2007-09-21 / Columnists

On The Beach

Locals Meet With Pope Benedict XVI
Commentary By Beverly Baxter

BEVERLY BAXTER BEVERLY BAXTER I count among my many blessings the neighbors and friends who comprise this town and make it the wonderful place that it is to live; however, it's certainly a rarity to have among my friends three people who have met with the Pope!

We know these local neighbors through the extraordinary work of their lives; their selfless dedication and philanthropy as executive directors and trustees on behalf of Peninsula Hospital Center, as well as through their many civic affiliations; yet their magnanimity has had a much farther reach- all the way to Vatican City!

Neponsit residents George and Daniela Greco and Noel Schwartz were part of a recent delegation of the National Police Defense Foundation that had a private audience with His Holiness. The purpose of the trip was to hand-deliver a motorized wheelchair for the eight-year-old son of Italy's Chief Inspector, Sergio Cirelli, who is also a member of the NPDF, assigned to the Italian Embassy in New York City.

The National Police Defense Foundation is an international charitable organization that assists and serves the needs of family members of law enforcement personnel. Through its Operation Kids Program, Alessio Cirelli is receiving much-needed medical care for a rare disease known as Kasabach-Merritt Syndrome, a condition that afflicts both the right and left sides of the brain, causing paralysis at birth. The pediatric wheelchair was donated by Mark Goldstein, an influential lobbyist for the New York medical community, and was sent on the flight with the Grecos and Noel Schwartz.

Noel Schwartz, Daniela and George Greco visit Vatican and have a private audience with Pope. Noel Schwartz, Daniela and George Greco visit Vatican and have a private audience with Pope. The Pontiff welcomes private audiences every Wednesday morning. He gave a welcoming address in six different languages, urging Roman Catholics to take the spirit of Catholicism world-wide. During the private audience with the NPDF delegation, he blessed the wheelchair, the child, his parents, as well as the Grecos and Noel Schwartz. The Pontiff took a particular interest in the cause of Alessio, as it was learned during their audience that the Pope's father was a police sergeant in Germany.

Their itinerary included dinner parties hosted by Chief Inspector Cirelli, the Grecos, as well as a luncheon for NPDF Delegate Liu Wei, China's Chief Inspector, who is a member of the organization. The delegation also visited many of Rome's intriguing points of interest and Daniela Greco, who speaks fluent Italian, served as their beautiful interpreter! The group was also provided a private tour of "Boy's Town of Italy", another endeavor supported by the NPDF. There they met orphaned boys, ranging in age from 10 to 17, who are housed there. They are trained, with the support of NPDF, to learn skills that will enable them to seek future employment. Many of the orphans are refugees from war-torn areas like Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his "Pope-mobile gives his blessings to the hundreds of thousands who travel to the Vatican each day. Pope Benedict XVI, in his "Pope-mobile gives his blessings to the hundreds of thousands who travel to the Vatican each day. For Noel Schwartz, who has traveled extensively and has lived all over the exotic Far East, the experience was thrilling. Although I was very much interested in their meeting with the Pope, I was equally fascinated by the events leading up to their arrival; because, let's face it, if you know George Greco and are lucky enough to have been befriended by him, you can almost be certain to be included in a once-in-a-lifetime event! So, George calls Noel and casually mentions in his matter-of-fact way that he will be going to Vatican City to meet with the Pope! Noel lamented that he would love to go...and George, who makes everything about life seem easy, simply stated, "Come on along!" It's a good thing there's very little that surprises Noel's wife, Sheila, who has a great go-with-it attitude!

George and Noel are in many ways an unlikely duo. With more than a generation between them, theirs is a unique friendship based on mutual reverie. George states, "It's a cigar thing! When I first moved here, I was sitting in my garage smoking a cigar and Noel walked by with his dog. He asked me about my brand of cigar and then he asked me for a check for $1500! I hardly knew him, he didn't say why or what the money was for, only that it was for a good cause. So I went into the house and told my wife, 'Noel Schwartz needs a check for $1500!' And that's how we met and how I later found out in the mail that I had become a benefactor of Peninsula Hospital Center!"

Upon their arrival at Newark Airport, they were greeted by members of the Port Authority Police and U.S. Homeland Security officials, who expedited the federal inspection.

I asked George to describe the one thing that had the most profound and enduring impact on him. "To see hundreds of thousands of people gathered at St. Peter's Square, 50,000 waiting in line; and yet, with the snap of a finger, or a statement or a word, or comment, the Pope can affect millions of people's lives. And that anything on your person, in your pocket, purse, even your thoughts while in the presence of the Pope, are automatically blessed. It was surreal! And of course, having Marvin Eisenstadt kiss my blessed ring, did it for me!"

***Happy Birthday wishes to Julianna Greco who will turn 7 on October 2nd. And the very best wishes to Mary Alice Lane and Mike Reilly, on their September 24 birthdays!

***Did you know...that Noel Schwartz is a man of many interesting gifts that could be described in several columns; but did you know that he is an accomplished painter? I was given a tour of his home and studio, where there are paintings in the style of Edward Hopper and Chagall, and even a Pollock-like piece and a most interesting fish made out of metal tops of cans that look like scales.

It was an intriguing afternoon; and oh yes, I will never look at my collection of Cartier watches in quite the same way!

Sheila Schwartz is fascinating in her own right. While her husband was off establishing businesses all over the Far East, and was one of the first Americans allowed to enter China during the Nixon Administration in 1972, Sheila was busy at home raising their five children and soon became an uber-volunteer! She has been the Co-President of the PHC Auxiliary, a position she shared for many years with the muchbeloved Anne F. Levine, who set a standard of volunteerism that most could only aspire toward. The Auxiliary is a fund-raising arm of the hospital and proceeds raised from their yearly endeavors assist various projects throughout the hospital. This year's raffle was drawn on August 1.

The $3000 grand prize went to Elaine Shein, and $2000 prizes went to Kathy Ryan, daughter of Membership Chairwoman Joan Ryan, and Florence Estein's son.

Mary Agona has been asked to serve as Program Chair and Joan Coogan is Social Secretary. Proceeds from the raffle, which totaled $7500, were presented to PHC President and Chief Executive Officer, Bob Levine, in memory of his mother Anne Levine.

This money will go toward the new Cardiac Cath Lab.

***...And we have 100 years to celebrate! Peninsula Hospital Center will turn 100 years young and to mark this milestone occasion, its Board of Directors, trustees and benefactors will host its Centennial Ball on November 4 at Russo's-onthe Bay. I am pleased to inform you that Peter Duchin and his Orchestra will be performing for this special event.

For more information on how to obtain tickets, contact Liz Sulik, Director of External Affairs.

***This Sunday, September 23, you will have a wonderful afternoon of fine Irish entertainment hosted by John Baxter and Mike Searson, who will perform exhilarating Irish music at a benefit concert at the Knights of Columbus. Proceeds from the concert will go to the Ronald McDonald House at Memorial Sloan-Kettering's children's wing. Plan to have a great time for a good cause.

***I extend my warmest wishes to Pat and Walter Roberts on the special occasion of their 60 years of wedded bliss! Walter was such a big hit at the RMAC Festival last week. Everybody wanted to be near him and his uncanny wit!

Congratulations! See you....On the Beach!

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