Authors Posts by Father Francis Pizzarelli

Father Francis Pizzarelli

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

The holiday season is in full bloom. Our beautiful villages with Christmas lights and wreaths reminds us what this time of year is supposed to be about. We celebrate the holiday season across a landscape that is polarized and profoundly divisive. 

Our recent midterm elections have made the powerful statement that Americans are tired of hearing about election steal lies. They are tired of conspiracy theories and rhetoric that is blatantly false and disgraceful.

The midterm elections have made a powerful statement that democracy is more powerful than autocracy; that we as a nation want to move forward and find new ways to collaborate with each other for the sake of all Americans.

As you prepare to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, I hope our faith leaders have the courage to stand up and speak for truth, for social justice and respect for all people no matter what their race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic class.

Our silence, when it comes to serious life issues that impact all of us, is a statement of complicity. Shame on those of us who hold positions of religious leadership and remain silent. Shame on those who hold positions of religious leadership and fuel the hate and polarization that is paralyzing our nation.

However, despite this chaotic landscape I continue to remain exceptionally hopeful because I am blessed to see miracles and human transformation every day. 

Every morning when I get up, I look out at our garden of remembrance. There are more than 120 crosses representing all the innocent lives that have been lost to overdose and addiction since the pandemic. They are from our community. They have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters that live among us. I know these days are hard for their families. We must never forget but always remember their gift of life.

Human kindness continues to live on in our midst. Hopefully during this holiday season, it will become contagious. Recently a retired schoolteacher told me a powerful story. She was on line at Taco Bell in her car and her eyes met the eyes of a man in a red truck in front of her. It was just a momentary glance. When she got to the window to pay, the cashier told her there was no charge. The man in the red truck had covered her meal. Needless to say, she was overwhelmed. 

The cashier gave her a note which I have permission to share with you: “To the person behind me in line, please accept this small act of kindness today as a reminder that all of us have bad days, but not all of us were fortunate enough to wake up this morning and have a day at all. No matter how hard it gets, keep going! You are stronger than your most difficult hour, and there are so many people supporting you even if you haven’t met them yet. Peace, love, tacos — a random stranger.”

As we celebrate the holiday season this year, let us reach out with random kindness to the strangers in our midst that could become our friends!

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Have you ever stopped in the middle of Penn Station amongst the noise and human activity and just think?

Recently, I did exactly that. It was rush hour. I had just finished teaching at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Graduate School of Social Services. I took the one train to Penn Station. There was pandemonium like I have not seen since pre-pandemic days.

This was a different kind of energy. It was opening night for the New York Rangers. People’s excitement was contagious. I almost wished that I had a ticket so that I could go to the hockey game even though I hate hockey. 

In the midst of all of the noise and excitement, I stopped, took a breath and looked around. My eyes caught sight of a little girl with a Rangers jersey on that was bigger than her; she was on fire. I waved and caught her eye; she waved back with a big smile. As I was waiting for my train back to Ronkonkoma. I couldn’t help but think of her innocence, of her positive energy, of her genuine openness and that one day that beautiful little smile and abundant energy could be severely impaired because of the world we live in.

Soon enough she will move from the innocence of childhood into the chaos of adolescence and young adulthood. The world is a very negative place right now for the next generation to be nurtured in. We need to protect them from the garbage and hypocrisy that is everywhere. We need to attempt to change all of that negativity and make the world a place that is welcoming and inclusive, even if we disagree!

We need to work harder at building bigger bridges rather than stronger walls. We need to create a language grounded in respect and love for everyone, even when it’s hard, challenging and demanding.

No little girl should ever have her innocence and joy threatened or impaired because the world is filled with narcissism and selfishness.

Every day I see pain and suffering in the eyes of the mentally ill and the drug addicts that I live and work with; but I also see hope and potential for change and transformation. I see miracles every day which make me believe we can make the world better; make it more loving and caring for all the little ones who live in our midst.

Mental health is a major concern that is rapidly disarming and paralyzing a growing number of young people of every age and walk of life. We don’t have enough licensed mental health professionals that can cost-effectively meet the epidemic need before us. We must collaborate now to erase the stigma that painfully exists around mental health treatment. We must demand accountability from all our insurance providers who tend to play games with our mental health and access to comprehensive mental health treatment.

The government needs to stop talking the talk and begin walking the walk. Our faith leaders need to have the guts to stand up, be counted and lead us in the fight for protecting all life that is scarred by mental health disorders. This cannot wait for tomorrow.

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank PizzarelliPlain Talk:

On Sept. 25 a few hundred people gathered to dedicate and bless Our Lady of Hope Grotto and the Garden of Hope located in Mount Sinai on the grounds of Little Portion Friary, a former Anglican Franciscan Monastery.

Historically, it was the site of the first Hope House founded in 1980. For more than four decades, Hope House Ministries has reached out to the most vulnerable among us. Presently, the heart of this social outreach is providing residential and outpatient services for those among us who are battling addiction.

This nontraditional residential treatment program for addictions is located on the grounds of the former monastery. Since beginning there five years ago, more than 600 men have reclaimed and transformed their lives.

The heroin and fentanyl epidemic is crippling our nation and our larger community. The Grotto and Garden of Hope have become a safe place for people to gather who have members in their family are struggling with addiction and for those growing number of families who have lost loved ones to this god-awful affliction.

The Garden of Remembrance has more than 120 crosses honoring those who have died in our larger community. Unfortunately, requests for crosses continue to come in every week.

The heroin and fentanyl epidemic continues to spiral out of control for number of reasons. We still attach a terrible stigma to people who battle addiction. Addicts and their families continue to struggle with shame and guilt which too often paralyzes those who need help from getting help.

Support services for addiction treatment is grossly inadequate. We need more detox beds, more residential treatment beds that provide more than 11 days of care, or outpatient treatment and more trained, licensed treatment professionals to provide counseling and support.

If you are uninsured or poorly insured, you don’t have a chance at quality treatment. The insurance industry seems to hold all the power and they know little or nothing about addiction and treatment for the chronic relapser and hard-core heroin addict.

Until we take the power out of the insurance companies’ hands and put it in the hands of treatment professionals, we’re going to continue to bury people that need not die. We need to draw on the evidence-based research for treatment if you want people to recover. Our insurance dollars need to be well spent. Look at the recidivism rate across the country. It is out of control and scandalous. We clearly need to do things differently.

As I write this column, a young man that I’ve worked with for more than 20 years since he was a teenager has overdosed. He is someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s cousin, someone’s father. He was doing extremely well over an extended period of time. He developed a successful business, owns his own home and is an active member in the recovery community. It took only a moment and a poor choice; now he is on life support fighting for his life.

Hope lives on and love remains!

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

What is happening to our nation? The violent rhetoric is at an all time high. It is out of control. The threats of violence against elected officials and public servants is reprehensible.

Many are disgusted with our elected officials. Why would any person of character and integrity want to put his or her family at risk due to this infectious rhetoric that is spreading like wildfire across the country?

Where are our elected leaders when we need them? Elected officials are making ridiculous statements without doing their homework and getting the facts. They are more dangerous than the extremists who are igniting this violence across the country.

Where are our religious leaders? Most  of our major faith traditions have been silent about the new threats of violence across the country, the gun safety issues and the growing number of heroin overdoses that are paralyzing parts of our nation.

Our elected leaders are failing to encourage respectful but comprehensive conversations about the sensitive issues facing all Americans. Instead some are publicly fueling this hateful rhetoric that is inciting violence and putting peoples lives at risk.

What has happened to our moral compass? Compassion, common sense and respect seem to be dead in America. Religion should never be used as a weapon – that is deplorable. Religious leaders who use their puppets to weaponize congregants are disgraceful.

We are a nation of diversity. That is one of the many excellent qualities we have that makes our nation great.

My hope is that our local and national religious leaders will have the courage to lead us, to build better bridges and not stronger walls, to be more inclusive not exclusive. Our religious leaders must lead us by way of example to transcend the hateful rhetoric that is infecting all of us and not contribute to it.

We must reclaim the narrative that incites violence and hatred and re-create the climate of respect and tolerance of all of our differences.

Where has objective truth gone? Why can’t we have intense conversations about important issues and genuinely leave a conversation agreeing to disagree, do it with respect and no hostility.

Disagreements should never lead to threats of violence or violence itself.

We have a very powerful opportunity for political and religious leaders to come together transcend all the hateful rhetoric and violence and have the courage to remind all Americans of the need for renewed respect for all people, even when we differ. 

The younger generation needs to see us come together. So many of them are still recovering from the two years of social isolation due to the pandemic. They need to concretely see each of us engage in difficult conversations that help us to come together and better understand each other.

Hope does not abandon us, we abandon hope. I hope not!

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It is unfortunate that we tend to label and stigmatize people because of unfortunate circumstances in their lives. If someone has gone to jail and served their time, they are labeled by many as useless lowlifes. 

They try to get a job and live a normal productive life but the ex-con is marked and not oftentimes given the chance to redeem themselves. So, the ex-con who has been rehabilitated is going to fail because there are no resources to empower them to succeed and move beyond the destructive label we have created for them.

Illegal drug use is out of control within our country. Overdose deaths are at an epic high. Treatment resources are overburdened and unfortunately too often ineffective, if we look at the terrible relapse rates. The numbers are staggering!

There is most likely not a person reading this column who has not directly or indirectly been affected by out-of-control drug use. We are in the midst of a national health epidemic around the abuse of heroin and fentanyl. People of every age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic status are dying senselessly every day because of overdosing. Too many people stigmatize those battling addiction. We support people who are battling cancer, why don’t we support those afflicted with addiction?

Believe it or not there are a growing number of people with tremendous support who reclaim their lives and become productive members of our larger community. That road to wellness and freedom is not easy!

JB was born into a wonderful upper-middle-class family. He went to Catholic high school. He went on to college but failed out because of his drug use. His parents spent tens of thousands of dollars on various treatment programs that did nothing. He lived on the streets of Florida, underneath bridges and in shelters.

Finally, JB saw the light and went into a long-term residential treatment program for addictions. He went back to college, graduated at the top of his class and earned a scholarship to law school. A month ago, he graduated from law school as number one in his class. He was the valedictorian and gave his speech to a packed arena. His address was about his journey to recovery and wellness which led him to law school. Today he works for a big law firm in New York City, but also does pro bono work for those who are battling addiction and need law services.

The salutatorian at Five Towns College told his story of hope and transformation as a gay man in recovery. JM hopes to leave for Spain in September to teach children English in Madrid.

People do recover from addiction and do great things. These two men in the midst of all the darkness around us are clearly beacons of light and of hope among us!

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

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By Father Frank Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

June is the time of year when school ends and summer begins. It’s a time of year when our high school seniors graduate and prepare to transition into young adults. Some will go away to college; others will prepare to enter the workforce. All of our graduates will hopefully deal with all of the challenges of change and transition in a positive way.

The hard question to answer is are these graduates ready and prepared for the new challenges before them? The pandemic has definitely impaired many of these extraordinary young men and women.

However, despite the challenges and the lack of holistic services in the area of mental health and addiction services, many of these graduates have begun to navigate the difficult road before them with extraordinary character and integrity.

Despite the polarizing landscape they must navigate, the class of 2022 are genuinely beacons of hope. So many of them have courageously challenged the hypocrisy of our present age. They have reached out to the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.

A growing number of high school students who have graduated and have been victimized by the mass school shootings that have ripped at the soul of America have become prophetic voices in our midst. They have worked tirelessly to raise people’s awareness that sensible gun laws don’t infringe on our Second Amendment rights, but rather remind us that all life is sacred and we need to protect all!

Graduates of 2022, thank you for reminding all of us that hope lives in our midst and that your class is going to make a profound difference in our world! Thank you for reminding us that all people matter, no matter what their race, religion, sexual orientation, or economic status.

Class of 2022, may you always have the courage despite our social climate of divisiveness to build bridges instead of walls, to create a world where love, forgiveness and inclusiveness are foundational.

One of your classmates this graduation season did not walk with his fellow seniors because he was killed due to gun violence. His high school career was marked by compassion and service to others. He constantly talked to his mom about wanting to go into public service after college and trying to make a difference in the world. He won’t have that opportunity but many of you could choose that career path. We desperately need you; our democracy is moving towards autocracy; we need your help to reclaim the soul of our nation and protect our freedoms.

May you always remember hope does not abandon us, we abandon hope! Class of 2022 —  always be men and women of hope!

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

When is enough, enough? How many more innocent children have to be martyred before we take the blinders off and heed the call to action?!

Twenty-one additional families have to live with the profound sense of loss of life of those they have loved. Nineteen innocent school-age children and two teachers were massacred by a depraved 18-year-old, who was legally allowed to purchase two automatic rifles that are used for war, not hunting or innocent self-defense. How can the people that we have elected to lead us remain silent? By their silence, they demonstrate complicity!

Does a senator or congressperson have to have his or her son or daughter murdered before they have the guts to stand up for justice and speak out for common sense gun safety? This is not about denying any American citizen his or her second amendment rights — it is about ensuring the safety of all American citizens, no matter what their age.

When will those who lead us have the guts to lead and not be bought off by the gun lobby, the insurance lobby or any other special interest groups that do not care about the life and safety of ordinary Americans?

Many in power are not doing their jobs on both sides of the aisle. They need to be voted out of office this election cycle. The silent majority needs to stand up, be counted and act on behalf of the innocent.

Schools were always a safe place for children to grow, learn and have fun. Another student body of more than 600 students has been traumatized. How long will it take for them to move beyond their fears? Some will carry this trauma for the rest of their lives; it will impact their journey forever. Other students will have a chance to recover, but it will be a hard road especially since this poor Texan community does not have the trained mental health professionals to assist these students and their families. 

Will government step in? Who knows? It seems rather clear by all the school shootings in the past 10 years that the government and our leadership does not care! 

Every religious leader who reads this column, I pray you have the courage to challenge your congregation to give voice to this very important human life issue. Every child in America deserves to feel safe and be safe in every environment. We need to demand universal background checks and common-sense gun safety laws that will protect all Americans everywhere.

We also need to develop national protocols when a high school student is identified as a threat to the safety of his or her classmates. Mental illness in this country is out of control and untreated. Suspension and/or expulsion does not ensure safety.  Remember the Parkland massacre!

Our children are our greatest gift. May they never experience the trauma of Sandy Hook or Robb Elementary School. May we have the courage to move beyond our deafness. Our children are counting on us! 

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

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By Father Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Spring is a time for new beginnings. As you read this column, many of our college graduates will have graduated or are preparing to graduate this month. They are closing one chapter and opening a new chapter across the landscape of great division and polarization.

Four years ago, when they began their college adventure, the world was radically different. They have seen the polarization of our nation. They have witnessed the senseless destruction of a sovereign nation in Europe. They have been profoundly affected by the coronavirus and everything associated with it; two years of total disruption and having to live in ways unimaginable. 

For the first time in 40 years of teaching, I have had a growing number of bright young men and women who were clearly ill-prepared for their first year of college. They had a very hard time with balancing school, work and life. College is not high school. College professors usually don’t pamper their students. They expect that students will attend class regularly, hand in assignments on time and engage in lively conversation and debate.

Time management has been a real challenge. The quality of their critical thinking and their writing skills is clearly impaired. The issues of depression and anxiety are profoundly present as well as a lacking of ability and skills to do something about these issues.

So many colleges this year have been ill-equipped to respond to the growing number of students needing mental health support. Many local college campuses do not have enough mental health professionals to respond to the growing need.

We need to reshape our college learning landscape. We need to collaborate with our local high school colleagues and identify the ways that we can support students preparing to go to college, to help them address those weaknesses that will impair their success.

Educators at every level have to work harder on behalf of our students and make adjustments that will empower students at every level of education to do their best. Learning is a process, not a product. Despite these challenges there are extraordinary men and women that are graduating this year from our community colleges, our local universities and our graduate schools.

This past semester I have been privileged to teach the best of the best at St. Joseph’s College, Suffolk County Community Honors College and Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Services. These graduates at each level possess a passion for learning that I thought was lost. Their critical thinking and analytical skills are above the norm and their capacity for being sociologically mindful is beyond words and profoundly well-developed.

As a veteran educator, my spring semester students have inspired me to stay the course. They have taught me so many important life lessons. Each of them is committed to making a difference in their particular fields.

They really embody Gandhi’s words: “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Congratulations college graduates of 2022!  

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Recently Newsday carried a front-page story in its’ Sunday edition on the opioid epidemic and all of the Pharma money given to Suffolk County. It appropriately highlighted a number of exceptional professionals who are providing lifesaving support in the area of prevention and education for those who have been afflicted with addiction.

Education and prevention are vital services in reaching out to those who are struggling with this life-threatening affliction. We need to provide more funds in these areas and wider program opportunities for those in need.

Our county is sitting on millions of dollars due to the Pharma settlement. The County Executive has had access to millions of dollars due to the settlement for months. Unfortunately, no RFP (request for proposal) has been issued; no comprehensive task force has been announced that contains more than government bureaucrats. After 40 years of dealing with the government, I know their wheels regarding change in any kind of progressive action are slow. Unfortunately, we can no longer wait, we must act now!

How many families have to senselessly bury their children before we realize that we lack the important resources to save a life? Education and prevention are very important. However, right now in our county we do not have the necessary long-term residential treatment programs for those who need and seek them.

Chronic heroin relapse addicts are not going to get better in a 28-day program or a three-month program. Evidence-based research underscores that a year to 18 months is needed, if someone is genuinely going to learn the skills to sustain a life of recovery and wellness.

In our county, we have a desperate need for long-term residential treatment. The two programs that exist have endless waiting lists. Every day I get at least three or four desperate calls from parents who are afraid that their children are going to die and they have no place to turn. Every day I place another cross in our garden of remembrance for a young person who overdosed on heroin or fentanyl.

Our silence on this important life issue is deafening. We need to stand up, be counted and demand action before someone close to us dies senselessly — someone we might have been able to save if there was a place for him or her to go.

Insurance companies in our country set people up to fail and ultimately to die. The games they play with people’s lives is scandalous and reprehensible. We need to demand greater accountability for the money spent on healthcare; we need to create opportunities that will save people’s lives and empower them to wellness. Spring is a time for new beginnings, new life and renewed hope. Let’s be courageous and be that spring!

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

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By Father Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These have been some very challenging times. The pandemic has claimed more than 6 million lives around the world; more than a million in our own country. There have been more than 100,000 deaths due to the heroin epidemic; deaths that could have been avoided.

As a country, we have been polarized by rhetoric that at times is so divisive and disrespectful, it is embarrassing. Now, we could possibly be on the brink of a third world war.

These past two weeks we have watched with horror the ravages of war imposed on a free democracy by a heartless dictator. Innocent children have been killed, hospitals and schools have been destroyed by bombs and even a historic church has been desecrated by the violence of war.

More than 2 million people have been forced to leave their homes and their country. As the world has watched this destruction of a democracy and its people, a dictator has been allowed to control a false narrative, savagely kill innocent lives and attempt to justify it. We are forced to sit on the sidelines watching, waiting and hoping that all of this human destruction will stop sooner rather than later.

Despite this painful landscape, the free world has come together and is standing in solidarity with the people of the Ukraine. Countries throughout Europe are warmly welcoming Ukrainian refugees. Some neighboring countries are welcoming homeless families to stay with them. Thousands of people from around the world are sending money, supplies and prayers.

In our own country for the first time in a long time, we have seen bipartisan support to help and support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. People from both sides of the aisle are urging the President to do more.

We must support the brave citizens of Ukraine who are speaking out against terror, violence and political oppression. We must urge the leaders of the free world to come together and forge a way to peace and safety for all Ukrainians.

It’s time for all of us to call for the recognition of the fundamental human rights of all persons to seek refuge and safety and to live free from violence and oppression, no matter what their nationalities, race, gender, sexual orientation or creed.

In all of my college courses since the war began, I’ve asked my students what they think? So many of them said they were beyond words. The violence, the mayhem and the suffering they saw firsthand was painfully overwhelming. Each student who spoke, spoke about the children and their senseless sufferings.

The image I carry with me is that of the eight-year-old boy separated from his parents carrying his stuffed animal, crying as he made his way to safety in a foreign country all alone.

Let us pray for a swift peace and an end to this horrific tyranny!

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