Fr. Marciano ’75 delivered the keynote address at Bryant University’s 23rd Annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast
February 12, 2019
President and Mrs. Machtley, Reverend Clergy, campus ministry staff, distinguished public officials, faculty, staff and students of Bryant University and Bishop Hendricken High School, my dear friends:
Allow me first say a word of sincere gratitude to Mrs. Machtley and the Interfaith Breakfast committee for their kind invitation to be the keynote speaker at this year’s breakfast. As you may know, each year we rotate a different faith group to be our speaker, including our Jewish, Christian, Catholic and Muslim friends, and since this year fell to a Catholic speaker, and Pope Francis was not available, I was given the honor. It is always a pleasure to be part of campus life here at Bryant, and especially to be part of such a great event as this, to gather people of ALL faiths, and in a spirit of cooperation and respect, to focus on the one task that we all share, to know, love and serve the One who made us and to do so together. As you may know, our theme this year is Honest, Healing, and Wholeness; the pathway to true peace in this life, and hopefully the tools we can use to get to the next.
Allow me then, to begin with a story. It’s about a new pastor of proud Italian heritage in a big Italian parish not far from here. On his first weekend, in his welcome sermon at all the Masses, he decides to speak a few words in Italian, even though he doesn’t really speak Italian. So, he asks his good friend, who is fluent in Italian, to translate phonetically the few sentences that he gives him, and then spends a few hours with him practicing the lines. Well, the first Mass on Saturday evening goes great; the people love it and even applaud. Sunday’s early morning crowd, made up mostly of the senior members of the parish, goes fine, too, until after Mass. A very elderly and very Italian lady goes up to Father and begins speaking at a fast clip in thick, strong Italian. When she stops for a moment to take a breath, he blurts out: “No pollo Itlalia,” which he thinks means, “I do not speak Italian!” Now, she stops and looks at him, and with a wave of her giant Italian hand (that has probably made 7000 meatballs in her lifetime) blurts out loudly an Italian phrase that needs no translating: “Ayyyyyy,” and turns and walks away. Mayor Lombardi [who was present at the breakfast], how many times do you say that in one day in North Providence? When he gets back to the rectory, he calls his good friend and tells the entire story. His friend says to him, “Tell me, Father, what were you trying to say to her?” To which Father replied, “I said ‘No pollo Italia…I do not speak Italian.'”
“Well,” his friend says, “Father, to say that you should have said, ‘Non parlo Italiano.” “Ohhhh, really,” Father says. “So what did I say to her?” To which his friend says with a chuckle, “You told her that: ‘There are no chickens in Italy.’”
Now, as you noticed, I did not attach a name to this story, so Father Pescatello [who was present at the breakfast], your secret is safe with me!
Honesty is a good policy, in life, in big parishes, and in not so big parishes. If you don’t speak Italian, don’t speak Italian! Surely for each of us, pilgrims on this pathway of life, using our faith to guide us, the first step on the journey is honesty, with our own humanity, our virtues, and our vices. Putting the mirror up to our life, our relationship with the Almighty and with others is so important that it gives us the key to deepening our spiritual life, often times, hidden within us and known only to us. In the Catholic tradition, probably the most difficult of the 7 Sacraments to celebrate is the Sacrament of Penance or Confession, where we take the Words of Jesus spoken to Peter, and his power and the power of Bishops and Priests, to forgive sins literally. So, a penitent would go to the Priest, a sinner himself, and tell him their sins to seek forgiveness and absolution. Difficult for anyone, priest or penitent, to sit down and honestly ask what is wrong in me, in my life, and in my relationship with God and others, and what needs fixing. Especially in these modern days where nothing seems wrong at all. That honesty can make all the difference. In my ministry as the Chaplain to the Warwick Police, the officers will often joke that they are so bad that I [Fr. Marciano] don’t have time to hear their confessions, to which I always reply, “Oh I Have plenty of time, but you might not have the time to do the penance.”
Many of you may remember the Oklahoma City Bombing of April 19, 1995. The tragic terrorist act that destroyed the Murrah Building was carried out by a young man named Timothy McVeigh, a man filled with mental illness, and possibly PTSD, who took 186 innocent lives. The story that is often missed is the incredible kindness and friendship between a man named Bill Welch, the father of Julie Welch, a 23 year old worker who died in the building that day, and Bill McVeigh, the father of the bomber. After realizing that his many visits to the site, his constant drinking, and internal anger were not bringing him any healing, and with the pending execution of the bomber as his life’s focus, Bill Welch said this: “The year after Julie died was the most miserable of my life.” Self-medicating with alcohol and going through a long period of wanting retribution, including wanting the death penalty which is allowable by Oklahoma law, for the bomber was eating him alive. It wasn’t until 1998 at the suggestion of Sister Rosalyn, a nun from his parish, that Bill Welch went to meet Bill McVeigh, the bombers father, and Jennifer McViegh, the bombers sister, in a very emotional meeting in Buffalo, New York. He credits his healing and his wholeness now, and his worldwide travels and campaign against the death penalty, with his forgiveness of Timothy, the bomber. Healing a wounded soul and a broken life – inside and outside – is a divine gift that we, like Bill Welch, can share with others. But, not just his soul and spirit, but many others, some unknown to him.
I am privileged to serve as President of Bishop Hendricken High School, the premier and nationally accredited all-boys high school in Warwick, and the finest in the nation (how was that for a plug, Mr. DeCiccio?). Our entire mission, and the core of our work, is to help mold young men in the Catholic tradition of love of God and lifelong service of others. Our world, so brimming with hate, violence and personal privilege, is in dire need of people who seek to better society by living lives of faith, virtue, goodness, and kindness. Tonight, our Hendricken men will venture to Peru to lend a hand to the poorest people of the planet, but perhaps the most wholesome of all. Our men will travel far with a simple message of love and service, not to change the world, but to lift the burdens of poverty even for a moment. What is more noble that that? What is more needed than that? In all of our faith traditions, many though they are, we are joined by that thread of goodness planted within in each of us by a Divine Hand that allows us to share His life with our life lived for others.
My friends, if we seek to arrive at a wholeness in this life, and if we are to be faithful to the image that the Almighty has placed of Himself in us, unique and special in each of us all, then we must be honest with who we are and who we should become, and always act as wounded healers of others so that we can be healed ourselves.
A few minutes ago I mentioned that Bill Welch had touched and healed others not known to him. Well, after a talk that he gave in London on behalf of Amnesty International, a longtime member of LifeLines, Karen Collett, went up to speak to him. She told him that she was in Oklahoma City with her children on the day of the bombing, visiting her pen pal. Mrs. Collett says in the years following, the inmates where McVeigh was held heard about him. She said this:
“They talked about you and said you were remarkable. I used to send cuttings and they would send cuttings of you back,” she told him, trying her best not to cry. “On behalf of myself and the men on death row, I think you’re extraordinary.”
My friends, she was right, they are right, and today proves it, people of faith always are! Thank you, and God Bless you.