WILLIAMSBURG — July 16 always seems to be the hottest of days in Brooklyn, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said to a packed church on that date this year. But, he added, faithful Catholics never let stifling heat and humidity keep them from celebrating the traditional feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
He was proven correct that day when the mercury climbed to 91 degrees outside the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Williamsburg.
Inside, Bishop DiMarzio celebrated Mass before the parish’s annual procession for the Blessed Mother. It was a joyous reversal from a year ago when the parish barely managed to have a scaled-down version of the feast because of COVID-19 restrictions.
This year, however, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel & San Paolino di Nola (St. Paulinus of Nola) went on without a hitch.
“Last year, we had a very simple little feast,” Bishop DiMarzio said during his homily at the Mass celebrated in English and Italian. “We were in the midst of just coming out of the first stage of the pandemic, and not many people could come. But today, the church is filled. And we’ve come to pick up our devotion to our Lady of Mount Carmel.”
Parishioners have celebrated this Italian-American classic since at least 1903 — except for the pandemic year, 2020, and in 1945, many young local people were away at war.
Many cultures, not just Italians, honor Mary, the Lady of Mount Carmel, so the Williamsburg church also hosted her feast Mass in Polish, Spanish, and Creole. Among the Creole speakers was Brigitte Bien Aime, a native of Haiti. She belongs to Mary Queen of Heaven Parish in Mill Basin, Brooklyn.
When asked why she endured the sweltering summer heat to attend the feast, she said, “Oh, I have a devotion to Our Lady. And I’ve been coming here forever.”
Bien Aime proudly noted she was among the people last year who defied the coronavirus to join the procession honoring the Mother of Jesus.
“It was sad to see this place last year,” she said. “It just wasn’t the same ambiance.”
The past year showed how Mary cared and comforted her children as the pandemic ravaged most of the world, especially parishes and neighborhoods in the Diocese of Brooklyn, Bishop DiMarzio said.
“There’s never a time when we can do without Mary,” he said. “She is the one who can guide us through everything.”
He added, “The basic rule of a crisis is that you do not come out of it the same if you get through it. You come through either better or worse, but never the same.”
Bishop DiMarzio recounted the history of the Mount Carmel area, near Haifa in northern Israel. Here, the prophet Elijah gave his assistant, Elisha, his mantle to show that Elisha was his disciple. That mantle is what the Church teaches was the scapular worn by Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Many in the congregation on Friday wore brown scapulars — some small, some large.
“That was the beginning of the life that we celebrate today — that we are protected by Mary’s mantle called the scapular,” he said.
After the Mass, the faithful moved out onto the street and formed the procession that followed the float carrying the parish’s cherished statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Leading the procession were members of the parish’s youth group who carried the flags of the U.S. and Italy. The heat did not go unnoticed by the teenagers, despite their youthful vigor.
“I was burning like crazy,” said Virmel Morales, 15, a lifelong parishioner whose family lives across the street. “I’ve been doing this since I was very young. This is my community. I’m not Italian, but I like to help out.”
Morales’ friend, Richard Grande, 16, said suffering the heat “was worth it.”
“The walk definitely took a lot out of me,” he said. “But it was refreshing to actually do it, to see all the people waiting on the sidewalk, watching us pass by, with the band playing and the Italian flag and the American flag waving.”
Grande also said the 2020 feast was “very weird to see.”
“It was very minimalistic last year,” he said. “There were still people here, which was alright to see given the circumstances of last year. But it was still sad to see not as many people.”
“That’s why I like to see all these people out here again,” he added. “But, regardless if they’re here for food, if they’re here for games — it doesn’t matter what they’re here for as long as they’re present, just showing their respect.
“Very hopeful — it makes me very hopeful.”
Judy DeName, a longtime parishioner, said she noticed a lot of new faces at this year’s feast.
“I’m glad that so many different groups can come here and find something interesting to learn,” DeName said.