September 7, 2008
The third day of the four-day Italian Festival was wiped out by the tropical storm known as Hanna. This meant the procession was postponed until this afternoon at 2, at St. Francis Church, known as "The Little Church with the Big Heart."
From Downtown Chick I received this email, which suggested I should not miss it:
"If you could get down to 3rd. & Jefferson around 1p.m. I think you would enjoy the spectacle. Guarantee you've never seen anything like it. Beats San Gianaro. (the saint, not the feast).
"Go home, relax, come to the river around 4p.m. have a sausage sangwitch & follow the saint home to 3rd. & Jefferson @ around 7p.m. Remember they're Italian.........it's AROUND 7p.m. Nothing starts on time. But get there & watch the procession & listen to all the Italian. Watch all the kissing. Very few speak English. They have a Don (not Mafia) from Italy. This year he wants to do the benediction bi-lingualy because so many old Italians are dying out & being replaced with Americans."
I just returned from the first part of the festivities. I found the church, easy to do, but did not know what to expect, except that it probably would not start on time, according to my informant. A crowd had gathered, all looking like locals who knew and loved each other, old men, babies, moms, dads and neighbors. They looked at the church expectantly as we waited in the hot sun for something to happen.
About 15 minutes into the wait, a little parade started, somewhere over by the A & P, I would reckon. We heard a little band playing a tune, and then some people in uniforms started toward us with banners proclaiming the holiday. There was a group of about eight or nine little girls aged nine or ten, dressed in beautiful blue capes. An old man near me said, "There used to be hundreds of those little girls in blue."
From then on things went along on schedule. I still didn't know what I was looking for and the glare was so bright I couldn't see what my camera was getting. But at the end of the procession was a band of older men, playing something that sounded like "Maryland My Maryland" but probably wasn't. We waited while all looked at the church. suddenly the church bells rang, a curtain was opened, and the old men started playing music. As soon as the music started fireworks went off in the parking lot across the street and you couldn't hear anything. But the glorious statue of Mary was carried out of the church and down the street, and for some reason I can't explain there were tears in my eyes. I got a few pictures but I didn't know of what until I came home. I share them with you here and promise you this is a lovely and moving tradition. You don't have to be Italian or even Catholic to respond to it.
In an hour or so I'm going down to get one of those sangwiches.