Diocesan News

Brooklynites Rediscover Italian Roots

Carroll Gardens Parishioners Go on Pilgrimage to Land of Their Ancestors

Parishioners of Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen, Carroll Gardens, led by their pastor Msgr. Guy Massie, returned on pilgrimage to the towns and cities in Italy from which their ancestors and founders had emigrated more than 100 years ago.

“It was a journey to reconnect with those places and the original parish traditions brought to America,” said John L. Heyer II, parish historian. “The pilgrimage allowed them to learn about the immigrant journey the founders of the parish had taken, to pray for them and their descendants and better understand Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen today in light of yesterday.”

At each town, the parishioners presented a plaque to the local church and pastor, as well as the mayor to commemorate the visit. The group learned about the local culture and customs and history of the churches. They venerated images of the local patron saints and celebrated Mass remembering each of those who had left to make a new home in Brooklyn.

To select which of the more than 100 towns of origin to visit, Heyer said they decided the statues that adorn the interior of Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen Church would serve as the basis for their route. Using historic documents in the parish’s archives, Heyer linked the images of the saints to particular towns in Italy. He said that each image represented a town from which large numbers of immigrants had come. Many of those are still used in local street processions to maintain the traditions of the homeland.

The first stop was the island of Procida, in the Bay of Napoli. Mass was celebrated in the Church of St. Michael. The Brooklyn parish’s Society of St. Michael continues to celebrate two annual Masses in honor of its patron. From Procida, the islands of Ischia and the peninsula of Sorrento, from where many parishioners had come, could easily be seen.

The next stop was the town of Monte di Procida, home of the original image of the depiction of Our Lady of the Assumption that also can be found in Carroll Gardens.

Among the pilgrims were the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of some immigrants who came from the towns. Michael Delgado, parish sacristan and son of an Italian immigrant, made his first trip to Monte di Procida, his mother’s birthplace. There he met some uncles, a great aunt and cousins who took him to the home where his mother was born and the church where she was baptized.

Moving on to Mola di Bari in the Puglia region, the group travelled by bus to San Giovanni Rotunda, where they celebrated Mass at the tomb of St. (Padre) Pio. In Mola, former parishioners of Sacred Hearts, who had returned to Italy in retirement, greeted the Brooklynites. Mayor Stefano Diperna officially welcomed the group in the main piazza on the steps of the church housing the image of Maria SS. Adolorata. Each year since 1948, the replica of the image of Maria SS. Adolorata is processed through the streets of the Brooklyn parish.

On through Calabria and into Sicily, the group arrived at Messina where the Blessed Mother is honored under the title of Madonna of the Letter. It was then on to Taormina and Syracuse where they visited the relics of St. Lucy and walked through the ancient parts of the city.

In Pozzallo, the pilgrims celebrated Mass at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. Pozzallo was recently featured for its work with refugees fleeing the Middle East and Africa since it is one of the southern-most ports of Italy.

Following Mass, the pilgrims were welcomed into City Hall where Msgr. Massie was presented the official banner of the town.

In the port town of Licata, local television and print media flooded the church as Msgr. Massie celebrated Mass in Italian before the relics of St. Angelo, patron of marriage. At the Cathedral of Palermo, the pilgrims presented a plaque after celebrating Mass before the relics of Santa Rosalie, marking the first home or Mother Church of the parishioners from Palermo. The feast in Bensonhurst and the statue of Santa Rosalie, now displayed on 18th Avenue each year, was originally housed at Sacred Hearts Church and celebrated in the streets of Carroll Gardens.

“The trip was a great success as it reconnected the towns of Italy with our parish,” said Msgr. Massie. “The journey also taught the pilgrims much about the fact that the Italian immigrants, much like the immigrants of today, did not leave their homes because they did not love the country of their birth. In fact, these towns were majestic, beautiful and romantic. The people left so that future generations of Italians would share the bright economic opportunity of America.

“Moreover, these immigrants loved their country and towns so much that they instilled in their children the only things they could bring with them linking them to Italy – their traditions, culture and faith.”

Msgr. Guy Massie celebrates Mass in Mola di Bari 1
The Brooklyn pilgrims visit City Hall in Pozzallo and meet with the vice mayor
The Brooklyn contingent in the Church of St. Angelo, Licata
Msgr. Guy Massie and John Heyer visit with Father Vincenzo at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Pozzallo