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Bold steps toward unity push alliance into global spotlight

Led by Basil Russo (with glasses, near center), the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations met with government leaders and Vatican officials in May.

Led by Basil Russo (with glasses, near center), the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations met with government leaders and Vatican officials in May.

Just weeks after returning from a summit with leaders of the Italian government as well as Vatican officials, an alliance of major Italian-American groups in the United States has announced plans for a national youth summit in Florida in early 2023.

The events have catapulted the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO) into the spotlight with a renewed sense of urgency after the election of Basil M. Russo as group president in October 2020. Russo is a prominent Cleveland attorney and former appellate judge in Ohio.

The impetus for the group’s flurry of activity, Russo said, is to overcome a longstanding “disconnect” of social, cultural and civic ties in the Italian-American community.

“The biggest problem that has confronted Italian Americans and their organizations for generations is they never learned how to work together,” he said.

“As a result, our community couldn’t accomplish anything important at the national level because we were unable to amplify or unify our voice. Last year, I had COPOMIAO sponsor three National Italian American Summit Meetings that brought hundreds of Italian American organizations together. We formed six national committees so that we could finally begin working together in a spirit of national unity.”

COPOMIAO has ramped up its outreach and awareness work profoundly in the past 18 months, forging a diplomatic partnership with the Italian Ambassador in Washington, D.C., last December, and continuing with the summit in Rome.

During that May expedition, the COPOMIAO delegation was able to greet Pope Francis and meet with the Vatican’s Secretary of State to reaffirm the religious commitment of the Italian-American community.

“In addition to being honored with a Papal audience with His Holiness, Pope Francis, our delegation met with the Vatican Secretary of State, and the Prefect for the Ministry of Catholic Education throughout the world,” Russo said. “At these meetings we discussed many topics including the difficulties
and biases the church is confronted with today throughout the U.S. as our younger generations become more and more secular. We also discussed many issues relating to Catholic education, including the important role Catholic schools and universities play in helping to maintain world peace.

This trip to Rome marked the first time major leaders of the Italian-American community had ever traveled to Rome to engage in meaningful discussions with both the leaders of the Italian government and the Catholic Church.

“The newfound relationships that were established as a result of this trip will greatly assist the Italian American community in our efforts to preserve
our beautiful heritage and to celebrate our precious faith,” Russo said.

Founded in 1975 and headquartered in New York, COPOMIAO is a collective of leaders from the 54 most important cultural, charitable, educational, fraternal and anti-defamation organizations across the country.

The group’s mission of overcoming the disconnect in the community was well received by government officials in Rome, Russo said.

“I explained to all these officials that we Italian Americans are proud of our Italian heritage, and that we wanted to reconnect with the Italian people and their government so we could work with them to promote our collective culture, and to use our newfound relationship to develop strategic alliances that would allow us to strengthen commerce between the U.S. and Italy,” he said.

COPOMIAO plans to host the first-ever National Italian American Youth Conference in Florida early next year. “Our intent is to bring together a large group of talented, young Italian Americans for an all-expense-paid, three-day conference to encourage them to begin assuming leadership roles in the Italian American community,” Russo said.

Presidents of Italian-American organizations interested in joining the effort are invited to send an email describing their group to it.am.presidents@gmail.com.

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