Friday, July 12, I went to support the efforts of two brothers from Miller Place who lost their brother from a heroin overdose more than five years ago.

To honor their brother who was a senior at Stony Brook University and an avid basketball player, The Jake Engel Foundation was created. Jake’s two brothers did not want their brother’s senseless death to be in vain. They were determined to celebrate his life and “bring awareness, community and change to all people negatively affected by substance abuse in Suffolk County.”

Their focus is on developing healthy outlets for youth. They reach out to people who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They reach out to students who need to navigate peer pressure during school; people who know others who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They believe that the human community as a whole is responsible for creating a world free of addiction!

These two brothers could have buried their heads in the sand. When they started Hoops for Hope five years ago, the youngest brother was still in high school and his older brother was still in graduate school.

These two courageous young men have raised thousands of dollars for many worthy programs that treat addiction. Equally as important, they have raised the awareness of an entire community about the opioid epidemic that is taking so many lives senselessly in record numbers.

When I arrived at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for this annual basketball tournament, there was not a parking spot to be found. There were vendors everywhere raising money for this important cause. Thirty teams participated from all over the North Shore. Ten teams were on a waiting list for next year because of limited space. 

That Friday was really a community effort. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Republican) had the Cedar Beach basketball court renamed “Jake Engel Memorial Basketball Court “Shine On …” and a new plaque was attached on its entrance gate.

The spirit in the air that day was electric. I must admit it was so good to feel so much positive energy that afternoon. These two young brothers continue to inspire an entire community to be more. Their passion and commitment to make a difference should be recorded and sent to every elected official at every level of our government, challenging them to roll up their sleeves and lead this nation by example — working harder to build bridges and not walls and grounded in hope that tomorrow can always be better than today.

These two brothers and their parents are the embodiment of our great American spirit and that hope lives! Hope does not abandon us. We abandon hope! Let hope become 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 Pizzarelli

Are our smartphones destroying the fabric of the American family? Think about that question. How many young families with children are allowing their elementary school children to have smartphones with little or no restrictions?

In April, I was at a celebration with a family with three children from the Midwest; all were in junior high school. Dad is a successful attorney and Mom is a tenured schoolteacher. Grandparents and an aunt were also there to celebrate the eighth-grade daughter’s confirmation. By traditional definition, they are a strong, intact family.

After grace was said, I was amazed at what followed. These children are bright and articulate. They are not inhibited to share their opinions. After a few minutes of banter, which I initiated, they immediately became obsessed with their smartphones. The only communication for the remainder of the meal was shared among the adults present. 

As I flew back home after the celebratory dinner, I could not help but be distracted by my cellphone observation. I decided I would be more attentive of young people and how and when they use their smartphones. I must admit I was taken back by my observation.

On Tuesdays, I take an early morning train to New York City. I teach in the graduate school of social work at Fordham University. I was deafened by the silence. Based on observation, most of the passengers were on their smartphones, their tablets and/or their laptops. It was the rare row of seats in this crowded train where people were actually engaged in conversation!

So I decided to look further into the smartphone issue. I already knew from my experience that smartphones were becoming a problem in college classes, so much so that I had to develop a specific policy on the use of cellphones in my classes. 

However, I wanted to know more. When did you get your first smartphone? How many hours a day do you spend on it? Are you permitted to have a cellphone at family dinner? Would you rather text than speak to someone directly or leave a voicemail?

I was definitely concerned by their responses. I sought input from my classes in a four-year school and a community college. All who responded were students in the classes I taught at these respective schools. For the most part, their answers were the same.

Most students said they received their first smartphone by late elementary school, early junior high school — that is fifth or sixth grade. As small children, their use of their smartphone was limited by bedtime. However, by high school most students admitted they were using their smartphones from 10 to 15 hours a day, and in some cases, even more!

Most admitted that they would rather text or leave a voice message instead of talking. The only split was with those who had family dinners where cellphones were prohibited; however, those not having a family meal said it was not an issue. They were equally divided on how many had a family dinner and how many had not had a family dinner since early elementary school.

These observations could not be seen objectively as conclusive since the survey is very limited in number. However, it does offer us a lot of food for thought. It helps to explain for me as a teacher why college students’ writing skills have deteriorated over the years and their critical thinking skills are almost nonexistent. The human connection seems to be lost. The next generation seems more grounded in one-dimensional nonhuman connections rather than face-to-face human interaction.

For the sake of our future, we need to go back to simpler times where people were more important than social media posts and human touch with respect and dignity more valuable than a social platform. We must reclaim the fabric of our American family life before it is too late!

P.S. I still write hand-written notes and letters! LOL!

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

Above, flowers at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting in New Zealand

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

On March 15, halfway around the world another horrific act of violence and hatred marred our world. Two mosques in New Zealand were viciously attacked and 50 innocent people were senselessly killed and countless others wounded because of their Muslim faith.

This particular act of hatred is even more depraved and despicable because it happened in a sacred house of worship. Traditionally all houses of worship are supposed to be safe havens for people who want to pray, rest and find peace.

Once again we are reminded of the infectious hate that wounds, blinds, divides and often kills. This hate is being perpetuated by a small group of narrow-minded people who have little or no respect for the sanctity of all human life, no matter what your color, your race, your nationality, your sexual orientation or your socioeconomic status.

In a free society, respect and inclusiveness of all people is foundational. We must continually give voice to these vital principles. Our nation was founded on religious freedom — not for certain religions, but for all religions! All houses of worship must be respected as well as everyone’s holy book.

This unfortunate tragedy in New Zealand reminds us that we still have so much more work to do in the areas of tolerance, respect, inclusiveness, acceptance and diversity on every level.

Words matter, especially when they come from people in authority and leadership. We all must confront hateful rhetoric, especially when and where it erupts. It should not matter who is using it. Hateful rhetoric is hateful rhetoric. No one is exempt from being held accountable in this regard.

We cannot pick and choose who we call out on their hateful speech. Hatefulness has no boundaries, no color, no class, no religion, no sexual orientation or economic status.

When our synagogues, churches and mosques are violated with hate and violence, it must be a call to action for all caring human beings everywhere. We must have the courage to stand up and confront the violent hate-mongers head-on.

Our silence is destructive. Unfortunately, it is seen by some as an affirmation of this vile behavior. Our message must be loud and clear. There are no exceptions, no excuses! There is no room in our country for violent, hateful destructive rhetoric and people.

We need to have the courage to work more aggressively and advocate for positive change in our country. We can no longer excuse the violent reprehensible and hateful behavior that erupted in New Zealand. Actions speak louder than words!

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 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.

Merry Christmas!

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

The H.I.M.S. and Her

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Since I last wrote this column, so much has happened that underscores that we have lost our moral compass. The confirmation process of our most recent Supreme Court Justice was an embarrassment. The behavior on the part of all involved on both sides of the aisle including the White House was reprehensible.

Have we lost all respect for the integrity and dignity of the human person? True leaders lead by personal example and respect. The moral decay has become infectious. The search for the truth has become inconsequential.

Meanwhile, on the home front parents continue to senselessly bury their children of all ages due to the opioid epidemic, and our national health crisis seems to have no real end in sight.

For all the circular rhetoric around this issue, we still have no additional beds for long-term residential treatment. Insurance companies continue to murder our most vulnerable by telling them to try outpatient treatment first; and if they fail, then they will pay for residential care, which for the record is down to less than 11 days!

Those that we have elected to lead us and protect us are clearly uneducated and clueless in regards to the devastation of this epidemic.

One outraged mother met with a group of parents and a local congressional person to voice their concerns for his lack of support on this issue and his support of the insurance industry. One of the mothers spoke out and said: “I did what you told us to do; I tried outpatient treatment for my son and he failed!” She then placed the cremated ashes of her son on his desk. The congressperson said nothing!

Despite all of this negativity, hope continues to give me strength to fight the good fight. On Oct. 20 at the Shoreham Country Club, a band that came together in early recovery did a benefit concert. They were amazing. They are known as the H.I.M.S. (Hope Inspired Men Sing) and Her. It was a refreshing evening of music that was filled with hope, change and transformation. People do recover and reclaim their lives after addiction!

The event was the idea of a retired lawyer from Shoreham who wanted to raise awareness around the affliction of addiction and also raise money that could help the recovery effort that is happening at Hope Academy on the grounds of Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai. Thanks to her efforts more than $4,000 was raised that night.

On Sunday afternoon, at the dynamic Mount Sinai Congregational Church in Mount Sinai, that community installed a new pastor, the Rev. Phil Holson. The celebration was filled with joy, gratitude and renewed hopefulness.

The Mount Sinai Congregational Church has been a prophetic voice in our midst. As a local faith community, members don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk! 

This is evidenced in their mission statement that is quite inclusive. It states as a congregation they are committed to justice and all are welcome — regardless of age, race, abilities, economic or marital status, gender, sexual orientation or gender identification. They state they are a church that is open and affirming of all people, as we are all made in the image of God.

For almost four decades, I have seen this church community in action. Their commitment to social justice is an inspiration! Welcome Pastor Phil to the neighborhood! Thanks for saying yes — we need another prophetic voice in our midst!

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

District Attorney Tim Sini (D). File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Recently District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a new initiative to combat the drug epidemic ravaging Suffolk County. The Comprehensive Addiction Recovery and Education Program, or CARE Program, allows nonviolent defendants with substance abuse disorders a full dismissal of chargers if the person successfully completes a 90-day treatment program. It was designed by prosecutors, defense attorneys and court officials.

This initiative is definitely a positive step in the right direction. As someone who has provided outpatient and residential treatment for addictions for more than 25 years, I am deeply concerned that this effort lacks substance and appropriate resources for those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Many of our judges have already been open to alternative sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. 

There are some important facts that seem to always get buried when this important issue is raised. These are facts that the public should know. 

First and foremost, we do not have nearly enough detox and/or residential treatment beds.

And insurance no longer covers a full 28-day stay in a residential treatment program. At best, most will only cover 7 to 11 days. That is unconscionable. More tragically, many insurance companies tell those battling chronic addiction “try outpatient treatment first — fail at this then we will pay for residential care.”

A growing number of young men and women are trying outpatient treatment first and are failing in record numbers. They are dying! What is very disturbing is that few to no voices are crying out about this horrific human atrocity.

Evidence-based treatment grounded in competent research states that the chronic opioid and heroin addict needs long-term residential treatment if long-term recovery is the hope for outcome.

Presently in Suffolk County we have two programs that provide more than three months of care. Only one program is not insurance based.

So the CARE initiative is a great step forward. Let’s not set those struggling with addictions within the criminal justice system up for failure because we lack the comprehensive and competent resources to make the CARE Program an effective tool on one’s road to recovery and wellness.

Unfortunately, outpatient programs have very limited success with chronic drug abusers. Do some enter and sustain health recovery? Yes, but a growing number fail.

As one local religious leader, I have presided at way too many funerals for young people who have died senselessly around addiction. In the past three weeks, I have had three young adults with tremendous potential lose their lives because of overdosing on heroin. I have talked with many of my colleagues in religion who are burying a record number of young people within their own faith traditions. 

Actions speak louder than words. The violence of our silence is contributing to this national health crisis. Change and transformation is possible. I live among these miracles everyday.

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

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.