My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Brooklyn celebrates many patronal feasts, but for Brooklyn and Queens, the Feasts of St. Paolino and Our Lady of Mount Carmel celebrated at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Williamsburg are what the Italians call the “la festa di tutte le feste.” San Gennaro uses that expression for its feast in Manhattan, but in Brooklyn, it is Mount Carmel-St Paolino, that creates the great Italian festival each year.
The tradition of these festivals goes back more than 100 years when the first immigrants came to live in Brooklyn. They brought with them the tradition of their home towns. So, on the patronal feasts of their saints, street festivals, processions, and great merriment were in order.
The Giglio of St. Paulino
Over these many years, the town of Nola outside of Naples has kept the tradition of the Giglio of St. Paulino in Brooklyn. The Giglio tradition goes back hundreds of years as it recounts the bravery of Bishop Paolino who rescued young people who had been captured by the Saracens, the pirates of the day, offering his own life in exchange for theirs.
St. Paolino was also a great theologian, having written many works showing the depth of his knowledge of Catholic teaching. The tradition that has survived is the moving of the Giglio. Giglio literally means flower; a Lily. The four-ton Giglio is carried by 100 men about six inches off the ground, and danced in a certain way, not only showing respect for the saint but also the prowess of strong men and some bodybuilders.
This year, as we saw publicized, there was a lack of carriers; a lack of young men able to assist and be part of the 100 lifters. So, the call went out for volunteers. Some volunteers came from afar, especially those who had roots in the neighborhood. They recognized that having moved away, the new Williamsburg is not a place where many of the Italian Americans still live. Fortunately, enough volunteers responded this year to continue this sacred tradition.
The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
On the other hand, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has a much more spiritual basis honoring Our Lady under the title of Mount Carmel. We recognize that the root of this tradition goes back many centuries to Mount Carmel in Israel, the place where the prophet Elijah prophesied for God in the ninth century BC. Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock, founder of the Mount Carmel Order that had its roots in the seventh century AD in Jerusalem, and he made a promise to her called the Sabbatine Privilege.
This privilege is whereby Mary would rescue from the pains of Purgatory anyone who wore the scapular she gave to St. Simon at all times, lived a life of virtue according to their state of life, and prayed.
This promise is one that is not superstition, or one that has been ratified by the Church authorities time and time again. For some people, belief in Purgatory is probably the problem whereby the Church recognizes that we are not always ready to enter God’s presence when we leave this life. We still have to make atonement for our sins and offenses. We do not believe that Purgatory is a place, but a state of purification before entrance into Heaven, which is another great misunderstood reality. Heaven, too, is not a place, but an existence with God and His love. A place of love where all the love we experience in this life is experienced to the nth degree.
My Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel
In my own life, my devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel comes from my maternal grandmother who was a member of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Mount Carmel Parish in Newark, New Jersey, where I eventually served as Pastor. This tradition was handed down to my grandmother by her mother, a native of Naples.
The great Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Italy is in a port section, and most probably the last church the immigrants visited and saw before they set sail on their voyage to America. Our Lady accompanied them as Star of the Sea on their journey, and for that, they were ever grateful. When these new immigrants arrived in Newark, they established the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in her honor, recognizing the maternal protection of Our Lady not only in life but also in death.
As a young child, I walked in those processions each year. I saw many barefoot women and men who were fulfilling the promises of the vows they made to God in order to obtain some favor. Walking barefoot on hot cobblestone streets was not exactly something to do for pleasure, but is truly a real penance. I have seen some people doing this to this day in the current processions. Unfortunately, we have lost the sense of penance in our lives, that somehow, we must deprive ourselves of something. We must do something that is distasteful in order that we can show our love for God. There are many other ways of doing penance, however, there is never bargaining with God, but rather a show of our love and affection.
This summer, I returned to my former parish in Newark, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, for the annual Mass of Healing. This week I celebrated a Mass of the Feast Day of Mount Carmel in Brooklyn. In addition, I also celebrated Mass at our own Carmel here in Brooklyn. Since I arrived here almost 16 years ago, the Carmel was being established.
A New Carmel in Brooklyn
This year, I am happy to announce that another Carmel is joining the Brooklyn Carmel, giving them over 14 members, allowing them to become an independent Carmel. Growth happens over time, and Our Lady has blessed that contemplative life in our midst. They pray for the diocese every day, and they especially pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, as the House of Discernment is located next door to the Carmel Monastery on Highland Boulevard.
There is no better way to put out into the deep, longing in our lives for salvation, than to concentrate our attention on the devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel who assures us protection in this life and in the life to come. Mary surely is a Mother to us who cares for her children in every circumstance. I ask you to join together as we celebrate this great feast, recognizing Mary’s maternal love for each one of us.