BENSONHURST — COVID-19 is forcing everyone to change their Columbus Day plans.
The Columbus Citizens Foundation, the organization that sponsors the annual parade in Manhattan, recently announced that the march will not be held in person but will instead be a virtual event featuring footage of previous parades and interviews with prominent Italian-Americans.
The virtual parade is scheduled for Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 12.
“Due to COVID-19, we have decided in the best interests of our members, participants, and spectators not to have our parade as usual,” Foundation Chairman Angelo Vivolo said in a YouTube video.
The Diocese of Brooklyn has had a float for the past eight years, which Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, vicar for development, usually ride on.
“As an Italian-American, I’m disappointed that there’s no parade this year,” Msgr. Gigantiello told The Tablet. “We’ll just have to wait for 2021.”
Columbus Day Weekend is also a big deal in Brooklyn. On the Saturday before Columbus Day, the Federation of Italian-American Organizations traditionally hosts the Brooklyn Columbus Day Parade on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst. That parade has also been canceled.
FIAO President Carlo Scissura is confident the parade will make a return in 2021. “We will make sure that when next year comes, we will have a great parade,” he told The Tablet.
So, how should people celebrate Columbus Day this year?
“We should take the day to remember the contributions of Italian-Americans,” Msgr. Gigantiello said. “And as Catholics, we should celebrate the fact that Columbus brought the Catholic faith here.”
While Columbus Day is primarily seen as an Italian-American holiday, the Italian explorer did sail for the New World under the Spanish flag. In Spain and Central and South America, Oct. 12 is a national holiday.
“He is an important figure in the Hispanic community. We celebrate him as the man who discovered America,” said Deacon Julio Barreneche, secretary for clergy personnel for the Diocese of Brooklyn. “He brought European culture here,” said the deacon, who grew up in South America.
Deacon Barreneche said Mexico and many other Spanish-speaking countries celebrate Columbus Day under a different name, Día de la Raza, which translates as “Day of the Race.”
The annual New York City Hispanic Day Parade, which takes place on Fifth Avenue on the Sunday before or after Columbus Day, is also known as the Hispanic Columbus Day Parade. “The flags of many nations are represented,” Deacon Barreneche said.
Like the other Columbus Day Parade, the Hispanic celebration is going virtual this year.
Even without any parades on Fifth Avenue, Columbus Day will be notable.
A statue of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, also known as Mother Cabrini, will be officially unveiled on Oct. 12 in Battery Park overlooking Ellis Island. Mother Cabrini (1950-1917) is known as the patron saint of immigrants.
The statue was commissioned after $750,000 in funding was provided from New York State.
Bishop DiMarzio served as co-chairman, along with Vivolo, of the Mother Cabrini Memorial Commission, a panel appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to find a location for the statue and select a design.
Bishop DiMarzio called the statue “a unique work of art,” depicting a young Mother Cabrini in a boat facing Ellis Island. “She was a woman of vision, a woman of courage,” he told The Tablet.
Mother Cabrini worked in Brooklyn after she arrived in the U.S. from her native Italy in 1889 and tended to immigrants in a church located at the site of what is now a park in Carroll Gardens.
The dedication will provide a happy ending to a bitter controversy that erupted last year.
Leaders of She Built NYC, an initiative started by New York City first lady Chirlane McCray to get more statues honoring women, omitted Mother Cabrini from a list of honorees despite the revered saint garnering the most votes in a poll.
Cuomo formed the commission and announced that the state would honor Mother Cabrini.
John Heyer, the Lay Coordinator of the Italian apostolate for the Diocese of Brooklyn and a commission member, said Catholics appreciated Cuomo stepping in. “The governor definitely acted in response to the snub from She Built NYC,” Heyer told The Tablet.
Heyer is also heading up an effort to get a Mother Cabrini statue built in Brooklyn.
The Battery Park statue is “a testament to Italian-Americans,” said Scissura, a commission member.
As Americans look forward to Columbus Day, many are busy defending his legacy, when there have been calls to tear down Columbus statues by protesters who charged that Columbus enslaved indigenous people. In some cities, statues have even been torn down.
But Heyer said that Columbus statues were erected in the late 19th Century to fight back against anti-Catholic bigotry. It was a time “when Catholics were not seen as real Americans by the nativists,” he said.