“I couldn’t believe the feeling of unity and the feeling of the people being out here.”
MANHATTAN — The Columbus Day Parade returned to 5th Avenue, Monday, Oct. 11 amid a national movement calling for the observance of Native American cultures over the annual procession held to honor the famed Italian explorer.
But Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Cardinal Timothy Dolan said following a pre-parade Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that honoring Christopher Columbus also honors Italian Americans.
“We’re very proud of him,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “He was a true Italian adventurer. A lot of Italians came to discover America after him. And all of the immigrants, they came and they discovered America, too. But Columbus was somebody they could look to and say, ‘Yes, he was one of our own.’ ”
Celebration of faith
When asked if Columbus Day could spur unity with other cultures, Cardinal Dolan, who is Irish, responded, “Well it sure is for me.”
“It’s a celebration of faith, a great tribute to families, and a wonderful heritage that we have with immigrants,” said Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York.
“They’ve kept their traditions, and yet they became loyal, patriotic Americans,” he added. “Hallelujah! That’s what we celebrate.”
Simultaneous with the three-day holiday weekend, President Joe Biden issued the first presidential proclamation of “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” And this year, for the first time, New York City observed Indigenous Peoples’ Day/Italian American Heritage Day in place of Columbus Day.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who marched with the Columbus Citizens Foundation in the Columbus Day Parade to celebrate “New York’s rich Italian heritage,” also issued a proclamation celebrating the state’s indigenous cultures. Such groups include the Lenape — or Delaware people — who inhabited much of what today are the five boroughs of New York City.
Bishop DiMarzio, who retires next month, said there is no denying the violent history of colonization and its legacy.
“I think the indigenous people deserve their own day,” he said. “I think they also deserve an apology for things that happened, but I think we can’t conflate everything.”
This year’s event began with a bilingual Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Monday morning.
Cardinal Dolan started the Mass in Italian. Dozens of fellow bishops and priests, including Bishop DiMarzio and Msgrs. Jamie Gigantiello, and David Cassato were also present for the celebration.
The congregation listened intently as the homilist, Father Anthony Domenic Sorgie, shared a story about his mother’s arrival to Ellis Island in 1925 at age 9 from her native Italy.
Father Sorgie, pastor of Immaculate Conception & Assumption of Our Lady Parish in Tuckahoe, New York, said his mother, Maria, could vividly recall how she and her own mother underwent medical examinations at the hospital on the island.
He added that the traumatic moment was watching a medical inspector use a small hook to peel back her mother’s eyelids to check for diseases.
“She told little Maria, ‘Be brave. We just came across the whole ocean. Your father, your brothers are waiting for you, right there, across that water. Be brave,’ ” Father Sorgie said.
He described his mother’s journey: “From Calabria to Naples, Naples to Ellis Island, then to Mulberry Street.” Mother and daughter stayed on that famous street in Little Italy a few days before the entire family was reunited.
Maria lived 85 years in the U.S. Her husband, Father Sorgie’s father, fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. They raised their family in the Bronx.
“And so,” the priest said, “She became a proud American, and a proud Italian American.”
The parade, which was cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, marked the continuation of Italian American heritage and culture month, which began Oct. 1.
An estimated 35,000 participants marched past St. Patrick’s Cathedral where many stopped to be greeted and have their pictures taken with Cardinal Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio, including actor Chazz Palminteri, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, and Gov. Hochul.
One of this year’s honorees was Jodi Pulice, founder and CEO of JRT Realty Group. Pulice was honored for her efforts to help women and members of minority groups develop careers in her industry, commercial real estate.
She echoed the sentiments of Bishop DiMarzio and Cardinal Dolan.
“It’s an over-the-top feeling,” Pulice said. “When I just walked down the steps of the church, I had to take a little breath of air because I couldn’t believe the feeling of unity and the feeling of the people being out here.
“It’s just a very proud feeling and a humbling experience to be Italian American today.”
Pulice said she had empathy for the plight of indigenous people. “Today is our day, and for all the other people who celebrate their heritage, we celebrate it with them as well,” she said. “So whatever anybody wants to call it, that’s fine.”