As we prepared for 9/11 remembrances and our We the People 2011 Commemoration on Constitution Day, September 17, the last thing we imagined we'd be doing was burying our dear friend, Joe Vento.
On the mend from his successful cancer treatment last year, Joey appeared to be in amazingly good health. For that reason, his death came as a tremendous shock to us all.
We are still recovering from the loss.
At least 15 Association members attended Saturday's viewing and Mass.
It was a most appropriate setting--the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.
Outside the impressive brownstone structure, the grayish clouds began unleashing hurricane rains as if sharing in the grief of those gathered on the opposite side of the walls.
Inside, as the viewing ended and the casket was closed, Joey Vento's devoted friend and vocal champion, Dom Giordano, delivered a eulogy befitting the humble South Philly hero and his remarkable life.
The grandeur of the basilica--with its elegant chandeliers, glorious Christian imagery, and heavenly sounding organ--served as a reassuring reminder that Joey had not died, but had passed from this world to the next.
Father Gary Pacitti, Joey's spiritual mentor and homilist, provided us with a glimpse of a soul that was Joey Vento.
Father Pacitti described a man who, confounded by the suffering of others, wanted to better understand why 'the Big Guy' allowed such things to happen--a question, certainly, for the ages.
The wonder of Joey, however, wasn't that he pondered the suffering of others--it was that he sprung into action to provide relief.
Whether it was to answer the cry of a nearby neighbor, fill the financial
need of a local parish, or alleviate the anguish of a slain officer's
widow--Joey was always there.
Whatever the problem, if Joey Vento got wind of it, he was providing an answer--a one man Mr. Fixit for an entire region.
Yet, while Father Pacitti never mentioned it, many sitting in the pews undoubtedly remembered that Joey's concerns spanned well beyond the community to the nation as a whole.
From his defense of the First Amendment to his promotion of private
healthcare and his campaign to secure the borders, Joey, the Patriot, unabashedly loved his country and demonstrated it routinely.
He opened his wallet, his restaurant, and his heart to the Tea Party Movement. Just last year, he sponsored weekly radio spots on WNTP
so that many of the area's Tea Party groups could introduce themselves to the public at large.
Initially, these groups were unaware that Joey was their benefactor as he sought to keep his sponsorship completely anonymous.
Joey assisted the Association in a very different and direct way.
At several major Tea Party events, including our first in April 2009 and our last on July 4th, 2011, he spoke, at length, with his trademark candor and charismatic charm.
Whenever we asked, he bought program booklet ads to support our work. He would even call us up, from time to time, to offer words of encouragement and sound advice.
On April 15 of this year, Joey hosted a Tax Day Tea Party at Geno's Steaks, and along with WPHT, honored the Tea Party on its second anniversary with a specially ordered birthday cake.
We honored him with our 2011 Patriot of the Year Award.
Simply put, Joey, for us, was a solid source of inspiration and a constant reminder to do the right thing.
As we sat listening to Father Pacitti's closing remarks, many of us were on the verge of tears. The loss of Joey Vento caused a measure of
suffering that not even Joey could comfort.
In our quiet sadness, we stood watching as Joey's composed wife and son guided his casket out of the church to its final resting place.
We imagined Joey's spirit was already talking with 'the Big Guy'--asking Him a lot of tough questions.