Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito reads the book, “Peppe the Lamplighter,” which reminded him of his father, who was raised in the same Little Italy neighborhood in New York City portrayed in the book. Along with reading the text, the bishop interjected descriptions of illustrations — from the butcher shops to the tenements where people lived — that showed life in the early 1900s. To view the video, click on the inset icon or visit vimeo.com/62730772. (SCREENSHOT)

Bishop reads storybook for Theology of the Body lesson

Palm Beach Gardens  |  In a recent video released by the Office of Family Life of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito addressed a virtual audience of young families as he read a storybook titled “Peppe the Lamplighter.” 

The video, which featured the bishop reading the 1997 children’s book by Elisa Bartone, is the first in a series of storybook readings organized by Beth Zanotelli, Family Life coordinator, that feature guest readers from throughout the diocese. This initiative, titled “Families ‘Rooted’ in Faith,” was started to introduce young families to an age-appropriate curriculum that breaks down the principles found in Theology of the Body, a series of teachings given by Pope John Paul II in the early 1980s centered on the Christian view of what it means to be human; the gift of being made in the image and likeness of God, as male and female, called to love one another as God loves. 

“Theology of the Body gives us answers to who we are as humans and what our purpose is,” Zanotelli said. “These ideas get to the root understanding that we all belong to each other and are meant to live our lives as gifts to one another. It gives a profound perspective on why we are here and how we are to reach our ultimate destiny, heaven.”

Zanotelli structured this storybook initiative around Rooted, “the world’s first Theology of the Body curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade” created by graduates of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The curriculum is published by Ruah Woods Press, a Theology of the Body education center located in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

The curriculum, Zanotelli said, places the lessons and themes found in secular books in the context of Theology of the Body principles through companion activity sheets that direct children and parents through various lessons. 

The bishop read the story of Peppe, the son of an Italian immigrant, who becomes a lamplighter to help support his family in turn-of-the-century New York City. Peppe’s father does not approve of his job as a lamplighter, saying it is a job beneath his son’s station in life. The boy is discouraged by his father’s attitude and decides not to light the lamps one night. That evening, his little sister goes out into the dark streets, becoming lost in the night. When Peppe’s father urges his son to use his gift and light the lamps to find his sister, Peppe realizes just how valuable his humble job is. 

“While Peppe lights the lamps, he lights them as if he is in church and thinks of who he wants to pray for. He hopes that God is looking down from heaven and remembers his family,” elaborated Bishop Barbarito in the video. 

The bishop also shared anecdotes about his experiences living in New York as the son of an Italian immigrant.  

“So many people come to our country as immigrants. . .The book I’m going to read to you is very familiar to me because my family came to this country from Italy and lived in the same part of New York as where the book takes place,” he said. 

At the crux of the story, just when Peppe realizes that he must light the lamps to save his sister, the bishop commented, “Here, Peppe learns, what we do, we do our best and we do it for others.”

This lesson is one at the heart of the Rooted curriculum. 

“Just in the simple act of reading this story together, families take away a lesson of history, faith and being proud in what you have to offer,” Zanotelli said. “Today’s culture is a ‘me’ culture — we’re worried about what other people think of us instead of living for the Lord. These lessons offer a new way of thinking for children at young ages.” 

The Office of Family Life hopes to make these virtual storybook readings a monthly endeavor, with each book focused on a different principal of Theology of the Body. 

“Our next focus will be on vocations — listening to God’s call for your life’s plan,” Zanotelli said.

To watch Bishop Barbarito read “Peppe the Lamplighter” and complete the accompanying Theology of the Body activity sheet with students or as a family, visit the Office of Family Life’s Joy of the Family website—joyofthefamily.org. Access the office’s monthly newsletter and blog via the website as well and follow them on Facebook @DiocesePBFamilyLife.