Life in a parish is a microcosm of what happens in the lives of people.There are moments of joy ,and times when the pain of a loss is searing. For Sal that first summer was somewhat routine, and as he eased into his daily responsibilities he was becoming more and more comfortable. Little did he realize that tragedy and the pain of others was not far away
It was a sunny hot day and typical of the east coast: the heat was difficult but the sweltering humidity made the heat index dangerous.. The local junior varsity football practice began with the normal stretching and jumping jacks. After an hour the practice moved to contact without pads, and the coaches kept verballing the need for toughness. Requesting water or breaking from the routine were defined as acts of sissies. These challenges impacted the young men, and none of them wanted to be identified as weak. As the sun bore down fatigue set in, and yet there was no break in the practice schedule Angelo ,a vibrant 14 year old on this blistering hot day at football practice at one point experienced blurred vision, but he shared this with none of the coaches. He was extremely thirsty, but did not wish to be labeled so he continued despite his thirst. After finishing the exercise of tackling the dummy he had trouble catching his breath, and stumbled as he returned to the end of the line. Feeling disoriented he attempted to speak, but collapsed and the coaching staff responded immediately but they were unable to revive him. After frantic attempts with mouth to mouth resuscitation the emergency technicians transported him to Summit hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The Westbury police had a policy that if the death of anyone in an accident had a religious affiliation the Church or Synagogue would be notified. Sal was on duty when a policeman came to the door, and told him what had happened. Their records showed that the family was Catholic, and the officer requested Sal to come and break the news. Together they rang the doorbell, and the woman who answered could not initially fathom why a priest and a policeman were at her door. There is no easy way to tell someone that their fourteen year old son has died so when the words came out she screamed and collapsed. Sal and the officer carried her limp body inside and they stayed with her until family members arrived .The news spread quickly in her neighborhood, and her brother who lived a short distance away came ,and he proceeded to pursue contact with the funeral director , and made arrangements for the burial service.
Angelo’s uncle called later and informed Sal that the mother wished to bury her son in Fairview cemetery the nonsectarian cemetery because it was close to her home, and she wished to visit the site daily. In his naiveté he did not think that there would be an issue. However, he was stunned when informed that they could not bury her child in unconsecrated ground and Christian burial would be refused if they chose that site. Sal knew there had to be rules, but this was antithetical to caring for someone in such pain. A young boy had died, and the church’s response was to deny burial? He thought there must be a way around this decision.if he created a rational option to the dilemma all parties would be satisfied. Sal offered that he would go to Fairview and bless the ground but this alternative was denied. In a last ditch attempt he went to the chancery office to plead the case. Fortunately the priest who was on duty was a priest that Sal k new from the seminary. Sal believed that the rule would be waived in light of the circumstances His position was that if this mother were to kill herself because she was so immersed in grief the church would not deny her Christian burial. The presumption would be she was so disturbed that suicide would not prevent Christian burial. If that were the case then he opted that her grief is so vast that it is the foundation behind the decision to bury the child at Fairview. Again the request was denied.
When informed by his priest friend Vinnie Boylan that he could not bury the young man at Fairview Sal could not mot contain his shock and anger. Vinnie this is an absurd position and I am sure you feel the same way.How the hell can we contribute to this family’s pain by refusing Christian burial?”Father Boyle put his hand on Sal’s shoulder.”I hope that if I ever get into a position of authority I would make a different decision. “Sal did not reply but thought to himself”By that time you will be so co-opted you would respond in kind.”
Sal turned and left the chancery office and could not literally accept the official church’s verdict.He had taken an oath of obedience but who and what was he to be obedient to.?Was it to like a sheep follow the dictates of ecclesiastical bureaucrats who had lost touch with the ordinary people in the parishes? Or was it to the Christ figure who dedicated his life to loving and caring for the poor, the sick and the suffering
The boy was buried by the Episcopal church and though told that he could not attend Sal sat with the family during the service and proceeded to the cemetery. His decision was an act of disobedience when evaluated at face value ,but rather in his opinion it was an act of witness.