The buses rolled into Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza last Sunday afternoon as hundreds of parishioners disembarked and lined up for a parade. The marching band of the New York City Police Department warmed up as it prepared to lead the way down Vanderbilt Ave.
This was no ordinary parade. This was a procession. That was made clear by the cross bearer and acolytes carrying candles who were setting up at the top of the line of march.
When Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio showed up with miter and crozier, it was very clear that this was a Catholic event. This was a celebration of Italian Catholic traditions – street procession, Mass, music and food. Sponsored by the Italian Apostolate of Brooklyn and Queens, the 1,500 people who stepped off from the Plaza were headed for St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, about a half mile away.
Originally, this was to be a celebration honoring the Feast of the Guardian Angels. But it morphed into a remembrance of those who died in last month’s earthquake in Italy. A special collection was taken and will be sent to assist the affected diocese.
The procession included a float with a statue of the Guardian Angel, borrowed from the basement of St. Athanasius Catholic Academy, Bensonhurst, and a banner announcing that this is the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis.
Curious on-lookers in the newly gentrified neighborhood wandered out of the cafes and chic shops to watch the spectacle pass by. A woman on the float prayed the Rosary that was beamed from loud speakers so that everyone in line could pray along.
Once they arrived at the co-cathedral, that was adorned with bunting in the Italian colors, the participants climbed the steps and walked through the Holy Door, designated for the Holy Year. Msgr. David Cassato, director of the Italian Apostolate, and Msgr. Kieran Harrington, rector of the co-cathedral, greeted the marchers and pointed the way through the Holy Door.
“Porta Santa,” said Msgr. Cassato.
A “cannon” shot into the air green, red and white confetti, the colors of the Italian flag.
As the liturgy began, a colorful procession of parish banners made its way up the main aisle as the choirs from Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen parish, Carroll Gardens, sang out “Terra tutta, da lode a Dio, canta il tuo Signor!” (“The whole Earth, in praise to God, sings to you, O Lord.”)
Sacred Hearts parish also provided the ushers and servers, said John Heyer, also from there, and chief coordinator of the proceedings.
Bishop DiMarzio delivered a rousing homily in Italian. He praised the turnout and said “we want to build on it. We want to serve them like we serve everyone else.”
Following the liturgy, the congregation flowed out onto Pacific St. where they were treated to freshly fried zeppoles and the operatic offerings of Bensonhurst’s Sal “the Barber” Spitola.
For several hours on a Sunday afternoon, things were like they used to be for these descendents of Italy. The Church was the center of the activities as they celebrated the customs of their homeland and the richness of their faith.