By Antonina Zielinska
As Sicilians have done for half a millennia before them, local Italians in Brooklyn honored St. Rosalia as patroness of Palermo at the culmination of the 18th Ave. Feast.
The 40-year-old Bensonhurst tradition spans 10 days in August and features food, games, rides, vendors and musical guests spread across 18th Ave. from 68th to 75th streets.
Although the feast honors an Italian saint, the elaborate block party has seen new growth in recent years with participation of the local Hispanic and Asian communities. Vendors selling Italian sausages and zeppoles shared the street with others selling arepas and maduros in front of Chinese bakeries and restaurants.
When the Italian community lined up Aug. 28 to prepare for their procession to St. Dominic Church, attendees stopped to take a look as the band started playing. A couple of saxophones, drums, a tuba and a trumpet heralded the way for a statue of St. Rosalia and all those devoted to her.
Father Martin Restrepo, parochial vicar at St. Dominic, celebrated Mass when the procession arrived at the church. He said such processions are an important duty of the faithful in expressing their Christian witness.
“People think that saints don’t exist and that the Church is dying,” he said. “There is a need to show off our saints.”
He exhorted those in the congregation to practice sanctity every day, do penance and spread the work of mercy, as St. Rosalia had done in the 12th century in Palermo, Italy. Tradition holds that the saint, born to nobility, was divinely inspired in her youth to seclude herself from the world and live in Cave Pelegrino. Her remains are said to have been hidden until she revealed them in the 17th century and interceded to stop a plague in Palermo. In thanksgiving, the people venerated her as their patroness and continue to do so in Sicily and in Brooklyn.
The Grand Marshal of the parade, Carlo Lauricella, has been a resident of Bensonhurst for 55 years and is happy to see the 10-day feast revitalized. He said the saint is an important role model and shared her story from the pulpit at the end of Mass before he sang the Ave Maria.
He also said the Palermo and Italian community-at-large are in solidarity with those who suffered from the recent earthquake in central Italy. He said Palermo is no stranger to the devastating effects of such natural disasters.
Lucrezia Bardulli the president of the Figli Maria SS. Adolorata from St. Athanasius parish, also in Bensonhurst, said her group came to the feast to support Italian efforts. She said with Italian-Americans no longer all living in the same area, it is important for people of Italian heritage to come back and honor local feast days. She invited everyone to St. Athanasius for their Mass and procession in honor of Maria SS. Addolorata on Sept. 11, 3 p.m. For more information call 917-509-2803.
In a show of camaraderie with Italians back in the mother-country, the group set up a social media prayer initiative for the victims of Aug. 24 6.2-magnitude quake that left at least 250 people dead. Seven strong aftershocks in magnitude of 4.0 to 5.5 contributed to the devastation in three Italian regions: Umbria, Lazio and Marche.
There was a collection box for victims of the quake on the float carrying the statue of St. Rosalia along the parade route.
The procession took place one day after Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio asked the entire diocese to pray for the victims of the earthquake and announced a special collection to be taken in every parish on the weekend of Oct. 8-9.