Only faith itself can be the foundation for the unwavering love and devotion a person can possibly have for someone he or she has never met or will ever meet in this lifetime. From a logical standpoint, it might not make any sense. That is – unless the love described is actually agape, or the Greek word for sacrificial love, not romantic love, between saints and their special devotees.
For the San Roque Devotional Group at Our Lady of the Snows, their fiat and personal testimonies are just one part of the many reasons why the North Floral Park parish continues to host the Feast of St. Rocco year after year, with 2018 marking its ninth annual celebration of the feast.
“My husband was given three months to live,” said parishioner Theresa Giorgianni.
Patron of Sick, Suffering
She shared how she was introduced to the patron saint of the sick and the suffering while her husband was in the hospital for blood cancer. That’s when she started praying to St. Rocco for her husband and her family.
“My husband lasted eight years,” she said of her late-husband Joseph. “I believe it was St. Rocco who kept a watchful eye for my husband to the point where my husband was doing things that he enjoyed.”
Her role during the feast was to go up to the church ambo and share with the faithful gathered a testimony of another woman who also prayed to the saint, except not for health, but to help her son find a wife. St. Rocco is also known to be a patron saint for bachelors.
Giorgianni spoke about Rose Cheruvelil and how she prayed to St. Rocco for her son to get married and how he answered her prayers when her son met a schoolteacher from Canada. Cheruvelil didn’t stop her prayers to the saint, and when her son and daughter-in-law had trouble conceiving, St. Rocco’s direct connection with God helped the couple. August, the saint’s feast month, will be the month her grandchild will be born.
Devotees, feast-goers, Our Lady of the Snows parishioners and visiting guests from neighboring parishes celebrated the feast for their beloved saint and his miracles during a hot summer day with a Mass, novena, outdoor procession and a reception Aug.12.
Nine consecutive days before the celebration, a novena was held where the faithful gathered together to pray to the humble saint of God who endured suffering, sickness and imprisonment during his time on earth. They asked for his intercession in their lives.
Even though Our Lady of the Snows’ pastor Father Kevin McBrien became a part of the parish years after the feast began, he still witnesses his parishioners deep devotion to the holy man from France.
“Each day they offered the novena and they sang their hymns to St. Rocco,” said Father McBrien, “and then there was a chance to venerate the relic of St. Rocco and then a little celebration [in the parish hall] with food and drink for everybody. The devotion has spread far and wide not just from our parish but throughout the diocese and as we know around the world to different places.”
The parish hosted not only the saint’s relics, but also gave guests multiple opportunities to “see” the saint they hold so dear to their hearts with three statues of St. Rocco spread throughout the event.
They could stop and pray before the statue of the saint and his miraculous dog in the parish alcove or they could stop by his statue after receiving the Eucharist right next to the altar. If that wasn’t enough, his special shrine outside of the church was the final pit stop during the outdoor procession where one guest offered him flowers.
Father Rogie Castellano, C.P., was invited to celebrate the Mass. He held the saint’s relic during the outdoor procession around the church.
“I still see that faith is still alive in this parish, especially in this group,” said Father Castellano, “and I hope that our younger generation can really learn a lot from this.”
The Passionist priest from the Immaculate Conception Monastery in Jamaica said that walking around the street reciting the rosary and stopping at five different houses to pray in front of the saint’s relic was more than just a show.
“Procession is actually a sign of a community journeying together,” he said. “It’s a journeying with the Lord and for us it feels like whatever happens along the journey whether it’s scorchingly hot or whatever, we believe that God and of course St. Rocco is with us in our journey.”
Ask the main devotee who organized the feast since its beginning at the parish and she will tell you how her agape for St. Rocco started as a young child and became her guiding compass when she first came to the United States.
Sought Out Her Saint
As a successful pharmacist in the Philippines, Luz Rebong opened the Saint Roque Pharmacy. She eventually left her province in Manila and decided to live in New York. And where she would reside ultimately depended on one thing: where the closest St. Rocco church was.
That led her to Glen Cove, N.Y., where she became a parishioner at St. Rocco Church. Even though she left Long Island and moved to Queens, she still shares her special devotion with anyone willing to learn more about the saint who is more like a close friend.
With the support from the dedicated members of the San Roque Devotional Group, the clergy and laypeople from her Queens parish and the numerous volunteers throughout the diocese, Rebong will without a doubt continue this tradition for years to come.
“Hopefully this devotion will be spread more and be accepted,” she said. “Especially now that they have heard about this testimony, hopefully they will pray more with St. Rocco.”