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Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Pixabay photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

The pandemic has changed the course of human history forever. As we move forward beyond all the restrictions, mask wearing and debate around being vaccinated, we are trying to create a new normal. No one is quite sure what that might look like.

Whatever the new normal looks like, we need to transcend all of the political rhetoric and polarization that has infected the soul of our nation. We need to reclaim basic respect for people, no matter what their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and/or socioeconomic status.

Our vision has become so blurred; our moral compass impaired. Those we have elected to lead us, no matter what their political party, need to lead by example.

Our country was founded on diversity and freedom of speech. However, freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to trample on another person’s freedom or perspective. 

The pandemic has consumed so many of our healthcare resources to care for those infected by the virus. Our healthcare community, with great courage, rose to the occasion and have been heroic in their care for all of our sick. Unfortunately, other healthcare concerns have not had the proper attention. Everyone in leadership, on both the federal and state level, have acknowledged the heroin epidemic is a national healthcare crisis. However, no money promised has reached the rank-and-file providers. Insurance companies continue to determine the financial equation for treatment. The recidivism rate based on their equation is dismal and becoming worse by the day.

Outpatient treatment for the heroin addict is a disaster — 28 days for hard-core relapsers is just the beginning. To tell the truth, most insurance companies will only cover 11 days of residential treatment because they’ve decided that after 11 days it’s not a medical emergency! That’s disgraceful!

It is apparent to me that they have not looked at the evidence-based research in regards to chronic heroin users and relapses. The research is clear — they need a minimum of 12 to 18 months with the hope of reclaiming their lives and developing the skills to sustain a life of abstinence and recovery.

What we are painfully learning is that we need to invest more resources after intensive treatment into transitional supportive services to ensure a recovering person success.

In the last six weeks, I have buried six young people who overdosed and died of heroin and fentanyl. Each of these young persons was in a variety of residential treatment settings. I am one cleric in a small region. Sadly, the number is probably triple that and not getting better.

Addicts do recover and reclaim their lives thanks to a collaborative effort on the part of many. On Memorial Day, a young recovering addict who was once a high school dropout and is now a successful attorney was married in New Jersey to another lawyer. I was privileged to preside at the ceremony and when it was finished, he whispered this to me: “thanks for helping me to reclaim my life. I will never forget you. I will always give back!”

On another positive note, a shout out to our Marine Bureau in Suffolk County. On a Saturday afternoon this month I was driving a boat to Davis Park where I am the pastor. The boat was filled with musicians in recovery who were going to play at the 5 p.m. mass there. We got halfway from Patchogue to Davis Park and the boat overheated. We were drifting in the great South Bay. Two police officers who were finishing their tour at Davis Park came out of their way to tow us in time for mass instead of just signing off. I am forever grateful to these two public servants for their service but also for their power of example for the young men in the boat who witnessed their service and kindness.

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

Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Spring is here. It is a time for renewed hope. Flowers are blooming; people are out walking. There is light at the end of the tunnel regarding the pandemic that has senselessly stolen more than 1/2 million American lives and left countless families with so much sadness and pain. 

As this new spring is unfolding, once again we are a nation with tremendous grief and sadness for the senseless loss of life in Georgia and Colorado; innocent people gunned down senselessly by two disturbed gunmen with histories of mental illness.

We are painfully reminded once again that racism and hate still lives and is infectious across our country. The national divide takes a few steps toward healing and then it splits again. Children at the border and our broken immigration policy continues to polarize our nation and any kind of productive conversation that might move us closer to a humane resolution of a very complicated and delicate life issue.

We continue to struggle with nationalism and globalism, with human rights and the respect for the dignity of all human beings. It is a sad state of affairs when people of opposing viewpoints, different philosophies and ideologies, can no longer sit at the same table, break bread together and talk heart-to-heart about the issues that matter.

The beauty of our nation is that we have always been a beautiful tapestry of diverse color, thinking and believing — but woven together as one!

Unfortunately, there is a serious tear in this tapestry that is getting worse. The people we have elected need to lead by example, not by being revisionists or obstructionists. They must be agents of healing and unity, leading the way to building new bridges of opportunity and strength. The America we love was founded on diversity and difference; it must be stronger and more unified than ever before.

The hateful rhetoric must stop. We must reclaim our language of respect, compassion and tolerance which is the soul of our nation.

While I was driving home from the college that I teach at on a recent sunny Wednesday afternoon, I passed St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station. In their parking lot were a large group of parishioners and volunteers feeding an endless line of fellow Americans and giving them bags of food to take with them. It was refreshing to see so many people reaching out to others smiling and laughing.

Now that’s the America that I know and love!

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

Interior of the U.S. Capital. Photo from Pixabay

By Fr. Frank Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Revisionists cause great conflict and tension in every social environment where we find them. I remember in my early college teaching career a well-known historical revisionist was speaking across the country trying to convince college students that the Holocaust never happened. He was eloquent, dynamic and tried to persuade those who would listen that it was a hoax and/or a grand conspiracy.

When we talked about this in class after an article appeared about him in the New York Times, a male student stood up with tears streaming down his face saying “tell my grandmother who escaped from a death camp in Germany with a tattoo on her arm that the Holocaust was a hoax!”

His intervention led to an intense conversation about truth, honesty and what is vital to developing an opinion and/or a viewpoint. We spoke about how all of that must be based on evidence-based research, not mere hearsay or the word of someone who is seen as respectable and credible.

Unfortunately, people lie especially if the lie can advance a project or a program that they value or support. Someone once told me “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

A group of revisionists have reappeared. They are attempting to rewrite the painful history of January 6, 2021 — the bloody and senseless insurrection that happened in the people’s house — the Capital — that day.

Fact: people marched on the Capital, challenged and encouraged by the former President of the United States to block the certification of the duly elected new president. The thousands who gathered believed that the election was stolen despite credible evidence from both sides of the aisle that it was not.

Unfortunately, more than a month after that horrific event, elected leaders in Washington are continuing to rewrite history and minimize the devastation, pain and suffering of that dark day in American history.

It is important for all Americans, no matter what your party affiliation, to stand up for truth and give voice to justice and peace.

As a nation, we need to heal and move forward. Diversity and difference in opinion and ideology is healthy in a democracy as long as people discuss, debate and disagree with dignity, civility and respect.

Those who lead us must model that behavior, even if some who are in power do not. We must build a new bridge of respect as we try to move forward. We must try to find new ways to build bridges of unity and harmony that empower us to become the best versions of ourselves.

By the way, March is National Social Workers month. Our social workers at every level, like all of our healthcare workers, have really stepped up, gone the distance and then some to support all of us during these challenging times. We should be especially grateful to the social workers working in our schools, our homeless shelters and in our addiction treatment centers. If you see a social worker, take a moment to thank them for their service, a service that really makes a difference!

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

METRO photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

This year will truly be one to remember; not because of any extraordinary achievement, but rather it was a year when the world almost stopped and millions of people died around the world because of COVID-19.

In our country alone, more than 1/4 of a million people have senselessly lost their lives. Every day we are breaking a record for people dying from the coronavirus.

Thanksgiving was celebrated in ways that most of us never imagined. So many families had empty plates at their table representing loved ones that could not come home and loved ones who have passed because of the virus. Unfortunately, some people did not heed the recommendations for gathering on Thanksgiving to keep all of us safe. As we prepare for Christmas, the virus is surging.

Christmas time is supposed to be a season where we celebrate renewed hope and gratitude for all the many gifts and blessings we’ve received. We give thanks for all the people who have blessed our life. The Christmas season is always marked with an energy that is transformative.

This year Christmas is going to be very different. However, we really should take pause and give thanks in the midst of all the suffering and struggle for the countless gifts and blessings each of us have. It’s a time to stay focused and mindful of what we have in this present moment. It’s a time to give not out of our excess but out of our need. It’s a time to welcome the stranger as a friend and brother or sister. It’s a time for making peace, healing fractured relationships and building new bridges that cross over troubled waters.

This Christmas season provides us a powerful opportunity to join hands and give voice to the voiceless, to work for social justice and respect for all God’s people, no matter who they are or where they are. This time of year is an opportunity to support the dignity and respect of every human person.

In the midst of our fear and anxiety, this holiday season is a powerful moment to renew and affirm the people and relationships that are most important in our lives. It’s an opportunity to reach out to those that we’ve become distant from and reconnect.

This Christmas marks my 40th Christmas in Port Jefferson. So much has happened from my first days as a young parish priest at Infant Jesus. My life has been so blessed and enriched by the countless people I have been privileged to know and work with. The collaborative spirit and compassion in our village that transcends religious traditions and socioeconomic profiles has inspired me and helped me to stay the course all these years. The work that I’ve been able to do is in large measure thanks to the generosity and love from so many.

Thousands of broken young men are whole raising their own families, making positive contributions to our larger community and giving back in countless ways. All of that has happened and continues to happen because of your generosity, your courage and your power of example.

This Christmas I am grateful for the countless miracles I have witnessed every day for 40 years and for the collaborative spirit on the part of so many that have contributed to the transformation of so many wounded and broken people. Thank you for helping to renew my hope. I am forever grateful. Christmas blessings!

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

Chris and Christine Pendergast

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that autumn is upon us. There seemed to be no summer. The political rhetoric continues to be out of control providing little substance on social policy and a future direction for our nation. The virus seems to be getting a second wind and a record number of young people are overdosing and dying due to heroin and fentanyl. These deaths are escalating at an alarming rate.

Despite this troubling landscape, random acts of kindness continue. Essential workers continue to be heroic and ordinary citizens are reaching out and a making a difference that really does counts.

On the morning of Oct. 14, a local hero went home to his God after a courageous life living with ALS, having spent his life working for a cure and supporting others who have been burdened with this incurable disease.

Dr. Christopher Pendergast, a retired Northport School District science teacher from Miller Place had lived with ALS for more than 28 years — a real light in the darkness. He had been a tireless advocate for research regarding finding a cure. His public advocacy is legendary.

However, what people did not know was the thousands of people across three decades that Chris touched with his selfless compassion, love and empathy. If he knew you were diagnosed with ALS, he and his wife Christine would quietly reach out to offer support.

In 1997 Chris founded the Ride for Life which touched thousands of students and people all over Long Island. He was a prolific writer and a powerful and moving public speaker.

Two weeks before Chris died, we met to talk about his last days. He was concerned about entering hospice. He felt that after 28 years of teaching all of us how to live that maybe he didn’t do enough for others! He already planned his celebration of life after his death; from the wake to the funeral mass to his final resting place. He picked out the readings, the music and the people he wanted to participate in his services. He told me he did all of this so his wife and children would not be burdened when he passed.

On the Sunday before he died, Chris came with his wife Christine to the 12 noon Mass at St. Louis de Montfort Church in Sound Beach. That was his Mass — he went every Sunday until very recently. He and his wife were catechists who prepared young people from the parish for confirmation.

That Sunday I shared with his community that he had just begun hospice. On behalf of the community, I thanked Chris for his courage and his power of example all these years. I asked the community to extend their hands in blessing upon our brother.

At the amen, they gave him a standing ovation as a way of saying thank you. On Wednesday, October 14, he peacefully went home to God. The world is a brighter and better place because Chris Pendergast walked among us!

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank

How many more mass shootings have to claim innocent lives before we have the courage to stand up for justice and common sense?

The rhetoric that has erupted since the Parkland shootings in Florida is reprehensible. Innocent lives murdered, hundreds of survivors suffering from PTSD and we still cannot move forward with common sense federal regulations to protect all of us as citizens without infringing on someone’s Second Amendment rights.

The articulate, dynamic students from Parkland have given clear voice to the real issues that must be addressed since the massacre — thorough background checks on all who purchase guns, a national registry for all guns and their owners, raising the age to 21 for the purchase of any gun with few exceptions, banning assault weapons with the exception for law enforcement and the military and developing a standardized mental health screening to flag those with potential mental health issues.

Our schools are vulnerable, but as a longtime educator and former school administrator, arming teachers and increasing police presence with weapons is not going to deter a mentally ill person from killing people, if he or she is determined to do that.

We need to be more efficient and effective at identifying students who demonstrate by behavior, school deportment and their writing that there is a real problem.

Every difficult student cannot merely be expelled from school. We need to work with those at-risk students. However, that really becomes a problem every time a school district is on austerity. The first people who are laid off are school social workers, psychologists, nurse teachers and other support staff that are critical in the time of crisis.

Instead of building up an armed security force, we should build up our support services so that they can effectively intervene with the growing number of students who are at risk.

After Parkland, all the politicians from the president on down have talked about doing more to strengthen mental health services. However, our own president has reduced funding from his budget to support mental health services. His opioid commission made substantial recommendations to fight this national health crisis, but to date he has not allocated a dime to support new treatment initiatives and support services for addicts and their families.

The young people from Parkland have sparked a powerful new conversation across our country that speaks beyond the issue of gun control and gun safety. Their courageous voices are challenging us to come together as a nation, urging us to work together to protect all life because it is sacred and fragile. We need to start practicing what we preach!

Divisive and demeaning rhetoric is not going to make America great again; only constructive action on the part of all Americans will. Every citizen who is of age must register to vote. We must do our homework and know what the real issues are all about and not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by political operatives. Our political process and system is broken and ineffective. It needs immediate surgery!

We need to urge the best of the best to run for public office. We must be sure that they are not connected or beholden to the insurance industry, the NRA, the unions, just to name a few powerful entities that seem to be indirectly controlling our nation and its policies.

As Gandhi once said, we must “be the change we wish to see in the world.”

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

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that another school year has ended and the high school class of 2016 is in the midst of moving on. This class, like all classes before them, has made a powerful impact upon all of our communities. There are a record number of seniors going off to Ivy League colleges on scholarships. There are an exceptional number of young people going off to the service academies and enlisting in the military.

This year’s high school seniors have made their mark scholastically as well as athletically. An impressive number of sports teams have made it to the states with significant numbers bringing state titles home to their high schools in our local communities.

However, what is most impressive about the Class of 2016 is how many seniors, in addition to all their school activities, are involved in community service. Yes, many school districts have a mandatory requirement, but many don’t. More significant is the number of students who complete their obligatory number of hours and continue to give of themselves without expecting anything in return and the countless number of seniors who give of themselves with no compelling obligation.

This past year there have been so many different campaigns to help the sick, the poor and the terrorized, not to mention the various specialized needs of people who have suffered terrible tragedies due to hate, violence and terror.  So many of our seniors from the Class of 2016 gave from their hearts.

It is a commitment to community service in the spirit of inclusiveness that is refreshing, especially since we live in a world that seems more grounded in narcissism and self-centeredness, rather than thinking about others first, especially those in need.

Seniors, as you continue your journey, do not let the social filters of our time enable bigotry, exclusivity and social injustice. Showing compassion and understanding rooted in justice is more significant than a science formula. These are difficult lessons to learn because they demand that you risk all that you are now for what you could become tomorrow.

Teach love to those who know hate and let that love embrace you as you continue in the world.

Look around you! We are living in a very challenging world. A new revolution is afoot. Your generation is moving away from the indifference and complacency of yesterday and moving toward a new idealism of freedom and responsibility. Despite the recent act of terrorism and hate in Orlando, Florida, where 50 innocent young people were gunned down because of hate, it still gives me hope that tomorrow can and will be better.

As you graduate from high school, keep these simple thoughts in mind: May you discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace and 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 know hate and let that love embrace you as you continue in the world.

May the teachings of those you admire become a part of you so that you may call upon them. It is the content and quality of who you are that is important, not merely the actions you take.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or stop at the introduction. Read it through, seek the meaning and messages it offers for life, for everyone’s life is sacred, and even those who are different from you or whom you do not like.

Be more inclusive than exclusive. Don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame and guilt to shackle people down and divide them. Set people free with your respect and nonjudgmental way.

May your moral compass be grounded in respect for all human beings, no matter what their color, their race, their creed or their sexual orientation. May this compass guide you on a path that is committed to working for peace and social justice. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you hope for in the world.”

Congratulations graduates of the Class of 2016. Thanks for making the world a little richer, a little brighter and a better place to be!

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