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Don’t tell Msgr. David Cassato that he can’t go home again.
Last Sunday was something of a homecoming for the Bensonhurst pastor who preached the homily at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church for its Giglio Sunday liturgy. He had been pastor at the Williamsburg parish for 16 years and was a very popular figure in the neighborhood as he guided the annual Feast there in honor of the parish’s patron and St. Paulinus.
This was the first time since he was reassigned that he returned for an official role at the Feast, and it proved to be a popular choice. He was mobbed outside church following Mass. One by one, he greeted everyone on a first-name basis.
So many of the faces at the Feast are familiar. For more than 100 years, the descendents of the immigrants from Nola, Italy, have celebrated this feast with its 3-ton, 80-foot high Giglio, just as the residents of their hometown continue to do to this day. It’s a tradition with deep roots in the parishioners. For 10 days, they celebrate with food, music, song and devotion.
The celebration commemorates the fourth-century return of St. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, who had offered himself as a hostage in return for the town’s children who had been taken into slavery to North Africa. When he returned home, he was met by his people bearing lilies, which in Italian is giglio – hence the name of the iconic structure.
While so much of the tradition of the Feast remains the same, there have been many changes along the way. Like the faces of the new generation of politicians who come courting the vote of Italian-Americans. Years ago, it was Cuomo and Koch and Giuliani and Bloomberg who walked these streets and shook hands with one and all. Now it’s a new mayor named de Blasio who was there to participate in the “lifting” of the Giglio and munch on a sausage and peppers sandwich. Also, gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino arrived early to press the flesh and make the mandatory gesture of “lifting” the Giglio as cameras captured the moment.
As the neighborhood has changed, becoming home to hipsters and other young adults, Msgr. Joseph Calise points out that he has been “thrilled to see the faces of the newcomers who are coming to the feast. It’s been a great blessing.”
The pastor credits the influx of newcomers to the different ways that the parish has been reaching out through the social media platforms like Facebook.
For all its social aspects, the Feast is basically a spiritual event. Msgr. Calise points out that each evening, a different parish from around the diocese makes a pilgrimage to the shrine. Participants are given a tour of the area. They pray the Rosary and are invested in the brown scapular.
One group even planned an all-night vigil of prayer in the outdoor shrine area.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel crosses ethnic lines. While the host community may be Italian-American, Mass during the feast also is celebrated in Creole, Polish and Spanish.
Phil Franco, one of the organizers, says “Mary is like the mother who brings together all the children, no matter what.”
On the actual feast day, July 16, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who has a strong devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, celebrated the 1 p.m. Mass and then processed through the streets bringing the brown scapular to the people of the neighborhood.