By Tim Harfmann & Antonina Zielinska
A fresh wave of able-bodied lifters has rejuvenated an Italian tradition that dates back more than a century in Williamsburg and more than a millennium in Nola, Italy.
A recruitment drive by Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Williamsburg for lifters of the iconic 72-foot-tall, 4-ton Giglio structure, has brought new volunteers to the Giglio Feast and a fresh interest in the event.
The pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, said that after reports of the recruitment drive appeared on Currents News and in The Tablet in early May secular news
outlets took an interest in the parish’s efforts.
Full-length coverage of the feast, its traditions and preparations ran in The New York Times on July 11, The Wall Street Journal on June 10 and CBS New York on June 13, among many others.
“The recruitment drive for the lifters was great because it brought us a lot of publicity,” Msgr. Gigantiello said. “It not only ensured us lifters for the future, but it got a lot of people’s attention about the feast. And also a lot of young people got involved that weren’t, and when they came, they said they wanted to be involved every year.”
Tens of thousands of spectators showed up to witness the festive lift on Giglio Sunday July 15, the highlight of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast, which this year runs July 10-21.
One hundred men, including 80 new recruits, lifted the metal structure adorned by giant lilies, a statue of St. Paulinus, a full band and a joyous Msgr. Gigantiello. Each man must shoulder an average of 100 pounds and move in rhythm to make the lift possible. The struggle is visible on the volunteers’ faces.
The feast isn’t only about tradition, it’s also about faith. The men lift the Giglio in memory of their late family members and friends.
“You’re caring the weight of the world on your shoulder,” said Achille Pirro, a longtime lifter. “So, you’re kind of doing penance for those who can’t do it for themselves.”
Sammy Ciorciari, a long-time feast-goer and first-time lifter, said he is dedicating the lift to honor his cousin Anthony, who died last year. “I will do this in memory of him to keep what we had as kids alive.”
Family is what has brought many of the volunteers to offer their strength to the feast. “My father’s been coming here, his father was coming here, over 111 years Durantes have been coming here and lifting this Giglio,” John Durante said. He’s now sharing the experience with his children. Durante’s 7-year-old son, Joseph, already understands the tradition.
“It celebrates saints and the Church and how much you should love Jesus and how He sacrificed Himself,” Joseph said.
To tend to the people’s spiritual needs, bishops and priests came to offer Mass in various languages throughout the celebration. An opening Mass was offered by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Pope Francis’ representative to the United Nations, on July 10.
For the actual Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Mass, July 16, Mass was offered at different times by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio; Auxiliary Bishops Witold Mroziewski, Paul Sanchez, Guy Sansariqc and James Massa; and Msgr. David Cassato, pastor of St. Athanasius, Bensonhurst.