March 9, 2017

When a Church Died and “la Madonna” Lost Her Home

Statue of the Madonna dei Miracoli of Mussomeli in her former home, the recently closed Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Garfield, NJ
Photos courtesy of Anthony Scillia
A Friend
“O VOS OMNES QUI TRANSITIS PER VIAM, ATTENDETE ET VIDETE. SI EST DOLOR SOCUT DOLOR MEUS.” "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any sorrow like my sorrow that was inflicted on me, (that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?). Lamentations 1:12
On July 1, 2016 the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Garfield, New Jersey, was merged with Our Lady of Mount Virgin and ceased to exist. Established in 1917 as a mission of Mount Virgin, in many ways one can say that “the mission came home” as a result of this merger. Unfortunately, due to declining attendance (300 families, of whom about 150 or so attended services), a shortage of priests (such as the resident curate who served since 1973 and passed away in December of 2015) and the rising costs of maintaining a building, it was placed in the care of the Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Virgin. 
Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel, Garfield, NJ
The initial Italian community that built Mount Virgin was Neapolitan, originating from the area of Avellino, for whom the original parish “Madonna di Montevergine” was named. Sicilian immigrants working in silk and other textile and metal factories in nearby Passaic and Paterson quickly began to frequent these parishes and brought their devotions from Sicily. 
According to parish sources, the parish was financially solvent and even maintains the original chapel around the block from the new church. Prior to its official closure, it was used by the Syro-Malabar community before moving to Paterson. The Parish would have celebrated its 100th Anniversary this year, and still has a daily mass in the “old” chapel around the corner from the closed site. 
Stained glass windows of the Madonna dei Miracoli and Our Lady of Constantinopoli inside the Our Lady of Sorrows chapel
In the vestibule in the back of the Our Lady of Sorrows were two statues, the Madonna of Costantinopoli and the Madonna dei Miracoli. Initially it looked as though they were going to go to Mount Virgin, however, for one reason or another, no one seemed to want them in the church. It seems there were no more paesani interested in their history, and lest they be damaged or consigned to a dump, a kind priest offered them a new home. 
Monsignor Ambrosio and Michael
admire the craftsmanship and beauty
of the Madonna dei Miracoli
Monsignor Joseph Ambrosio was asked if he would take them, and of course he obliged the request. For a small sum, the statues now belong to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (259 Oliver St.) in Newark, New Jersey. They sit in each of the side chapels, surrounded by many other statues that needed a home at one point or another. They continue to stand as a living testament to the memory of so many of our ancestors from southern Italy, who came here with nothing, but made sure that they never forgot God, the Blessed Mother and the faith it took to get them through life.
The Madonna dei Miracoli is a massive statue, about a hundred years old, and is from the town of Mussomeli in the Province of Caltanissetta in Sicily. In the 1530’s a poor paralytic was crawling in search of alms. Tired, hungry and exploited by the feudal lords that had a powerful dominion in that area, he threw himself on the rocks out of exhaustion and fell asleep. When he awoke, the man found himself able to walk and move about. Shouting “Misericordia, miracolo!” (Mercy, miracle!) as he rushed to tell people of his grace, he found as evidence of Our Lady’s divine assistance her image painted on a rock, nearby where he slept. Here, it is said that Our Lady with her divine favor wanted to be honored, here in the town of Mussomeli.
Arriving at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Newark, NJ. Eric, Angelo and Pat begin unloading the statues and bring them into their new home
Feasts for the Madonna dei Miracoli are celebrated in Buffalo, New York and London, England, where many Mussomelese and their descendants are today. Monsignor Ambrosio and a devotee are making plans to have a mass this coming September with the cooperation of the Mussomelese Society of Buffalo. 
The Madonna of Costantinopoli has her origins from about the time of the Assumption, when an apparition of the Blessed Mother appeared in Constantinople. There are several variations of the story in southern Italy.
One day in Lercara Friddi, Palermo a young girl, while playing in a thicket of weeds, discovered the image of the Virgin surrounded by four cherubim on a stone slab. The image is reminiscent of the Byzantine style Hodigitría or Odigitria, better known as “She who shows the way” (colei che ci insegna la via). Sicily, not only as an island but also as a devoted people, always had a special connection to their Greek ancestors. This devotion is celebrated on August 20th.
(L-R) The Madonna dei Miracoli of Mussomeli and
Maria Santissima di Costantinopoli in their new home
In the Province of Salerno there is also a Madonna of Costantinopoli, particularly in the towns of Agropoli and Felitto. In 1535 when the dreaded Ottoman Corsair Barbarossa was pillaging and destroying everything in his way, the Agropolesi hid the statue of the Madonna in a cave beneath a promontory. Years later, a gale cast the lost image out to sea, where it was discovered by fisherman praying for help during the storm. Returned to the mainland, it was immediately given a place of honor. 
There have been other documented miracles in Agropoli. For example, in the year 1913 when French troops were displaced by a storm and wanted to take refuge in the church of Our Lady of Costantinopoli the faithful protested that the church would be profaned by the usage of the soldiers. Miraculously, water began to seep and rise through the floor, forcing the French troops to leave in a hurry. It is said their commander apologized to the Madonna for the inconvenience before leaving.  
A close up of the Madonna dei Miracoli
Thus, on a brisk February day, these two statues quietly made their way from Garfield to Newark. The pastor, Monsignor Ambrosio, who is also the Vicar of the Italian Apostolate since 1989, made room for these two treasures where they could be venerated and honored once more. “It was a truly emotional experience to be part of helping to save both a Roman Catholic and Italian American treasure,” said Anthony Scillia. “Statues that may have been lost have been resurrected. Now is the time to give thanks for the translation of these beautiful statues. I know the Blessed Mother and Christ Child are smiling down lovingly.”
The statues are in need of some repair and can be visited in the church, which is open daily from 7:30am to 9:30am. On the weekend, church is open from 4:30pm to 8:30pm on Saturday and 7:30am to 1:30pm on Sunday. 
The lame man at the foot of the Madonna dei Miracoli