Nino Pesce is not a blind man. He is a man who happens to be blind.
The 85-year-old former ophthalmologist consultant went blind at the age of 53, and decided straightaway that his blindness was not going to deter him.
“For most people in my situation, they totally wipe out and don’t do anything beyond that,” said Pesce. “My feeling is, I am blind, but I can do whatever I darn well please.”
And he has. Pesce has gone on to become the country’s second blind realtor, a motivational speaker, and a presenter on sight safety at universities and businesses.
He and his wife, Betty, are members of St. James Parish in Lititz, where they serve as lectors and Betty is also an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.
Prior to retiring to Lititz, the Pesces were also active in their former parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, serving the Spanish-speaking community, facilitating a Divine Mercy group, participating in a hospital ministry to the dying, and sponsoring a combined nine people in the RCIA program, among other ministries.
Pesce says his positive attitude for serving and his zeal for life comes from God.
“I have it because God is in my life,” he said. “Both Betty and I are firm believers in the Holy Spirit. It’s His push that makes it very easy for me.”
Guided by his wife to the lectern, Nino served as a lector for the Diocese’s annual Mass Celebrating the Gifts of People with Disabilities. Celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer at St. James Church in Lititz on Nov. 6, the Mass was also shared via livestream on the Diocese’s YouTube page.
Preparing to Greet Jesus
Hosted each year by the Diocesan Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities, the Mass celebrates the gifts and abilities of men, women and children, several of whom traditionally serve as greeters, ushers, lectors and altar servers.
In his homily, Bishop Gainer connected the Gospel Reading of the parable of the ten bridesmaids who went to meet the bridegroom to the Mass celebrating the gifts of people with disabilities.
He pointed out that, in Scripture, weddings are metaphors for the Kingdom of God. The parable of the ten bridesmaids – five of whom were foolish and did not have sufficient oil to light their lamps, and five who were wise with enough oil – reminds us to be prepared for the coming of Jesus, he said.
“The parable is about the coming of Jesus to usher in the fullness of the Kingdom of God. To be able to greet Him when He comes – whether it is at the end of our individual lives or at the end of human history – takes preparation. We need to be prepared to welcome the Lord,” Bishop Gainer said.
The celebration of the Mass for people with disabilities and our gratitude to God for their gifts is one way of wisely preparing to meet Jesus when he comes, the bishop said.
“Recognizing the dignity of all our brothers and sisters, recognizing that a disability almost always brings many special abilities, thanking God and lifting up those abilities and the love that God shows us through our brothers and sisters – all of this is part of our wise planning to meet the Lord,” he said.
“The last Sundays of the Church year invite us to think about these things,” the bishop said. “It’s not easy to think about these things, but it would be foolish to think that any one of us is going to live forever. We’re called to be prudent, to be wise, to look at how we’re preparing for our own response when we hear, ‘The bridegroom is coming.’
Not Defined by Disabilities
Attending the annual Mass for the first time since moving to Lititz, Pesce expressed his gratitude for the Diocese and the Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities.
“The main factor is showing that we’re all human beings, we’re all one, whether we’re blind, or in a wheelchair, or deaf,” said Pesce. “We’re people. We’re not defined by our disabilities. I’m not a blind person; I’m a person who happens to be blind.”
Pesce does not shy away from talking about his blindness, or from exposing the treatment that people with disabilities have received.
In his professions as a consultant and as a motivational speaker, he has addressed ophthalmologists at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, and business leaders at Boeing and Merck. He has also given presentations at United Zion Retirement Community, where he and Betty live. He speaks about diversity, blindness and proper etiquette when encountering a person with a disability.
“No matter where I speak, whether giving talks at Wills or at the retirement community, it’s to teach others that we’re human beings, not a piece of trash because we’re blind or have some other disability,” Pesce said.
These days, Pesce has had to put off speaking engagements due to the pandemic. But he continues to share his message, albeit a bit more indirectly, by proclaiming the Readings on a monthly basis at St. James.
“I can emphasize what I feel is necessary to emphasize as lector,” Pesce said. “When you lector, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, proclaiming what God wants to proclaim. It has to be done in such a way that it’s not rushed or mumbled. It must be related to as you proclaim it.”
Betty said her husband’s service as lector has been an inspiration to parishioners.
“I’ve been told many times by parishioners that they are edified when they see Nino at the lectern. I’ve gotten so many comments about the great job that he does,” she said. “I think part of it is, when he reads, he can look directly out at the congregation as though he’s really proclaiming the Word to them, like Paul or Isaiah. We sighted people, as lectors, need to look down. I strive to look out at the congregation as much as I can, but Nino constantly looks out as he proclaims the Word.”
“Do I think it makes a difference that he is blind and still proclaims the Word? Yes, I think it does in many ways,” she said. “With our God-given gifts, we can do anything God wants us to do, despite our abilities. Nino is a person in our parish who is just as welcomed as anybody else.”
The Pesces look forward to resuming Nino’s schedule of speaking engagements after the pandemic. They’re also inspired to get involved in ministry to the dying, and in ecumenical efforts.
“My feeling is, the more that we give, the more that comes to us from God,” Nino said. “I am 85 years old and Betty is 77, and we both feel that we have to do something in our lives to help others.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness