Bishop’s Homily About His Immigrant Grandfather and Columbus Hits Home


Auxiliary Bishop Dominick Lagonegro delivered a homily that hit home and left people talking after the 40th annual Columbus Day Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Oct. 9.

The 73rd annual Columbus Day Parade on Fifth Avenue followed the Mass.

Bishop Lagonegro started his homily by discussing his passion for his Italian heritage and the relationship he had with his grandfather, an Italian immigrant who had responsibility for his three siblings when he came to the United States as a teenager.

“At one point I asked him, ‘Grandpa, how did you do it?’ He smiled at me and said, ‘It was God who brought me through it,” Bishop Lagonegro said.

“We are a country of immigrants who came searching for hope, opportunity and peace. They found they had to struggle and face the hardships to be able to live out that American dream.”

Bishop Lagonegro continued talking about his grandfather as he switched topics to news of the debate to remove statues of the Founding Fathers and Christopher Columbus.

“The saints, our founding fathers, Christopher Columbus, no human being is perfect,” the bishop said. “We honor them for the good they accomplished. Only God is perfect. No human being is perfect. For those of us who wish to throw stones at statues or remove them, I think they should remember the words of Jesus. ‘The one who is without sin should cast the first stone.’

“Our country is not perfect, but I love her because of the good that she accomplishes. I must work to make the country better, not by tearing her down but working to build her up.”

John Mazzola, a parishioner of St. Finbar in Brooklyn, said he found it easy to relate to the bishop’s homily.

“My father emigrated from Italy in 1956. He came here with $35 in his pocket, had to wait a year and a half to come here, went through a battery of tests and arrived here legally,” he told CNY. “For me, it’s a heartfelt experience when you speak about immigrants. My father worked his whole life in a clothing factory to provide for his family, here and abroad in Italy. It’s a very special day.”

Mazzola added his thoughts concerning the statue of the explorer in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle.

“We should not forget about that statue,” he said. “That statue was brought here and placed here in 1892 by Italian immigrants. They all donated dollars, nickels and dimes to get that statue erected. We should fight and make sure that statue does not come down.”

Anthony Scillia, a parishioner of St. Leo’s in Elmwood Place, N.J., was attending his first Columbus Day Mass. “The homily really really touched me,” he said. “It was a powerful thing. It’s not just about the immigrants who came here 100 years ago. It’s about people still coming today, still working for that American dream. We often lose sight of the American dream because we feel it gets tarnished. You have to clean it off and move forward,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan, the principal celebrant, offered a warm welcome to everyone at the start of the Mass. Concelebrants included Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations; Bishop Antonio Stagliano of Noto, Italy; Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn; and Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre.

“How beautifully fitting that we, who love Italy so much, and we, who revere Christopher Columbus, would begin this festive day with the greatest prayer of all—the holy sacrifice of the Mass,” the cardinal said.

Following Mass, some marched and others lined Fifth Avenue for the Columbus Day Parade. Grand Marshal Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble Inc., led the parade from 47th to 72nd streets. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio were among the 35,000 marchers.

“This is a wonderful day. You’re among friends, and you meet new people,” said William Hunt of the Knights of Columbus Council 4065 at St. Mary’s parish in Fishkill, who attended both the Mass and parade.

Valario Bonanno, 11, was attending his first Columbus Day Mass and parade. He said he enjoyed the Mass and was looking forward to meeting new people, including Cardinal Dolan.

“I thought it was really cool because the church is really big, and I’ve never seen anything like this. My friends were always talking about it and how beautiful it is,” said Bonanno, who attends St. Mary’s School in Manhasset.


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