JOEY’S STORY SPECIAL EDITION
Dear Joey: Today at the pines in a locution the Blessed Virgin told me to tell you you will receive new eyes on the day of the Great Miracle…
Joey Lomangino, who has dedicated his life to spreading the Message of Garabandal, is totally an incurably blind. But, through the above quote from a letter from the Garabandal visionary Conchita Gonzalez, Joey has the assurance that he will one day see. Conchita also quoted the Virgin as saying: The first thing he (Joey) shall see will be the miracle which my Son will perform through my intercession, and from that time on he will see permanently.
Conchita has further explained that her understanding of the Virgin’s term, “new eyes,” is eyes as we know them – not necessarily spiritual vision – and that Joey’s new eyes “are to be used for the glory of God.”
So it appears that God has willed to associate this blind man from Lindenhurst, New York, publicly with the Garabandal event. Since 1963, Joey has traveled throughout the world preaching prayer, penance, and faith in God. Through his former slide-talk presentation, radio and television appearances, and the continually mushrooming apostolic activity he inspires, many millions of people have heard the Message of Garabandal.
But what makes Joey run? You may wonder: What’s in it for him? Affluent businessman having a fling? Blind man grasping for power? The prophecy about his eyes – is that what moves him along at such a pace? The prophecy about his eyes – is that what moves him along at such a pace? Or has he, as those who know him well believe, really been touched in a very special way by grace? This is Joey’s story.
Up Hill From the Start
He grew up in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, the eldest of five sons and a daughter born to a hardworking but low income Italian-American family. Pasquale (called Charlie) Lomangino, ailing most of the time and by nature retiring and artless, had about 300 customers on his ice and coal route and he just barely eked out a living. It wasn’t until Charlie’s sons were old enough to pitch in that the business began to provide adequately for the growing family.
Charlie’s first born was the apple of his eye, a devoted, considerate boy, a good boy. In school, Joey was an average student, mild and likeable. But he never pushed for grades or cultivated friendships. His interests were in the after school jobs that helped make him money for the family. At 10 years old he was already a big help to his dad on the route. At 12 he persuaded his father to up the price of ice from 5 cents to 15 cents, as competitors had done years earlier. Buoyed by Joey’s strong young shoulders and the business astuteness that was natural to him, the Lomangino enterprise began to thrive. By the time Joey was 16, the family was modestly comfortable and the future appeared bright.
Then one hot June day in 1947, fate struck a blow that crushed the family’s hopes. Finishing up at school, Joey raced home to change his clothes and be off to meet his dad on the route. Joey was to drive the old three-ton coal truck to his dad but first he noted, the left rear tire had to have air. He rolled the tire six blocks to a gas station on 86th and Bay 7th. “I had both knees on top of the tire, “ remembers Joey. “I was checking the air pressure and looking down at the tire.” Around the block Charlie Lomangino heard an explosion but paid little mind as he went about his work. Today, a small deep scar, like a line on a map, shows where the rim hit Joey when it burst free from the tire. The bones of his lower forehead had been crushed and a three-inch fracture between the eyes severed his olfactory and optic nerves. He lay in a coma for three weeks before waking on July 16th to the darkness he’s known ever since.
The accident flung the family into poverty. Charlie’s nerves, never good, were now shattered. There was no more ice and coal business. In time, he got a longshoreman job at the docks and averaged $1,200 a year income. The family lived on this, the small income they realized from the rented apartment in their home, odd jobs Charlie’s young sons could hustle, and the charity of neighbors. Joey remembers those days- actually seven long years- of destitution vividly. Searching for a word that is not like “bitter” or “angry,” Joey recalls that he was sorrowful. “It was a great sadness. I felt as though I had been reaching for something (financial security for his family), was just about to get it, and then suddenly it was whisked away. I was just sad – like I’d lost something. I was confused, sorrowful.”
Religion was not a comfort to him. Recalls Joey: “I wasn’t sold on God because I didn’t understand why people suffered. My parents were good people and they suffered a lot. This was a sad mystery I accepted without anger but without trying to understand either.”
In 1949 Fr. Alfred Varrialle, of St. Bernadette’s parish in Brooklyn, took Joey by the arm to the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. In three years Joey earned a high school diploma as an honor student and a scholarship to St. John’s University.
With Dagmar, his seeing-eye dog at his side, Joey went to St. John’s for one year. Then, in 1954, the family’s fortunes changed. David R. Filderman, a Brooklyn businessman, loaned Joey the money to take over a defunct sanitation business based in Farmingdale, Long Island. Joey made the business pay and, within a year, he and his brothers had cancelled his debt to Filderman. The business became Allied Sanitation Co., owned and operated by a blind man and his three brothers.
Lights of Understanding
In 1961 Joey Lomangino was 31, financially successful, and much overworked. On doctor’s orders, he took a vacation trip to Europe. He couldn’t know as he boarded the plane on that crisp, brilliant morning that he was taking the most important step of his life. Indeed, he was going to begin to find life, the meaning of it, past, present, and future.
Joey remembers how he balked – he just wasn’t interested – when his uncle in Bari, Italy suggested a drive 75 miles north to San Giovanni Rotondo, in Foggia. “ Joey, you come, eh? He is the pride of all Italy. Come see our saintly priest.” Insistence winning out, the two men made the trip, arriving in time for the 5 a.m. Mass celebrated by the famous stigmated priest, Padre Pio. After Mass, Joey knelt with hundreds of other men for the Padre’s blessing. When he came to Joey, Padre Pio called him by name, touched him on the cheek and blessed him. That was all.
And that was everything- the crystallizing of all that Joey had begun to experience from the moment he’d arrived at the Rotondo. For two years afterwards, Joey couldn’t get the presence of Padre Pio out of his soul. In going to Foggia, Joey had made a tiny opening in his heart for God. Grace had entered and begun the transforming work. Mass and the Sacraments were still only occasional events in Joey’s life but now he was experiencing the turbulence of conversion. He began to have lights of understanding – about his blindness and the family hardships that had always weighed so heavily on him. He began to understand why the financial comfort he’d dreamed about, struggled for and attained hadn’t brought the joys or peace he’d thought it would. He began to fathom the emptiness.
By the Grace of God
When Joey returned to Italy in 1963, it was specifically to be again in the presence of that holy man whose seemingly simple blessing had wrought such wonders in his soul. On the third day of his second visit to the Rotondo, Joey knelt for confession. There was no partition between him and Padre Pio, who grabbed him by the wrist and said, “Joey, confess yourself.” Stunned by this face-to-face encounter, Joey couldn’t speak right away. The Padre said again, “Joey confess yourself.” Joey began:
“Bless me, Father for I have sinned”…but the priest interrupted him.
“Joey, you’re angry, eh?”
“No Father, I work hard, I’m tired…”
“No, no, Joey, you’re angry, eh?”
As Joey searched for the words to begin, Padre Pio started to tell him his sins – in English. Joey recalls, “It went like this – this Italian priest began, ‘Joey, do you recall one night in a bar, a girl named Barbara, the sin you committed.’ I said, ‘Yes, Padre I do, and then he went right down the list in English, the dates, the names, the sins I committed and the places I was at. I was one piece of water. After he was all through he said, ‘Joey, are you sorry?’ I answered, ‘Yes, Father, I am.’ Then Padre Pio raised his hand in the air and said, ‘ I call Jesus and Mary for you.’ I said, ’For me? You call Jesus and Mary for me?’ He said, ‘Si’. As Padre Pio gave me absolution, my eyes began to roll in my head. I started to rub my face; my head kept going around and around. I felt something was happening to me but I didn’t know what it was. All of a sudden, my head cleared. Then Padre Pio touched my lips, made me kiss the wound on his hand, gave me a tap on the face, and said, ‘Joey, a little patience, a little courage and you’re going to be all right.’ “
“I was 33 years old, but I felt like 16. I had a firm purpose of amendment. I was sorry for every sin I committed in my whole life. I felt so good and so clean I just wanted to be left alone. And ever since then, February 16, 1963, I am a daily communicant, the cross is off my shoulders and I’m free. Until this day, I don’t suffer, I’m inconvenienced, but I don’t suffer.”
A few days later Joey knelt with some 50 other men outside the cloister in the Rotondo waiting for Padre Pio to pass by. Suddenly, Joey threw his arms up and plunged backward to protect himself from what he thought, in his darkness, was an explosion to him. Suddenly Padre Pio was next to him. “He touched me on the bridge of my nose. ‘Joey, don’t be afraid.’“
Though his olfactory nerve had been severed 16 years earlier in the accident that also took his eyes, Joey had regained his sense of smell. He has no physical faculty to smell, but his sense of smell is as acute as anyone’s – by the grace of God working through Padre Pio.
“Father, is it true…?”
The friend who had accompanied Joey to San Giovanni had done so with the understanding that after a week or so the two would go to Garabandal. Joey knew little of the apparitions at that time. He wanted only to be near Padre Pio. He persuaded his friend to accept whatever decision the Padre would render. Joey put the question:
“Father is it true that the Virgin is appearing to four girls in Spain?” The answer came, “Yes.” But Joey still wanted an out, “Father, should we go to Garabandal?” The answer again was simply, “Yes, why not.”
So the blind American left the hallowed halls of San Giovanni Rotondo where he had begun to understand the meaning of his life. It was February 1963, the time picked by God for Joey Lomangino to enter the Garabandal events.
* * * *
Garabandal winters are very hard.
Joey recalls his first night in the little mountain village: “The temperature was bitter cold, and just as bad indoors as it was outside. The houses, made of stone, had no running water, in fact, there was no plumbing, there was no heat, only occasional lighting depending on the village allotment, a little wood stove to cook on and small beds with mattresses made of straw. I think I paid for the graces that night.”
In bed with all his clothes on – and whatever else he could find for a covering – Joey hardly slept because of the cold. He had a lot to think about anyway – the miraculous restoration of his sense of smell through Padre Pio, the journey from San Giovanni, the amazing things he and his friend, Mario, who had accompanied him to Italy and now to Garabandal, had heard the night before in Madrid, the quiet awe they’d felt upon arriving in Garabandal.
In Madrid they had spent many hours talking with people familiar with the Garabandal events. Among them was Fr. Ramon Andreu, brother of the Jesuit priest, Fr. Luis Andreu, whom the Virgin Mary had involved in a special way in the Garabandal happenings. Fr. Ramon, also a Jesuit, had witnessed the girls in numerous ecstasies, and his accounts deeply impressed Joey.
Admittedly, Joey entered Garabandal as a believer. “Why not?” he thought. Padre Pio had said yes when asked if the Virgin was appearing in Garabandal. And then there was the calm, reverent testimony of Fr. Ramon and the others in Madrid.
Within a few days Joey met the young visionary, Conchita. He was touched by her simplicity and sincerity, her dedication to prayer and her childlike trust in the veracity of her visions.
She gave him a holy card and had written a message on it. It read as follows:
We must make many sacrifices and many penances and we must make many visits to the Blessed Sacrament. But first we must be very good and if we don’t do this there will come a punishment. The cup has run over and if we don’t change, we will receive a great punishment. Will you do it, sir? I don’t know your name, but do it and have others do it.
After his talks with Conchita, Joey reasoned that it would be totally illogical to think that this girl was deceiving or being deceived. His inclinations to belief now blossomed into conviction: the Virgin Mary had indeed come to this village with a Message for the world. He had to help make the Message known.
What Can I Do?
He was blind. He was by nature timid, shy, a loner. His only design all his life had been to work, to make money for his family. Now, back in New York, he tossed it around and around in his mind: “What can a guy like me do about spreading the Message?”
Joey reflects now that he was actually very well equipped to begin his mission. Etched in his heart was his encounter with Padre Pio and the spiritual and physical miracle the saintly priest had brought about in him. Also, the visionary Conchita had given him a set of rosary beads kissed by the Virgin. And he had heard the testimonies of scores of men and women both in San Giovanni and in Garabandal. He had all this plus a photo album Mario had obtained for him. There were pictures of Padre Pio and of the Garabandal ecstasies, under each picture a few lines in braille.
Album in hand and with the rosary beads in his pocket, Joey began to witness, house to house, starting first with relatives and friends. Later, when slides became available through Fr. Ramon, Joey revisited the same houses. He was now showing Padre Pio, Fatima, and Garabandal slides. In his presentations, which soon came to be called “conferences,” Joey’s theme was the love of God for all people. “God constantly calls people to Himself,” Joey would say, “sometimes through the charisma of a Padre Pio, sometimes through apparitions of the Blessed Mother.” He stressed the urgency of Our Lady’s coming at Fatima and now at Garabandal. “Our Lady has come out of love,” he would say. “We must respond with love.”
Word began to spread about the blind man with his tale of the Virgin Mary’s appearance in Spain. People telephoned him – would he come show the slides to them? Soon, weekends were no longer enough for this apostolate. He began to make dates for a day or two during the week and, because Mario wasn’t always available, Joey recruited other friends who were happy to help, for they too were convinced of the Virgin’s coming and the need to make her Message known.
But here’s what was really happening, claims Joey. Immediately upon returning from Garabandal that first time, he began daily Mass and Communion. It was this daily intake of grace that opened his eyes more and more to what he was doing. He saw the need – and the fruits – of prayer. He began to ask people to join him in three Hail Mary’s before he spoke to them about the slides. Very soon, the three prayers became five decades of the rosary. Now, claims Joey, there was grace not only for him but for those hearing Our Lady’s Message. He saw people returning to the sacraments after long absences, their lives transformed because they had begun to pray. He got the conviction that is today the keynote of his apostolate: only God’s grace converts and sustains; true wisdom, true peace, the ability to endure – these things come only through grace obtained by prayer.