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Celebrating Santa Rosalia

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For nearly half a century, the Santa Rosalia feast in Bensonhurst has been honoring the patron saint of Palermo, Italy. Held this year Aug. 17-27, the feast stretches along 18th Ave. from 68th St. to 75th St. The festival features a different musical performance every night, games and rides for children and international cuisine.

Although originally it was predominantly Italian, the feast now includes Chinese and Hispanic features to reflect changing demographics. Attendees can enjoy corn, rice balls and zeppolis, all in one meal. At night, the feast lights up the street. The Ferris wheel can be seen from blocks away adorned with colorful lights. At the center of the packed festival is the statue of St. Rosalia, located at 72nd St. Festival organizers offered the venerators a prayer card to take home.

On Sunday, Aug. 27, at 3 p.m., the statue will be marched in procession from the festival to nearby St. Dominic’s Church, where Mass will be celebrated in Italian at 4 p.m.

(Photos: Ed Wilkinson and Antonina Zielinska)

2 thoughts on “Celebrating Santa Rosalia

  1. The centerfold spread on the celebration of the feast of Santa Rosalia in Bensonhurst reminded me of my first visit to Palermo in 1989. I remember the date precisely because, while packing that afternoon for my departure from my hotel in Bari, I watched the televised grand parade in Paris celebrating the bicentennial of the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the French Revolution on the 14th of July, 1789. The day before had been memorable, as I had been generously hosted by the Dominicans who staff the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari [a lunch of orrechiette in brodo with plenty of a good red table wine], but I was totally unprepared for what awaited me on the next leg of my trip. The 14th of July happens coincidentally to be also the feast of Palermo’s revered patroness.

    After settling into my hotel in Palermo, but still oblivious to the significance of the date, I thought I would simply take a short, casual nighttime walk through the lanes around my hotel. Wandering to the left then taking another left, what confronted me was a most incredible spectacle, a procession which had approached from the magnificent Norman Cathedral, perhaps a mile away, along one of the city’s main avenues, the Corso Vittorio Emanuele [virtually every city and town in Italy has one]. Thousands of Palermitani were marching down the avenue nearly to the seashore, led by Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo and a wagon bearing the urn enshrining the bones of the Saint. At one point, the Cardinal stopped to offer a rousing homily, which I could not fully comprehend, given my limited Italian, but it was easy to recognize the frequent punctuation by His scarlet-robed Eminence shouting “Viva Santa Rosalia!”

    Evidently the “Festino” is not only a religious but an enthusiastically observed civic event. My hotel, the Jolly, located near the sea, hosted a rooftop party in honor of the Saint, complete with local delicacies including tiny, apparently meatless snails which seemed to be the treat of choice for many revelers; I crunched a few essentially empty shells, then moved on to the soppressata. On the second night, there were spectacular fireworks over the seaside park across from the Jolly with spectators gathered literally beneath the bursting pyrotechnics, adhering to no ostensible standards of safety. Other parts of Palermo would have their own fireworks displays over the next few nights, perhaps in competition, always surely with the way they showed honor and respect to their Saint as a matter of neighborhood pride. All told, the celebration of Santa Rosalia in Palermo was a collection of events never to be forgotten. Bensonhurst may have its own extravaganza, but the bucket list of every true devotee of Santa Rosalia should include the 14th of July in Palermo.

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