By Cassandra Harris-Lockwood
So, 2017 City of Utica records indicates that crime is down substantially in our city. It was reported that there was a double-digit reduction in nearly every crime category when compared to the five-year average. This is great news.
Police officials attribute this to “the great work of the Utica Police Department and the strong relationships the City’s built with other law enforcement partners,” which I am sure has played a part.
And along with the Chief, I would as well, “commend all UPD personnel in making our community safer.” But I would like to proffer another source of improvement than the earthly influence of police work. That would be the spiritual intervention Utica’s patron saint, Padre Pio, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Italy.
Padre Pio, who was canonized in 2002 and made a saint, has several devotional prayer groups dedicated to him in this area. St. Joe’s St. Pat’s meets the third Thursday of every month at 7 PM. I was introduced to the Whitesboro prayer group many years ago by the late Nancy Duffy.
Nancy was a journalist from Syracuse who was known for, among other things, originating the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade there. She was my friend and a Catholic woman who devoted a part of her life in a religious order. She was a devotee of then Padre Pio. St. Pio was known for his grace and piety and was responsible for many miracles and conversions during his lifetime.
St. Pio was born in 1887 and died in 1968. He lived through WW’s I, II and Korea and died during the Viet Nam War. He heard Motown, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. He lived through the assassinations of the Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King. He was a modern day Saint.
He also bore the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ, given to him by Mary and Jesus on September 7, 1910. He bore the stigmata for 58 years until shortly before his death. These wounds were painful and bled. The wounds on his hands were particularly troublesome because the bleeding was messy dripping in the halls of the monastery and disturbed the other priests and religious. So, St. Pio wore gloves, fingerless gloves to catch the blood. These gloves which remain among us today.
Nancy frequently brought one of the gloves of Padre Pio to our region in a little box with other objects from his once personal belongings. And I had the occasion, more than once to have her leave this incredible religious relic in my care.
The first time was the week that Ricky Powell and Brian West were killed by gunfire in Corn Hill in August of 2004. The violent murders of the boys, one of whom I watched grow up, hit the community hard.
As a result of an incredibly sad and emotional community gathering, I decided to take some time off to fast and pray. It was on the 4th day of my fast when I got a call from Nancy Duffy that she was on her way back from NYC with the Saint’s glove and she had received a message that she was to bring it to me.
I was humbled and grateful for some spiritual relief. I immediately began preparing to receive this holy relic into my home.
We had a 10 x 10 tent room set up in the yard and decided to have ‘church’ there. My husband and son were there as Nancy opened the box, removed the glove and passed it to them one by one. There was an incredible smell of roses from out of the box when the glove was removed.
Nancy said a prayer with the small cotton knit fingerless glove in her hand. It with a small cross stitched on the back of its deep maroon or brown color.
I wondered what I was going to say when the glove came to me when I remembered a story of St. Pio during WWII. All of Italy was under peril with war all around on land on the sea and in the skies. Bombs were dropping all around him and his people but somehow, none ever landed in his area.
Bombardiers from both sides of the fighting reported seeing a huge image of a priest in the clouds with his finger wagging ‘no’ in the air, warning, ‘Not here. Not here.’
When the glove came to me, I asked Padre Pio to protect my village the way that he protected his village. I asked him to be the patron saint of Corn Hill and to watch over the people and end the war in the streets.
I broke my fast and went back to everyday affairs when within days, the stories started coming in. You had to have been here back in the 0’s. Utica had just been through the season of arson fires during the 90’s the Girl Gangs of the late 90’s and the drug gangs that were still underway.
Some of the stories went like this… There was a car full of people parked when bullets were fired. Lots of bullets, into the car. No one was shot.
There was another incident on the Parkway near the 1600 block when shots rang out. A ten-year-old boy was standing in a group of people in the line of fire. A bullet tore through his jacket but he was not hit. There were other shall we say, miraculous stories during that dangerous time when people were somehow spared.
Since 2004, it has been my observation that Utica has enjoyed the least violent season of crime of any major city along the Thruway. My opinion is that Padre Pio has in fact been looking out for us. And yes there have been tragedies, murders, and deaths as I am sure we’re going on during the miserable wars that Padre Pio endured, but somehow those bombs didn’t hit his village.
I used to go play my guitar and sing songs for that first Padre Pio Prayer group at St. Paul’s in Whitesboro when organizer Christine Gardener would ask me to come. I remember telling the members about my experience and asked them to pray for Corn Hill, which they did regularly.
I also asked Fr. Lamana, the Spiritual leader of the group, what did it take to make a saint your patron saint? He said you only have to ask.
There is a beautiful portrait of St. Pio on the wall behind my desk and other precious reminders in my office of the special relationship I have with this saint, things that have come my way over the years. But there is none more special than knowing that my own village is looked after by this most special of saints, Padre Pio.