A precedent-setting visit

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A delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO) recently concluded a historic trip to Rome, Italy. It was extremely important to embark on this initiative because our ties to our homeland have become weaker with each passing generation. It was time to reconnect with our roots.

We were fortunate enough to meet with important leaders of both the Italian government and the Vatican.

The primary goals of our delegation were twofold — first, to establish strong cultural and economic bonds between the Italian-American community and the Italian government, and second, to acknowledge the significant role the Catholic faith has played in the evolution of our shared identity.

Our delegation met with key representatives of all three branches of the Italian government, including Deputy Minister of the Foreign Affairs Commission Benedetto della Vedova, President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies Piero Fassino and Secretary General of the Italian Supreme Court Dott. Luigi Marini.

The overriding message we conveyed was the desire of the Italian-American community to both establish strong ties with the Italian people and their government in order to help preserve our intertwined cultural heritages, and to foster trade and commerce between Italy and the United States. This message was warmly and enthusiastically received by all of the Italian government officials our delegation met with.

Those efforts began late last year when I asked Italian Ambassador to the United States Mariangela Zappia to host a reception for the leaders of all of the major Italian-American organizations so that we could develop meaningful relationships. The Ambassador wholeheartedly embraced the concept and graciously hosted a reception at her residence in Washington, D.C., last December. The gathering was hugely successful, and it provided the impetus for the Rome trip.

As a result of the trip, mutual events to promote Italian and Italian-American culture and heritage are now being developed, as are plans for representatives of COPOMIAO to assist the Italian Trade Commission in promoting regional trade shows.

Our delegation’s efforts to reconnect with the Italian-American community’s religious roots were also extremely successful. In addition to being afforded the honor of a papal audience with His Holiness Pope Francis, we also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Prefect for the Ministry of Catholic Education Cardinal Giuseppe Visaldi. Several important issues were discussed during those meetings, including the significant impact Catholic education has on fostering peaceful international relations, and the challenges and bias the Catholic Church faces today in America from younger generations, many of whom choose to promote a secular society.

This precedent-setting trip to Rome served to raise the stature and visibility of the Italian-American community on both a national and an international level. The spotlight focused on this trip afforded our community the attention and prominence it is often denied.

In the last 18 months alone, COPOMIAO has unified hundreds of Italian-American organizations to preserve and advance the culture our ancestors brought with them from Italy. Now, we are forming strategic partnerships and alliances throughout Italy to bring our journey full circle.

Meanwhile, COPOMIAO has discussions underway with the White House, Italian-American politicians, museum curators and top educators to promote public policy and advocacy initiatives as well as the teaching of the Italian language within the United States.

 

Basil M. Russo is the president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations and the national president of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America.

About Basil Russo

Hon. Basil M. Russo is the national president of the Order Italian Sons and Daughters of America and the president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, having previously served on the Executive Committee of the National Italian American Foundation. Russo was the managing partner of Russo, Rosalina law firm until his retirement in 2015. He has served as judge of the Ohio Court of Appeals; judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, for which he received the Excellent Judicial Service Award from the Ohio Supreme Court; and majority leader of Cleveland City Council.

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