N.Y.C. Catholic School Students Sing for Peace

CNEWA and St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School in Staten Island, New York, cohosted a live Concert for Peace on Wednesday, 21 February. The event raised more than $8,400 in support of CNEWA.

Catholic school students took to the stage on Wednesday, 21 February, to call for peace — specifically, to call for peace in CNEWA’s world.

The Concert for Peace, hosted by St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School on Staten Island, New York, welcomed an audience of more than 400 and raised more than $8,400 in support of CNEWA’s work.

“I can tell the students that what you sang, the themes you sang, those are the themes that are on the ground where CNEWA is working,” said Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, CNEWA president, at the conclusion of the concert at the high school’s auditorium.

“And you gave it voice, all of you, tonight.”

The concert brought together students from 11 Staten Island Catholic schools, elementary and secondary, with each presenting a particular country served by CNEWA before their performance. Participating schools included St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School, Blessed Sacrament, Father Vincent Capodanno Catholic Academy, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady Queen of Peace, St. Ann, St. Charles, St. Teresa-St. Rita STREAM Academy, Sacred Heart, Academy of St. Dorothy and St. Joseph Hill Academy.

The songs performed were: “Holy City,” “Keep the Candle Burning,” “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” (“We Bring Peace to You”), “Imagine,” “We Are the World,” “In the Garden Flowers Grow,” “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” “Love Train” and “Hallelujah.” Students from every school joined together with the St. Joseph by-the-Sea band to perform “God Bless America” to close the evening.

Two students from Our Lady of Good Counsel smile after the concert. (photo: Olivia Poust)

“A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Catholic Schools’ Week and the theme was ‘United in Faith and Community,’ ” said Jann Amato, regional superintendent of Staten Island Catholic Schools. “I can’t think of a better embodiment, an illustration, of how our Catholic school community is embodied, is united in faith and community, like an event like this evening.”

Education is one of the core tenets of CNEWA’s mission, both in educating the public on the people and places where the agency serves and in providing educational opportunities to those in need. By partnering with St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School, CNEWA conducted both missions through the Concert for Peace, thanks to the students who presented, the faculty and leadership who coached and arranged the music, and the generosity of all those in attendance.

“At St. Joe’s … we say that family is extremely important, and it’s not just our family, it’s not the Staten Island family, but this is about the family of the world,” said Damon Testaverde, chairman of the Board of Trustees of St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School.

“We’re here to help those brother and sister Christians, but the Catholic Near East Welfare Association also helps fulfill Jesus’ mission to … fulfill the mission of the church to help everybody, regardless of their faith,” said Father Michael Reilly, principal of St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School.

The impact on the students was immediate.

“Toward the end, I was in the gym,” said Joseph Cocozello, a member of the faculty at Blessed Sacrament. “Our students were lined up to go back inside for ‘God Bless America’ when we saw maybe seven or eight girls from St. Teresa’s chanting and dancing in a circle. Another school joined, then another.

“One of our students was inching closer and closer. I saw she wanted to join, and I encouraged her, but she was afraid. A mom from St. Teresa’s saw our interaction and she came and got her. With that, a large majority of our girls joined, and then a couple of more schools. What started out as one school in a circle with a 5-foot diameter turned into upwards of 10 schools with a 50-foot diameter.

“It was truly heartwarming to see all of these kids, I would think most strangers to one another, having fun together, united as one.”

Special guests included Sister Mary Grace Walsh, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. Willliam Belford, vicar of Staten Island, and Bishop Peter Byrne, auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese.

If you were unable to attend the concert, or would like to rewatch its highlights, watch the recording of the livestream produced by St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School students:

Olivia Poust is assistant editor of ONE.

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