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Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

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.