As recently as a month ago, the small plot of land behind Christian Life Assembly, the church on the corner of North Townsend and Catawba Streets, was strewn with trash and debris. It was an unfortunate metaphor for the decay of Syracuse's North Side.
Despite the city's designation of North Salina Street as the reincarnated Little Italy, the attempt at ethnic regeneration falls off abruptly as soon as you leave the glow of the upgraded streetlights. The theme of the street rapidly dissolves into the ethnic, racial and socio-economic diversity that sometimes challenges the city.
Enter Lou Vinciguerra. Lou, whose formal title is Reverend Lou Vinciguerra, is Christian Life's resident Minister. His mission is to conduct street ministry for the church, where he lives with his wife Anne and daughter, Jessica. The small lot, about 50 by 25 feet, was, essentially, his back yard, tucked in between the church and Gebhardt Avenue a block-long alley between Division and Catawba Streets.
Within a short period of time, the trash-filled lot took on an entirely new identity. It became a bocce court -- and it became one of the tools of Lou's ministry.
But why the idea for bocce as a form of ministry?
"The Lord gave it to me in prayer. The Lord said, 'Build a bocce court,' kind of like in the movie (Field of Dreams), but a different source," he said. "The North Side has changed. It's no longer an Italian neighborhood -- it's a melting pot. Nobody knows how to play bocce, so they have to get together to learn. It used to be that everybody on the North Side knew how to play. Now, nobody does. It's a curiosity at first. It's non-threatening -- it's a social game. People talk to each other while they play -- they get to know each other."