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San Fele, Italy | Reunion 2001

2001 invite


Homily by Fr. Secondo Casarotto, CS
Pastor of St. Anthony's Church in Buffalo - May 19, 2001

Benevenuti! Welcome to St. Anthony's Mother Church. Welcome to the church where your grandparents and parents prayed, were married and baptized their children, and where many of you also have prayed, received your first communion or were married. We gather around the statue of Our Lady of Pierno, like the good old days when after Sunday Mass we used to gather as a family and enjoy our mother's favorite dish. This statue, cast in 1886, has been carried in procession for many years around the streets of our neighborhood. Our Lady, herself a pilgrim with Jesus and Joseph in the foreign land of Egypt, has witnessed the joyful, sorrowful and glorious moments of the journey of Sanfelesi from the rugged mountains of Basilicata to our Queen City and from here throughout the United States. An Italian proverb says, "I tempi cambiano, ma la chiesa resta". "Times change but the church remains". The old Canal, the infamous Hooks and Dante Place are all gone. The old St. Anthony's school is also gone, with its lawn fetes along the Terrace and all the comari chatting on the verandas on the warm summer days. But St. Anthony's is still here and it is wonderful to see that after a century we are back to the cradle of our community. Today we celebrate our past and our roots. We celebrate the struggles and the achievement of the Sanfelesi in Buffalo and elsewhere. From the "Societa' Unione e Fratellanza S. Fele", incorporated in 1887, which was among the marching groups at the dedication of St. Anthony's Church in 1891, to the "Congrega Maria S. ma di Pierne" founded in 1896, to the many other associations gathering Sanfelesi in the past century to the present Association of Sanfelesi; from Dr. Bernardino Calabrese the first Italian doctor in Buffalo, to the Hon. Anthony Masiello, present Mayor of Buffalo, the history of the Sanfelesi has been a success story in politics, education, social services and religion. Congratulations! You are a success story not only what America is about, but especially of what Italian immigrants are. Contrary to common belief, Italian immigrants did not come freely to the USA. They were forced by poverty and taxes, with many mouths to feed. As Blessed Scalabrini put it, too many Italians in the late 1800's had to face the dilemma, "o rubare o emigrare!" (Either steal or migrate). Italian immigrants were then actively recruited by migration agents looking for cheap labor to supply the growing industry of cities like Buffalo. An 1892 U.S. Department of State report showed that Basilicata had 24 such agents, the largest number of the 22 districts in Italy. The same report listed one such agent in San Fele. People often say, "My parents were poor. They came from the old country with nothing. They succeeded by themselves." Actually our ancestors, although materially poor, were very rich in human values, courage, stamina and brains. They did not have an MBA but they knew how to make money, how to save it and how to invest it for the future education of their children. Our parents and grandparents may not have had a formal education, but they were very much educated in respect, sharing, discipline and family values. In a special way, our parents were imbued with the basics of the Catholic faith that enabled them to face the uncertainties of a new world and a new culture. This faith in God and love for Mother Church gave them motivation and strength. If it is true that somehow they were "self made men and women", it is even more true that our parents were the product of centuries old Christian civilization. Our immigrant ancestors did not just find new things in this country: financial prosperity, freedom, and opportunity. They also brought many things with them: their culture, their zest for life and their Catholic faith…..
As Italian Americans we have this spiritual heritage. We must treasure, cultivate, and perhaps recover our identity. We must give content to our Christian and Catholic ethnicity. A few years ago Cardinal Biffi of Bologna said," If we take away the Catholic faith from the Italian culture, we are left with a dish of spaghetti!". So, our memory becomes a thanksgiving: to our parents and grandparents, to Italy, to the United States, to God. Our spiritual and cultural heritage also becomes a challenge; we have accomplished because we have received so much. We treasure our past, knowing that what we have received must be shared with the companions of our journey, the new immigrants among us, and then passed on to new generations.