PREPARED REMARKS BY JOSEPH SCIAME, Chair
Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations
Sunday, April 26, 2015 at the Church of Our Lady of Peace, New York City
Good day one and all! Let me convey to each of you the greetings of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian-American Organizations, a group founded just 40 years ago with the singular and intent purpose of helping to unite in a "spiritual" way the thoughts of some 45 national organizations that represent in some way the millions of Italian Americans that some statisticians claim to be as high as 26 million. In these past 40 years the Conference has issued statements of unity in times of national and international distress, and has enacted a major role in thwarting off the actions of the United Nations at a time when Italy was to be excluded in a reconfiguration of the Security Council, and other nations such as Germany and Japan were to be seated. It was the collection of some 100,000 signatures that were presented at the White House that helped to defeat that effort by those nations and the UN. And most recently, it has been the efforts of the Conference to preserve the Advanced Placement courses and testing in these Unites States, all for the benefit of high school students soon to be attending college.
Today, my friends, parishioners and others concerned about the well being of this Parish of Our Lady of Peace, we are yet in another battle to preserve the existence of the parish in its current configuration and prevail. We well know the story, we know the hardships that our parents an grandparents had, the changing of names, the ridicule at times for the inability to speak the language, the appearance of tanned skin and then the rejection of being able to pray in churches, but in basements of lower levels. That is what drove them to the erection of National, or ethnic, churches. This parish exists today because of the strong traditions and heritage of the children, grandchildren and perhaps in some cases the great grandchildren of those heroes, and for that we walk in the footsteps of giants. By the way, I can recall, and not back in 1850 or 1900, but as late as in 1950 as a child, when entering a local church further up on the East side, that I and my grandparents went to a basement church for Mass! What might that have been about!
I, as with many of you, am a product of those giants, and my grandparents were the close friends of Father Filippo Leone, who came from Prizzi, the Province of Palermo in Sicily, who knew him well, for those grandparents, Andrea Pintacuda and his then young wife Giovanina Blanda, arrived on these shores following rough seas and having lost a baby while en route. Grandpa Andrea was a barber on Second Avenue, then called the International Barber Shop, and a barber who cared for the then politicos of the area. I can proudly say that the trips from Brooklyn as a young boy always included a stop at the Barber Shop and then to their apartment at 345 East 78th Street. And where did they come and worship, minimally until the passing of Father Leone, at the Church of Our Lady of Peace. Grandma passed on in 1948 and Grandpa in 1953.
But for all of the years, and until her passing at age 94, almost 95, my mother Sophie, born Crocifissa Pintacuda, whose name was changed owing to the teacher at that time not able to understand her Italian Sicilian name, Mom would recount the stories of Father Leone and my grandparents. And so this is a real connection to your Founding Pastor.
But let us get back to THE issue. This Church of Our Lady of Peace need not be closed, combined, merged or whatever word is being used. Rather it needs to be preserved for it is STABILE and managing itself well. Are there strategies that might preserve it better in its stability? Perhaps and they are to be, and should be, explored. We have all seen the proposals, and we just wonder. We are good practicing Catholics, we are a good people and we are the progeny of those who helped to raise the funds, build and support this parish for many years.
What we ask now is for those who are entrusted with this legacy to sit down with Church officials here in the Archdiocese and see what can be worked out for the good of all the People of God. Are there compromises? Surely! I, and perhaps some of you, should find it most ironic that on this Sunday, the Sunday of the Good Shepherd, when we are told that our Church leadership must be good shepherds and not just administrators or managers, that we are gathered here in this beautiful Church to ask those officials to hear us out, and be good shepherds. Proudly, our Church has now lasted some 2000 years, and may it go on forever, but IN churches and houses of worship that embody the sacrifices and heritage of those early immigrants who came and attended churches such as Our Lady of Peace, let this Church be! To that end, we are committed.
Again today, as the Chair of that Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, I /we join you in your cause, a good and worthy cause, for we do this in memory of our immigrant grandparents and parents and for the legacy they left with us. Thank you!