Close to 1,000 Italian-Americans participated in the annual Good Friday street procession in Whitestone. This year, the evening program began for the first time at St. Mel’s Church, Flushing, and concluded at St. Luke’s Church, Whitestone.
Statues of the Body of Christ in a glass coffin and the Sorrowful Mother were borne on the shoulders of 32 men, known as “Soldiers of the Cross,” during the mile-long procession, which lasted over two hours.
Women walked solemnly beside the statues, singing Italian hymns, and the Giglio Band played funeral dirges as the crowd reenacted Christ’s journey to His tomb by candlelight.
The Borgetto Cultural Association M.S.S. Addolorata del Romitello and the Confraternita del Cristo Morto e dell’Addolorata organized the procession, a decades-old community tradition. Italian-Americans brought the devotion from their hometown of Borgetto, Sicily, when they settled in Queens.
“It’s our tradition, our roots and I want this to carry on,” said Gino Romero, vice president of the Borgetto Cultural Association.
This was Romano’s first year chairing the procession, and his main goal was to involve younger parishioners and families.
“I want the younger generation into this so I reached out to my daughters, my sons-in-law, my grandchildren – everybody – to see where our roots are from.
“I raised my kids to believe in Jesus Christ and they have to keep doing that with their kids,” he said.
Four generations of the Romano family joined in the line of march following a standing-room-only service of Stations of the Cross, led in Italian by Father Italo Barozzi from St. Mel’s.
Family, Patriotism, Faith
“For me, this is family and patriotism, and also great faith and popular piety,” said Father Barozzi. “There are many young people here. The important thing is to be able to transmit this to them so that tomorrow they will remember the customs of their youth, and also their past.”
Just before sunset, families flowed out of the church. They stood in silence as men and women climbed a wooden staircase, meant to represent the Hill of Calvary, and took down a statue of Christ from a wooden crucifix on the front lawn.
Romano removed the nails and crown of thorns, which his grandson Gino carried on a satin pillow, and women carried the statue to the glass coffin.
Clergy and parishioners from St. Mel and St. Luke participated in the procession, as did members of St. Kevin and St. Andrew Avellino parishes, both Flushing, parishioners from Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Bayside, and even some people from Brooklyn and Long Island.
“This is a tradition for me and my family for many, many years,” said Linda Azopardi, a former parishioner of St. Luke’s, who now lives in Franklin Square. L.I. “I came in just for this. I had to be here.”
Azopardi said Good Friday wouldn’t be the same for her without taking part in this procession, which was organized by Steve Giambrone and the Comitato Festa Di Maria S.S. Del Romitello in previous years.
And while the faces and details have changed since she was child, the faith that first inspired this tradition still burns in the hearts of those who continue it today.
“I grew up doing this. I used to be one of the little boys carrying the cross,” said Sal Casabianca, who recently moved back to the old neighborhood.
He spotted familiar faces and friends’ parents in the crowd, but was most excited to see that young men and women were there to breathe new life into this custom of faith and culture in the community.
“The older people are dying out,” he said. “This year, I see a lot of young people participating, carrying the Jesus and the Madonna. It’s nice to see such a big turnout.”