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Lamplighter - Fr. Ralph

posted Oct 29, 2015, 12:42 PM by St. Thomas Church   [ updated May 31, 2018, 11:20 AM ]

My grandfather grew up on a farm near Lucca, Italy.  His name was Prezioso Biancalana.  Some called him Pete.  In his late teens or early twenty’s, he immigrated to the United States because the family wasn’t surviving on the farm.  He must have been very fortunate to enter at Ellis Island, because he was suffering from Consumption.  We call this tuberculosis today. I’m glad he got in, because I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t! 

I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a couple of days in Lucca.  I didn’t find any family, but found many people who reminded me of family members.  While walking the streets of Lucca, Cindy and I took every opportunity to visit churches.  Most of them are open during the day and you can visit, pray and appreciate the religious artwork.  While I was looking and praying, I began to think about my grandfather.  Did he ever come to any of these churches?  How did he feel about churches that owned five-hundred-year-old paintings or gold ceramics?  Did he wonder about the amount of money that the artwork represented?  I wondered if he was resentful. Did he feel forced to leave his homeland?  Did he have a sense of the Good News?

Then I began to wonder about what it would mean to leave home.  How difficult life must be to consider giving up the place that is your home.  How deeply must your hope be crushed to believe that your only option is to leave and go to a completely strange place that offers no guarantees and doesn’t speak your language? When he arrived, did he feel welcomed, or was he called one of the many derogatory names that were used for Italians in those days? 

I don’t have a lot of answers to my questions, but I think about what life is like for people today.  Ellis Island is a museum.  People are still desperate enough to leave their homes for just a glimmer of hope somewhere else. Do they find a welcome? There are still poor farmers who don’t have enough to eat and can’t heal from their illnesses.  And someday there will be other grandsons and daughters who will ask questions. I hope they find that God’s love was shown to them in a church family.   

Glad I’m home,