The annual Cardinal’s Christmas Luncheon is often cited as the official kickoff to the Christmas season in New York, and it sure felt that way to the 810 guests at the 73rd gathering held in the New York Hilton Midtown on the feast of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6.
As tables filled, students in the St. Raymond’s School Choir from the Bronx delighted them with renditions of popular and religious Christmas classics. As they were seated, guests could hardly miss the beautiful Christmas ornaments carefully arranged in boxes at the center of each table. The program ended, as it customarily does, with a Nativity tableau formed by students of St. John Chrysostom School, also in the Bronx, as Cardinal Dolan recited the familiar verses of Luke 2:1-14.
The cardinal even led the guests in a video birthday greeting to his mother, Shirley Dolan, who turned 90 that day.
Lidia Bastianich, host of the PBS television program “Lidia’s Kitchen” and the author of many popular cookbooks, which have made her a culinary icon to millions, received the Christmas Angel Award. The 71-year-old chef even cooked for both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis during their visits to New York in the past decade.
She captivated the luncheon audience with a personal story dating to her childhood, when her family ended up over the border in communist Yugoslavia after World War II. Her family’s attempt to return to their roots in Trieste, Italy, was not without struggle, as the authorities detained her father when she and her mother and brother received a visa to visit a “sick” aunt in Trieste. Two weeks later, her father appeared one night after he “escaped the border” and the family was reunited in “free” Italy.
The family remained for two years in a political refugee camp in Trieste. “It was difficult, but it taught me a lot,” Lidia said. “It taught me how to interact with others, and how to behave.”
With the assistance of Catholic Relief Services, and later Catholic Charities, her family “received the opportunity to come to the United States.” The details of the 1958 trip tumbled forth from Ms. Bastianich as if it had taken place last year. Her family traveled with a plane full of other immigrants, to JFK Airport, where they were loaded onto five school buses and brought to a hotel in Manhattan.
It wasn’t too long before they had their own place in New Jersey. Her dad, a mechanic by trade, got a job installing radios in new Chevrolets, and her mom, a teacher, did piecework in a factory. With help from neighbors and Catholic Charities, Lidia and her family were on their way in America.
“I’m telling this story so you get to hear it from someone who was that little child,” she said. “Somebody got the grace of God, from Catholic Charities, to start a new life.”
Lidia’s voice choked with emotion at points as she related her story. “With all I have been given, it’s certainly not mine to keep. I feel a dire need to share it, to give it back.”
“Things are really done by the Catholic Charities,” Ms. Bastianich said. “Families are really pulled together. Children are really made to start a life—to begin and become real Americans.”
Also honored were Catherine and Christopher Kinney, who received the Spirit of St. Nicholas Award. Mrs. Kinney has served as board chair of archdiocesan Catholic Charities for six years and as a board member for 15 years. In her remarks, she touched on many of the programs she has been privileged to view closely.
“Our Catholic Charities family is committed to improving the lives of our common family,” said Mrs. Kinney, who culminated her 35-year career with the New York Stock Exchange by serving as president and chief operating officer.
The luncheon raised more than $800,000 to benefit the women and children served by the agencies and programs affiliated with archdiocesan Catholic Charities in association with the Ladies of Charity.