September in Little Italy is one of the most festive and anticipated times of the year for New Yorkers. It’s the Feast of San Gennaro. What began over a hundred years ago within the Italian immigrant community as a simple Mass and procession to celebrate the Feast Day of their beloved patron has grown into a full-blown celebration of everything Italian.
It’s a time when street vendors and store owners squeeze together on Mulberry Street, with tables and grills making the already narrow street almost impassable. The smells of sausage and peppers and zeppolis fill the air along with the serenade of laughter and lighthearted banter of those slowly traipsing down the avenue with their gelatos dripping in the heat of the waning summer sun.
But this year festival goers would be in for an unexpected surprise. Against the backdrop of the craziness on Mulberry Street, another saint would arrive on the scene, much to the delight of the local Italian community. This saint would be represented in the form of a 1000-pound bronze statue that would become a permanent fixture in front of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
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Sculptor Timothy Schmalz, renowned for creating the provocative “Jesus the Homeless” sculptures that evoke the sense of Christ’s presence in the poor and marginalized, has created a life-size, “interactive” sculpture of St. Padre Pio hearing confession. Called “I Absolve You,” the sculpture was a generous gift from the St. Pio Foundation to the parish and local community.
The astonishing sculpture depicts the mercy of Jesus Christ as portrayed through an image on one side of the penitent and on the other Padre Pio as he would be hearing confession in persona Christi. The sculpture invites the viewer to take a seat beside Padre Pio and consider the power of Christ’s love and mercy in a very physical and touchable form.
So Little Italy welcomed a new resident. One who can be found sitting on Mulberry Street in the shadow of the great, old basilica, waiting for souls; souls in need of healing … souls in need of love … souls in need of mercy … as each and every one of us does.
This week commemorates the 50th anniversary of the death of Padre Pio, who once famously said “After my death I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.” As this monument of mercy takes its place on the noisy streets of lower Manhattan, it seems evident that his prayers are being poured out on a great city wounded by sin. It quietly beckons to all who pass, inviting an encounter with the mercy of a loving Savior, just as Padre Pio did in his life.
St. Padre Pio, please pray for us.