In an active outpouring of camaraderie and Italian pride, Italian-American immigrants have shown that they haven't forgotten their roots.
The mayor of Airola in the province of Benevento will tomorrow inaugurate a statue of St. George the Martyr, patron of his town, which has been funded by Italian-Americans living in New York.
The mayor says that Italian pride and some blessings can rebound the spirits of a town that has suffered.
During last Wednesday's general audience in St. Peter's Square, the new 600-kilogram (1,300-pound) bronze statue of St. George the Martyr, protector of Airola, created by sculptor Domenico Sepe, and financed primarily by Italian American donations, was blessed.
In this interview with ZENIT, following the audience, Mayor Michele Napoletano of Airola shared not only what the statue means for his town, but also reflected on the unbreakable bond between Italian-Americans and their homeland, as well as the unforgettable moment with Pope Francis.
The statue will be inaugurated tomorrow in Airola. The US Ambassador to Italy, John Phillips, has expressed his wish to attend the ceremony if he can.
"We thought of realizing this project last year. We went to New York with a delegation from my town of Airola and brought up the idea of initiating this project,” Mayor Napoletano told ZENIT.
And the Italian-Americans, the mayor noted, welcomed the idea.
“I was born in New York, in Brooklyn, born of immigrants. Therefore, I thought that the citizens of New York would never tire of their roots, but seeing that their children don’t speak Italian yet or actually many no longer speak Italian, I realized that in a few years there wouldn’t be Italians with roots in Airola in New York."
"The thought was," he explained, "Italian-Americans could get involved to do something important."
"What’s important isn’t the gardens or the square," he said, "but rather the monument of our city, of our city’s patron, that we don’t have because it was in 1980 the church was destroyed after the earthquake. So, we don’t have any longer a residence for the Saint, the Patron of Airola."
"So, I asked them to create together, with strength and energy, [this statue] in a way that it will never be distructed, and that the link will never cease to exist between Airola and New York."
This joint effort, he enthusiastically said, will put St. George prominently back in the town’s Piazza of St. George, where before there had been the church, before the earthquake in 1980 destroyed it.
"From this thought, came another," he noted, namely to have the statue, their patron, blessed by the Holy Father.
“So, we wrote to the Pope, and right away he responded yes and said he would give his blessing,” the young politician said, noting how he, the statue's creator, and a delegation from the town and parish arrived in Rome by bus.
“When Pope Francis saw the statue, even he marveled,” Mayor Napoletano said.
Noting the Pontiff said a prayer and gave the blessing, the Italian politician added that he asked Pope Francis to pray for his city, and especially the poor and needy.
“We hope the statue will bring serenity and stability to the community,” and further strengthen "the unity with my Italian city and New York and America," he said.
The statue’s presence, he noted, has greater significance "because in difficult moments, faith is most important." He said he hopes the statue helps his people who need their dignity restored as many suffer from being without work.
Despite the difficulties in his town, he expressed it has a great potential for development and that its resources, if properly employed and recognized, could encourage their young to stay where they are, rather than have great minds leaving for elsewhere.
Recalling his visits and relationship with New York, even having met with Mayor Bill de Blasio, he said, “the Pope’s [upcoming September] visit to the United States is significant, where he will see a lively faith,” which the Italian mayor said he believes could serve in some ways as a model for Italy.
Mayor Napoletano also lauded Pope Francis calling on politicians to be honest and have a greater sense of responsibility, and said, “If personal interests are the priority, there won’t be results.”
Mayor Napoletano stressed to ZENIT how this initiative made possible by his people, along with the dedication and generosity of Italian-Americans, demonstrates the true link between them, regardless of on which side of the pond they may be situated.