Diocesan News

St. Joseph Dedicates New Saints’ Cove to Battle Cancer Diagnoses

The faithful who visit St. Joseph’s Church can pray at this shrine where they will find statues of St. Sharbel (left), St. Peregrine (center) and Blessed Carlo Acutis. (Photos: Paula Katinas)

ASTORIA — When Vivian Esposti was waging a 21-month-long battle with pancreatic cancer, a disease that would ultimately take her life, she asked her husband Edward to get a statue of St. Peregrine for their church, St. Joseph’s in Astoria, because he is the patron saint of cancer patients.

On Monday, July 24, Esposti was at St. Joseph’s Church keeping his promise to his wife.

Esposti donated funds to enable the church to purchase a statue of St. Peregrine that was dedicated at a special Mass that evening. “I wanted to fulfill that commitment to her,” said Esposti, a Vietnam War veteran and a lung cancer survivor. Vivan Esposti passed away in November, 2022.

The statue of St. Peregrine, along with two other statues — St. Sharbel, the patron saint of those who suffer in body and soul and Blessed Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager who died of leukemia at age 15 and is the first Millennial considered for sainthood — are now part of a Saints Cove designed to give the faithful another place to come, to pray and to contemplate.

The three statues, which stand side by side in an alcove to the left of the altar, were dedicated at a Mass on July 24 — the Feast of St. Sharbel.

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Raymond Chappetto blessed the statues, describing St. Peregrine, St. Sharbel and Blessed Carlo Acutis as “intercessors for us to the throne of God.”

It is fitting to have the three statues in St. Joseph’s, said Father Vincent Chirichella, the pastor, because “these three figures have a tremendous influence in the life of this parish.”

Father Chirichella added that parishioners draw strength from them because each has a connection to cancer. 

According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 1.9 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2023. And it is projected that 609,000 cancer-related deaths will take place this year.

At St. Joseph’s Church, those statistics are more than just numbers. So many of his parishioners have either had cancer or have a close relative or friend with the disease, Father Chirichella decided to start celebrating a monthly healing Mass. 

“I happened to walk with a lot of parishioners that were diagnosed with cancer,” he explained. The healing Mass takes place on the first Monday of every month.

Edward Esposti donated the funds for the St. Peregrine statue to keep a promise to his late wife Vivian who prayed to the saint’s intercession every day during her nearly two-year-old battle with pancreatic cancer.

All three statues were purchased by the church with donations from St. Joseph parishioners. Deborah Lee, said she donated the funding for the St. Sharbel statue because she wanted to pay tribute to two dear friends of hers who passed away from cancer.

Lee had never heard of St. Sharbel until she learned about him from Deacon Michael Chirichella, the brother of Father Michael Chirichella.

Deacon Chirichella, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2022, has shared his journey with the faithful at St. Joseph’s and at his parish, the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg.

“I was very inspired by Deacon Michael and his whole story and that’s what started this for me,” Lee said, adding that one of the things she hopes the statue does is bring people closer to their Catholic faith. 

“I want them to believe in miracles and to believe in the saints. I hope they can deepen their faith in life and never give up hope,” she added.

Deacon Chirichella, who is in remission, believes he was helped by St. Sharbel. 

Several months ago, a small statue of the saint was delivered to St. Joseph’s. “My brother said, ‘I didn’t order this statue.’ We thought it was a mistake but then we found that it had been done purposely,” Deacon Chirichella recalled.

The Mass was emotional for him. “It’s really a miracle that we’re here today on the actual feast day of St. Sharbel, and we have these statues here,” he added.

The evening was also emotional for Edward Esposti, who was remembering his late wife. 

Vivian Esposti was a high school health teacher for 37 years. “She was very dedicated to children. She was a positive role model,” he explained.

“She prayed consistently to St. Peregrine, unfortunately to no avail and she passed away. But I like to think the Lord needed another angel,” he said.