August 14, 2011

Lessons from my Grandfather

Grandma & Grandpa at my wedding in 1977,
11 months before he died.

Today's readings speak of accepting foreigners.  I am not going to write about the political rights and wrongs regarding immigration and protecting our borders as that is too political an issue for me to deal with.  I first want to write about my grandfather.  Sergio DiTerlizzi was born  in 1908 in  Bisceglie, Italy, a farming town on the Adriatic in the provence of Bari. Unlike many immigrants who came to our shores via Ellis Island, Grandpa came here illegally. He arrived in Brooklyn, NY and found work delivering ice with men from his home town who were already established there. He met my grandmother, Josephine, a first generation Italian American whose father was also from  Bisceglie. He married her, eloping since her family did not approve of him, maybe because of his illegal status, maybe because they didn't think he would make anything of himself having harldly any formal education.  Eventually, years later, he had to go to Canada so he could legally enter the United States and become a citizen.

He came here to find a better life, and his was one of the great American success stories.  Grandpa went from delivering ice to delivering coal, and eventually started his own home fuel oil business in Brooklyn. The business was so successful that in his early 50's he and Grandma retired and became "snow birds" with homes in Florida and New York.  He also dabbled in real estate and even owned a race horse. My Dad took over the business until he sold it  in his early 50's when he and Mom also retired to Florida.

Jeus and the Canaanite Woman 
Annibale Carracci

In today's first reading the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah (56:6-7) that He will bring foreigners to His Holy Mountain and that their offerings to Him will be acceptable.  God's Love and Mercy even extends to the pagans who seek Him with a sincere heart.  These had to be difficult words for the Isralites to accept.  In Matthew's Gospel (15:21-28), Jesus heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman.  The Canaanties were despised by the Jews, and even the disciples of our Lord wanted to send her away.  Yet, Jesus praises her for her faith. This too must have upset His followers. They were the Chosen People. Why should they accept these foreigners who didn't follow their laws and live the way they did? Some things don't change. Even those immigrants who came to our shores legally in the late 1800's and early 1900's, those from Italy and Ireland and the European Jews among others, were looked down upon by those of "American" birth.  But we are a nation of immigrants, whether our family came over on the Mayflower to escape religious persecution, from Europe to escape poverty, forced against their will from Africa, as refugees from Vietnam or Korea in times of war, or for hundreds of other reasons.

Today we have other foreigners whom many look down upon and are suspicious of, wishing they were not here. Yes, it is true that in a world plagued by terrorism and financial upheval, we need to be cautious as to who we allow to cross our borders. Yet we also must remain aware that they are also children of God and we must not look upon all who are different with suspicion. Many come to our country, as did the early immigrants, looking for a better life for themselves and their children. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angelas, in an address at the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus last week, said, "The Church’s perspective on these issues is rooted in Jesus Christ’s teaching that every human person is created in God’s image and has God-given dignity and rights."

Someone gave my grandfather a chance. Someone didn't look upon  him as someone to be despised and rejected despite how he entered our country. He made a good life for his family and for the generatios that followed. Whatever our political views on the issue of immigration one thing is clear to me, people deserve to be treated with kindness and respect and without prejudice, no matter where they come from, their race or their creed, and we need always remember that we should love all as God Loves all. 

1 comment:

  1. Sorry Jo can't agree with you on this one. Immigrants in your Grandfather's day came here to work hard and make a good life for their families. Most of immigrants today just want to take advance of the "system" at the expense of the Citizens. If they were like your Grandfather they would be carting ice instead of looking to kill and harm for now reason. They themselves have forgotten what "God meant" and think that their god is the only one and all else must pay the price. I find it objectionable to be asked to turn the other check so many times it becomes a game, one I am sure to lose. Thank you for the story of your Grandfather...I never knew it until today.