By Fr. Francis 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.