The St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine in St. Augustine, Florida, announced the winner of its 2021 essay contest in which contestants were asked to reflect on the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus.
Essays submitted by 29 teens focused on the relevance of the poem which is best known as the inscription beneath the Statue of Liberty at New York Harbor concerning the importance of freedom and liberty for all.
The most famous line of the poem reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
Angelo Karadimas of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Des Plaines, Illinois, placed first in the contest with his essay titled “The American Dream: A Beacon of Hope.” Karadimas received a $1,000 prize.
“Recent adversity has not dimmed the light of Lazarus’ poem or the American Dream, but has instead emboldened them. However, a flame cannot exist without continued support, as it will be faced with strong winds and waters that will instantly extinguish it,” Karadimas wrote in his essay. “For that reason, we must work hard to preserve the light provided by Lady Liberty in Emma Lazarus’ poem, saving it from challenges determined to erase it.”
St. Photios committee chair Renee Gahagan said she was “thrilled” that young people from all over the country participated, recognizing the importance for teachers to promote this exercise within the classroom.
“Look how many schools participated this year,” Gahagan said. “We have to thank the students and the parents and the teachers for encouraging the essay program.”
A certificate of participation signed by Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, Hierarchal Proistamenos of St. Photios Shrine, will be sent to all 29 contestants.
The St. Photios National Shrine commemorates the first Greek settlers to arrive in the New World and celebrates the many immigrants to the U.S. and their experiences.
The full text of the winning essay by Angelo Karadimas follows below.
The American Dream: A Beacon of Hope
For centuries, the United States has been famous for its openness, opportunity and freedom. These core values have coalesced to form what is known by many as the American Dream.
Our nation’s unmatched ability to accept immigrants from countless backgrounds and situations has inspired reverence and hope in the minds of Americans and those who seek to enter this beautiful country.
People like the prolific writer Emma Lazarus have projected this beacon of hope that the United States emits, moving her to compose a profound poem known as “The New Colossus” found at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Together, this famous poem and the famous statue that it adorns have created a truly symbolic mosaic of the American Dream and its significance.
In recent times of struggle, “The New Colossus” and the beacon of hope it represents has never dimmed, and its relevance is greater now more than ever.
One of my mother’s close friends came through Ellis Island as a Greek immigrant. She passed by the Statue of Liberty and saw the poem engraved at the pedestal, feeling the same inspiration and awe that everyone else there experienced.
Although Ellis Island is no longer used as an immigration center, its symbolism has remained very powerful throughout the years. As a museum, its legacy has been immortalized, and so has Emma Lazarus’ incredible poem located just a ferry ride away.
In the poem, Lady Liberty begs the world to bring her its “tired,” “poor” and “huddled masses yearning to be free.” She has stayed true to her word, especially during the recent crisis in Afghanistan.
After the Taliban seized Kabul, the United States evacuated and gave asylum to over 65,000 Afghan refugees, passing a 6.3 billion-dollar aid package to fund the process. This eager offering of humanitarian support proves that Lady Liberty keeps the promise expressed in Lazarus’ poem time and time again; she has graciously welcomed the “homeless” and “huddled masses yearning to be free” from Taliban control in Afghanistan through her “golden door.”
Since the message expressed in Lazarus’ poem has been fulfilled in recent events, it possesses a significant relevance to our nation today.
Immigration has changed dramatically as a result of COVID-19, but the United States has adjusted its policy to maintain Lady Liberty’s promise. For example, the Biden administration has allowed vaccinated immigrants to enter the United States with the same ease as the past despite travel restrictions caused by the pandemic.
In the midst of this crisis, “tempest-tost” immigrants have floated to the “teeming” American shore in search of help and comfort, coming from countries that have been devastated by COVID. Upon arrival, they have been met by Lady Liberty extending her soothing hand outward, offering warmth and hope to the destitute.
Even during the pandemic, the beacon of hope created by Lazarus’ writing has shined bright like a radiant star. Overall, her poem has kept powerful relevance as events like COVID-19 have tested its promise and strengthened the light that it provides.
One can even look to God’s Word to capture the relevance of “The New Colossus” to our nation. The Bible is filled with numerous verses that express a similar command as that voiced by Emma Lazarus in her eloquent composition.
In the Book of Matthew, God tells the faithful that He will praise those who did good deeds in their lives on Judgment Day, declaring: “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:35-36).
This meaningful verse contains a profound message about the importance of selflessly helping others in their time of need. When God tells us, “I was thirsty and you gave Me drink,” He is not referring to Himself, but instead to His Creation: humankind.
The Lord is asking us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick. “The New Colossus” has a similar calling, with Lady Liberty promising to do these deeds for the immigrants who wash up on American waters in a state of hopelessness and hardship.
As both Greek Orthodox Christians and Americans, we are striving to fulfill this goal, acting on the oath pledged by Lazarus’ poem and helping those in need to achieve salvation. “The New Colossus” has a strong relevance in the United States today because its message is closely intertwined with that of the Bible’s, both of which make charitable deeds our ultimate objective.
Overall, Emma Lazarus’ well-crafted poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty is very relevant to our nation in the context of the modern world. Despite COVID restrictions, the United States has stayed true to its promise of accepting any and all immigrants seeking refuge and the American Dream by welcoming Afghan refugees and all others who are suffering as a result of the world’s current problems.
Recent adversity has not dimmed the light of Lazarus’ poem or the American Dream, but has instead emboldened them. However, a flame cannot exist without continued support, as it will be faced with strong winds and waters that will instantly extinguish it.
For that reason, we must work hard to preserve the light provided by Lady Liberty in Emma Lazarus’ poem, saving it from challenges determined to erase it. After all, this metaphorical beacon of hope does not just symbolize physical and emotional light; it represents divine brightness.
St. Photios, whose name means “light,” worked tirelessly to spread this namesake spiritual illumination throughout the world and obtain his rightful sainthood. Let us honor his legacy and do the same, spreading light wherever there is darkness to earn a place in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.
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