A continuation of the things that unite us: I see family

If you recall on the last blog, upon the request from a Muslim family to visit a Catholic  Church, we visited both St. Peter’s Cathedral and St. George Parish in Erie. After the visitation, each of us had a request.

“I want to visit a Mosque,” I said. They said they would arrange it.
“We would like to have both your wife Marie, and you, over for dinner,” they said.  I readily accepted.

Both Marie and I were excited as we drove to their home, but I’ll admit, we both were a little bit nervous, too. Upon entering their home, we were greeted by Abdul, a member of the family who was cooking fish outside.

A happy, “Hi!” greeted us. Introductions on both sides were given, along with smiles. It reminded me of my uncle when we attended his yearly family gathering. Really no different.

I see family.

Abdul ushered us into the homestead where we were greeted by the rest of the family: the mother and three daughters.

At first, since they never met Marie, it was a little bit anxious for both parties. But soon, conversation got going with translations from Arabic and English. Why? The mother of the home knows very little English. Both she and Marie hit it off right away. Language is no barrier between two loving moms. Her facial expressions went from hesitancy to smiles.

I see family.

The mom then departed to the kitchen with two of her daughters to prepare the dinner that was coming. Rawan, the other daughter, stayed behind to serve us Arabic tea and a sweet. No different in our home, and I’m sure yours. While waiting for dinner, don’t we do the same? (Although the refreshments and sweets may be different!)

I see family.

It was time for dinner. The cuisine was strictly Arabic. I must mention that when we were invited, I stated that Marie had a very delicate stomach and spicy foods can cause her problems. So, when we sat for dinner, our hostess explained the foods Marie would want to eat. Our hostess eyed Marie very closely to make sure Marie was happy with the selection, which she was. She and Marie went back and forth in conversation with the help of a translator. Before the dinner was finished, both our hostess and Marie were talking and smiling like old friends.

I see family.

As for me, that is another story. The two ladies could converse to their hearts’ content. I was too busy eating. No stomach problems for me! The fish that Abdul was cooking on the grill was slightly charred and stuffed. It was excellent! Then I progressed to the chicken cooked with vegetables. Though different, it was not unlike how Marie cooks her chicken in a similar way. The side dishes of two different types of greens were excellent. Finally, I had enough. It was a great meal. Two different ethnic groups enjoying a good meal garnished with conversation.

Before we left, Marie invited the family for dinner, which they accepted. Upon leaving, it was heartening to see Marie and our hostess, who does not speak English, smile and hug like two old friends. These are the things that unite us.

I see family.

A.M.D.G.  (For the Greater Glory of GOD)

Francesco

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The items that unite us

Too many times in our lives, we look at people, also situations, and see them as unfavorable. However, after more careful introspection, we say to ourselves, “It’s not as unfavorable as I thought.” In many cases, we then become more tolerant, once we know more about them or the situations.

Today I do not have to tell you that many people have a very unfavorable opinion of Muslims. With that said, I would like to comment on a personal spiritual happening.

A young Muslim and her mother approached me and said, “Francesco, we would like to visit a Christian church, would you take us to one?” I thought it was an unusual request. Why? Simply because they were very devout Muslims. I could not understand why would they want to visit a Christian church.

Nevertheless, my answer was yes. So, our journey began. When we arrived at St. Peter Cathedral in Erie, before we went in, I pointed across the street to a Protestant church. I explained that they were also a Christian church, but different than St. Peter, which I explained was Roman Catholic.

When asked why, I proceeded to give a short explanation about the Protestant Reformation. And I commented, “ It’s like the Muslim faith—you have your schisms also. We all are human beings, and we sometimes like to take different paths to God.”   Likewise, it was duly noted by them.

I also proclaimed that the three greatest faiths in religion are the Jewish faith, the Christian faith and the Muslim faith. We all believe in the same God. This fact unites us. It is the bedrock of those three faiths. We then proceeded to enter the cathedral.

I explained that it is the home church for the diocese and that is why it is so impressive. Also, St. Peter was built more than 100 years ago.

Upon entering, they were enamored by the beauty of the cathedral. We stopped first at the baptismal font. I discussed how it is used to bless and baptize newborns, and that we use it to bless ourselves upon entering. Their comment was that water also plays an important part in the Muslim faith. Again, another item that unites us.

The Pietà

A statue of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus is displayed at St. Peter Cathedral in Erie.

Our next stop was at the blessed oils. After that, we went to the statue of St. Mary holding Jesus. This really aroused their interest. Why? They honor St. Mary as well. Another item that unites us.

I then took a missal from the pew and opened it to a reading from the Old Testament, a book which they honor as well. Another item that unites us!

Also, I pointed out why we sing: It is another way of praying. I said it reminded me of when the Muslim is called to prayer; the Imam invites them by singing. Another item that unites us!

We than traversed to the altar, where they took many pictures. I pointed out to them that above the altar was a stained-glass picture of St. Mary. They took many pictures of her. It just demonstrated to me how much adoration we both have for St. Mary.

We then proceeded to the reserved Eucharist and I explained our belief that the Lord is with us. We then stopped at the angel. I asked them if they believe in angels, and yes, they do. Another item that unites us.

Our last stop was at the confessional where I explained that the purpose was for asking for forgiveness of our sins. They also confess, obviously in a different manner. Another item that unites us.

Lastly, I explained how Ramadan and Lent in some ways are very similar. We fast, they fast; we ask for forgiveness of sin, they do likewise; and we both are encouraged to perform works of mercy and charity. Another item that unites!

Upon leaving, I recommended that we visit one more church. We proceeded to St. George Church. The reason I went there was to show them how the newer churches are built. Here, they could see how the parishioners are closer to the altar and therefore more involved in the service. Lastly, I showed them where people will light candles for special intentions and pray to the saints to intercede for them.

That concluded our visits, and hopefully all parties had an appreciation of the other’s faith. Again, there are more items that unite us than tear us apart. These ties that bind us together bring us all closer to God.

As a closing note, the mother invited both my wife and I to dinner and I accepted. After a moment of silence, I said “I have a request. Now that you have visited my church, I would like to visit a mosque.” They said, “Gladly, let us do it.” I look forward to the visit.

A.M.D.G. … (For the Greater Glory of God)  …   Alluh Akbar … GOD is GREAT!!

Alleluia!!

Francesco

We the people, in order to form a more perfect union

Something interesting happened this past weekend to prompt me to write this blog. First I just finished reading the book, A More Perfect Union, authored by Ben Carson, MD. As you probably remember, he ran for the office of the presidency on the Republican ticket.

Secondly it was the Fourth of July. The reading of his book could not have happened at a better time. In it, the good doctor gives an excellent understanding of the Constitution and the reason it was written as such. It should be mandatory reading for every student in high school.

Presently, as you well can understand, there seems to be a lot of discussion about what is right with this country and— equally importantly—what is wrong with it. There seems to be distrust of our government and people are somewhat concerned.

we_the_peopleBut guess what? When push comes to shove, we unite! We are a nation of many faiths: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hinduism and the list goes on.  And yes, we are also non-believers or agnostics. We are native-born, we are legalized immigrants, we are Democrats, we are Republicans, we are independents and we are no party. We are laborers, we are CEOs, we are rich, we are poor, we are middle class. We come from many walks of life. We are all of the above and much more.

But come July 4th, we all come together and unite to celebrate the birthday of our great nation. Let any person or nation try to disrupt and destroy the diversity of our country, and especially our constitution, and we will stand to protect both. That is what the Fourth is all about.

We are not a perfect union, but as the Constitution says, “We the people, (remember all of the above) in order to form a more perfect union…”

We are a work in progress, and slowly but surely, we are getting there. Just look how far we have progressed over the last few hundred years! And as the old saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.”

GOD Bless America, land that I love.

Be a proud American!!!

Francesco

A.M.D.G

 

 

Practices of a devout Christian?

Shortly after Lent, I met a young person who described to me what she does during the season of fasting, a very spiritual and holy season. I must say it was a very interesting discussion.

empty_plateBy her demeanor, I could tell she was very devoted to her faith. Obviously, her meals are contained during the season. Only one full meal at the end of the day. Medical conditions and/or other conditions such as old age can override the practice. This is also a time when she reflects on any sinful behavior that she has committed, such as lying and lack of compassion against her fellow human beings.

She fervently prays for forgiveness. It is a time to cleanse the soul. Prayers are very important during this period. It is also a time to show sympathy to those in need. Charitable works are in order, such as almsgiving and concern for those who need help, especially those in the community. In those instances, you visibly see the requirement for compassion and resources. It is a blessed journey you are on during this season.

And at the end of the fasting period, a gala affair with friends and family and sumptuous food takes place to celebrate their spiritual rebirth. It is a time of joy.

I surmise that you may believe that this young lady was talking about the Lenten season. Guess what? She is not! She is a devout Muslim, and is talking about Ramadan, the season she is in right now. Wow! Is it not amazing how similar it is to Lent? Just like Lent, Christians do similar practices to renew their spiritual lives.

So, next time you see a practicing Muslim, wish them well. We both worship the same God (there is only one, after all). We all are cut from the same cloth. Small world isn’t it?

Allah Mashala!!   Vaya Con Dios!! Go with GOD!!

A.M.D.G.

Francesco

Do you believe in miracles or are you a doubting Thomas?

This May is very special in the eyes of the Christian community. It is the month in which one of the miracles of the faith happened. One hundred years ago on May 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to the three children of Fatima. It was the first of six visits.

Fatima children

(CNS photo) Jacinta Marto, 7, Francisco, 9, and their cousin Lucia dos Santos, 10, were photographed during the time of the apparitions in 1917.

These children had a difficult time convincing the people that they saw and talked with Mary.  Most people thought they were just childhood religious fantasies. Still, the crowds continued to watch the children on ensuing visits of the Blessed Virgin.

When the children told the Blessed Virgin, people did not believe and were skeptical. She said, “Tell them to be here on Oct. 13 and I will give them their miracle.”

Oct. 13 arrived along with a crowd of approximately 70,000 anxious people. They were all soaked to the skin because of heavy rains. The ground was a muddy mess. Then, after a sign from the Blessed Virgin, the children asked the throng of people to look up at the sky.

The continuous rain halted, the sky was opened and the sun shone brightly. People stared without blinking in amazement as it zigzagged and danced throughout the sky. And then it was gone. The people, though they stared at the sun, had no problems with their eyes. In addition, their bodies, their clothing and the ground beneath them was completely dry. The Blessed Virgin gave the people their miracle. That day many confirmed their faith and non-believers were brought into the faith.

We all know the story of the Apostle St. Thomas, who was not at the first meeting after the resurrection, where Christ appeared to the Apostles.  When he heard the story, he said to the Apostles, “I will not believe until I am able to place my hand in his side.” On a subsequent visit by Christ, Jesus invited him to do so.

Pope Francis once pointed out that although Thomas doubted, he is also the first in Scripture to proclaim Christ’s divinity, as upon encountering Jesus, he fell to his knees saying, “My Lord and my God.” There are people today who deny that Fatima was a miracle; they say it was a natural phenomenon. Again, more doubters.

To me, the question they cannot answer is the following: Here are three children who are not the least bit educated in the natural sciences. They are given the date of Oct. 13 by the Blessed Virgin and she requests that they tell the crowd they will have their miracle. Oct. 13 arrives and the miracle happens! That is the miracle no one talks about!

This month, pay homage to your faith. Say a rosary, say a prayer and believe. The miracle of Fatima is not just some religious hocus-pocus, but is validated by actual accounts of people who were there. Google it, and you will have all the proof you need to erase any doubts you may have.

A.M.D.G.  Alleluia!!!

Francesco Scicchitano

It’s never too late

With Easter upon us, it is not too late to still capture the beauty of the Easter season. Many of we Christians say to ourselves, “I am too far gone to come back to the faith. The sins I have committed are too many to be forgiven. And besides, I have been away from the faith for too many years and I am not worthy to be welcomed back. Yet there is a spark inside me that at least says I should try.” Hey! That is God talking to you! Maybe the following story will help you.

wellJesus came to the town of Sychar and was sitting by a well, tired, sweaty and very thirsty. He did not have a bucket to draw water. A woman approached Jesus and he asked her for a drink since she could draw the water. This woman was a Samaritan, and as you know, the Jews and the Samaritans were not the best of friends. In fact, they avoided each other.

So she was a little bit startled by the request and said, “How can you ask me for a drink when you are a Jew?”
After some conversation, Jesus said, “But whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” She said to herself, “This man must be a prophet.” Then she asked Jesus to give her the water.

In one breath, she has made her first open confession. But she was still not sure Jesus would give her the Living Water. Jesus then told her to go get her husband. She answered, “I do not have a husband.”

Jesus said, “I know, you have had five husbands and the one you are with now is not your husband.”

She now realized that this man, Jesus, was more than a prophet. Why? She never met Jesus and “yet he knows my surly history and still offers eternal water to me. Who is this man?” She knows the Messiah will come—and then Jesus tells her, “I am the Messiah.”

She is joyful, knowing she has been saved, and returns to her town to proclaim the Good News!  (For more on the story…read John 4: 5-42.)

So you see, it is never too late to come back to the faith. God welcomes everybody regardless of your past. What better time to come back than now …the Easter Season!

See you in church!!

Alleluia!!  …  Happy Easter … Buon Pasqua!!

A.M.D.G.
Francesco

 

Some enchanted evening

A few weeks ago at Holy Cross Church, we attended a function. It was the blessing of marriages and the renewal of marriage vows. It was attended by approximately 20 married couples, who had been married anywhere from wedding-vow-renewal-dfwa very few years to as many as 60 years.

It was held in the chapel, a small enough setting that you could see the interactions of most of the couples. One of the younger couples, Megan and her husband, was asked to give a talk on their relationship. It was touching to see them exchange glances during their talk. You just knew they were communicating the same message to each other without saying a word.

This struck me as a special gift that exists in marriages. But to see it done in front of all those in attendance was touching. And I believe that when others noticed what I had noticed, it reminded them of this special gift. To hear a young couple express their love to a group is something beautiful, but more importantly something spiritual.

Father then gave us a blessing and asked us all to face one another to repeat our marriage vows in concert with the other couples. It was quite a site to see, and a spiritual one at that. I distinctly remember looking into my wife Marie’s eyes as we both renewed our vows. A rush came over me. It took me back in time—not only to when we took our vows for the first time, but also to the time we met. It reminded me of the song from the musical South Pacific,sung by Enzio Piza. If I may, it went something like this:

“Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger.
You may see a stranger, across the crowded room.
And somehow you know, you know even then,
that somewhere, you’ll see her again.
Who can explain it? No one can tell you why.
Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.”

I have no doubt that the many of the same feelings were going through the other couples as they renewed their vows. Yes, it was an enchanted evening, that evening as well.
Alleluia!!!!
Francesco
A.M.D.G.

A fisherman’s tale

It was a nice day on the lake, but not much was happening. Both brothers Pete and Andy were just in conversation mode, since the fishing was lousy.

The conversation soon led to what was happening in the local news. A lot of scuttlebutt was about this guy, Chris, who was presenting some new and weird ideas, and in so doing, was gathering a following.

Picture of fishing streamSome of the people liked what he was saying, however, he was upsetting some of the powers in the region. Pete and Andy agreed that a lot of the ideas he proposed made sense and they felt people have a right to their opinion.

Their conversation went on for a while. Eventually, Pete says,
“You know, Andy, I would like to meet this guy. He sounds very interesting.” Suddenly, they were interrupted by Chris. It seemed as though he came out of nowhere.
Pete asks him, “Can I help you”?
Chris answers, “How’s the fishing going?”
“Not well at all,” says Andy.
“Mind if I join in your conversation?” asks Chris.
“Not at all,” both Pete and Andy reply.
“Well,” Chris says, ”so you hear it from the horse’s mouth, I am the guy who the people are talking about.”

Chris goes on to tell the brothers what his plans are. Both Pete and Andy are entranced by his words, as well as his calming demeanor.

Chris then asks them, “Why don’t you two join me in this quest? With your help, we can get the message out to a lot more people.”

Both Pete and Andy look at each other, dumfounded, then blurt out, “What the heck? Fishing has been lousy, so why not?”

Later, all three of them run into brothers Jimmy and John, good friends of both Pete and Andy.

Pete says, “Hey guys, listen to what Chris has to say.”

After a lengthy conversation among the group, both Jimmy and John join up with Chris, Andy and Pete. And a lot of good things then begin to happen!

Hey, does this sound familiar? I’ll give you a hint: It’s a tale taken from the Bible. Look it up. (Matthew 4:12-23)  Enjoy!!

ALLELUIA!!!
A.M.D.G.
Francesco

Is it over?

Wow! It has been two months since my last confession! Oops, I really meant it has been two months since my last blog. As the saying goes, “time does fly.”

The time was filled with health problems. Both Marie and I had minor injuries in our legs, nothing serious, just time consuming.  Add preparation for the holidays and spending time on my favorite sport, fishing for steelhead, and my plate was full. So I may be a little bit rusty, but here goes with another blog.mercy

I really want to talk about mercy. This year was declared the Year of Mercy by the pope, and it officially closed before the first week of Advent. Does it mean that God’s mercy ceased? Of course not! Nor should it stop with us.

We are now in the beginning of the season of Christmas. Many of us are scouring around and doing our shopping. It started with Black Friday, then Cyber Monday and who knows what is next? This is the season we should show mercy to the people who really need it: the poor, the homeless the shut-ins. That is where Christ really is.

We all have our favorite charities. Some in the Erie area include the Salvation Army, The Upper Room, the Second Harvest Food Bank and the Emmaus Kitchen. I know that deep down, you have a few of your own. When you demonstrate your support for institutions such as these, you are a harbinger of mercy. And as Christ said, “What you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.” Charity is an act of mercy that not only helps those in need, but also enhances your relationship with our maker.

You know, maybe, just maybe, it is like going to confession. Maybe that little voice inside everyone of us is saying, “Hey, it’s time to think of those in need, you have not done anything for the poor in quite a while, so just do it and receive God’s graces for doing it.”

To bring this home, let me explain what happened to me recently. After a doctor’s appointment, I happened to drive down Peach Street in Erie. I saw the worship space that houses the office and the oasis for those who are destitute. During the winter months especially, this is an absolute haven for the indigent. They can stop in, get out of the cold, pick up clothing and rest their weary bones, have a cup of coffee and have a moment of peace.

Is God among them? You bet he is! I made a donation, left and felt a moment of serenity, knowing I did the right thing. So you see, it is somewhat like confession. You realize you have to perform an act of mercy and once you do, a moment of peace comes over you.

Yes, the Year of Mercy may be over, but is it really?

Alleluia!!  Merry Christmas!! Feliz Navidad!  Buon Natale!!

A.M.D.G.
Francesco

In the hereafter, who do you want to see?

Well, the obvious answer to the headline question would be your family.

But that is not what I am seeking. Look upon your years and the relations you have had with people, and really think of the people you want to meet up with again. That takes a lot of thought. And as you go through the process, keep in mind God is all merciful. There may people you may think of dismissing. But knowing God is all merciful, you may have second thoughts.

Remember, among the person or persons you select, there could be a pretty bad dude. But when that final moment comes and death is near, he or she may recognize how bad they were and sincerely ask God’s forgiveness. God’s love is bountiful and he wants everyone with him. So something to think about as you ponder the question…in the hereafter, who do you want to see? I have given this thought, and I would like to elaborate on my choices.

Kahlil was a friend of mine—he came to this country with his family from Lebanon. He was of my faith and a very gentle man. He did not wear his faith on his sleeve, but he welcomed anyone he met into his life with open arms. I never heard him say a derogatory remark about anyone. He was a great family man. In business, he was honest; he did not take advantage of anyone. In other words, he was just a good human being.

Another one I am waiting to see is Dave. I should mention Dave and I were not of the same faith, but a good Christian he was. His attributes were very similar to Kahlil’s in every respect. But what really stood out is the following: Though Dave was not one of much wealth, he lived life to the fullest. When he entered your presence, he always lit up the room with his comical remarks, his honesty and his acceptance of everyone.

The other two companions I would like to tell you about also are very interesting. Maddy was of my faith, but not a practitioner of it, even though he was brought up in Catholic schools. He served in Special Forces in Nam. I worked with him when he got out of the service. As a fellow worker, he gave his all and was a joy to be around during business hours. After business hours, he was a hard-driven young man with worldly desires. He moved to Puerto Rico, but we still kept in touch.

One night, when I visited him after he’d spent a night on the town, he told me some of the actions he had had to take when he was in Nam. Elaborating on those events, he cried like a baby. He wrestled with some of the decisions he had had to make, which he considered tragic. He had to follow orders. But those decisions left him with demons for the rest of his life. I sincerely believe that is where he lost his faith. I consider him a microcosm of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who started the Jesuit Order. Like Saint Ignatius, he was a warrior and lived a very sensual life. However, unlike the saint, Maddy did not return to the faith. He and I talked for hours that particular evening. The next day, as we went past a church, I suggested that we stop in and say a prayer. He was not up to it: the demons had a strangle hold on him. Deep down, Maddy was a good person. And I believe God, in his bountiful mercy, knowing what he went through and the demons that he was constantly fighting, will let him through the pearly gates.

The next man I want to see is my Hungarian friend, the good doctor. He was an immigrant who had no use for religion. In the old country, his family was a family of means before the Russians took over. Shortly after that, he was thrown into a gulag, a Russian concentration camp, wherein he saw life at its worst, both for himself and for his fellow prisoners. Completely destitute, he escaped from the prison and eventually landed in the USA where built a successful business and life for himself and his family. He was a very stern man, but fair. Maybe the sternness was a condition that developed while he was in prison. Many times, I would stop at the local deli, buy a loaf of bread and some cheese and cold cuts, give him a call and tell him I was bringing lunch. Now here was a man of means. We could have gone to any restaurant in town, but Mark was old school. Personally, I believe our lunches helped him feel like he was back in Hungary, having lunch with the family. We would sit and talk and laugh. Many times during these lunches, I would tell him, “You’re a good man and God knows it.” He would shrug it off.

But like Maddy, his bad experiences in the camp also left him with demons to contend with. Mark, a stern man but a good man.  I sincerely believe God will judge him as one worthy of his place in the hereafter. I miss him and can’t wait to see him. I believe he and Maddy would have had many tales to share—both good and bad—and probably would have been a help to each other. I have no doubt they would have developed a deep friendship. I will have to introduce them to each other in the hereafter.

These are the people I want to see in the hereafter. The common thread … they were good to people , they were trustful, their word was their bond and at times, all of them were joyful. Hmmm? Sound familiar? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you! As the old saying goes, you cannot judge a book by its cover. But God can, because he also knows what is in their hearts and the trials they have been through.

See you guys, and I’ll bring lunch!

A.M.D.G.
Alleluia
Francesco