Tony Evangelista has been carrying around a photo of his distant cousin in his wallet for decades.
Last weekend, his distant cousin Nunzio Sulprizio was among the seven men and women elevated to sainthood on Oct. 14.
Evangelista, who owns Il Posto Italian Restaurant in Bergen Beach, refers to his cousin as “the beato,” which means blessed in Italian.
Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio has now been canonized, and appropriately so during the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment. Nunzio was only 19 when he died.
He was born on April 13, 1817 in Pescosansonesco, Pescara, Italy, and was orphaned early. He then lived with a violent uncle who often beat him. He worked in his uncle’s blacksmith shop and suffered a severe leg injury. He spent the last two years of his life in a hospital for the incurable where in his suffering he assisted other patients and, in his poverty, he relieved the misery of the poor. He died May 5, 1836. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI on Dec. 1 1963.
“He said, ‘my suffering is nothing compared to what Jesus suffered.’ That was his philosophy,” Evangelista said.
Evangelista has always looked to his distant cousin for inspiration.
“My grandfather talked about the beato for as long as I can remember and he has always been very important to my family,” Evangelista said.
“My father fell off a scaffolding and was sore but he did not know for sure what had happened. In the hospital, his mother put a picture of Nunzio in the bed with him. The next morning the doctor diagnosed him with broken ribs and the picture of Nunzio was stuck to his ribs. He has always looked out for his family,” he said.
Thanks to the Beato
“In my life I consider myself very blessed and have lived an excellent life and I do believe that is all thanks to the beato and that he has always loved his family.”
Msgr. John Delendick, pastor of St. Jude, Canarsie, says he eats at Il Posto sometimes six days a week and that is only because the place is closed on Mondays. He and Evangelista have become great friends.
“As soon as I heard Nunzio was becoming a saint, I thought this is huge and could be the biggest thing that ever happened around here. How often do you meet a cousin of a saint plus we have him here in our own backyard in Brooklyn? This is a huge source of inspiration to have such a strong connection to a saint.”
Francisco Ciccio Poblet is a professional painter and a student of Salvatore Dali. He commissioned a new painting of Nunzio for Evangelista and to be placed in the restaurant.
“I have been friends with Tony for decades and have heard the story of his cousin before but never knew one day he would be a saint,” Poblet said.
“So, when I heard Tony asked me to paint something for him and I was so happy to do so. Now his legacy continues and Tony can share that story with even more people.”