Gloucester’s Saint Peter’s Fiesta’s come and gone until late June next year. For Italian-Americans and many other immigrants in this town, it’s the perfect segue to the 4th of July. Flags of Italy and Portugal flutter beside Old Glory on many a house, boat and business. It’s, in part, a celebration of history, a coming together of generations to tell and listen to stories. Hand gestures flying, Italian to the core.
Sammy, the son of Italian immigrants, told me his Mama, once here, never wanted to leave the island of “Glosta.” “Why should I cross the bridge? Everything I have is here.” Provincial? She’d probably tell you, “Sono cosi grato per tutto quello che ho qui.” (I am so thankful for all I have here.)
About 91 years ago, an immigrant from Sicily, Sea Captain Salvatore Favazza, started the festival when he asked a sculptor to make a statue of Saint Peter. It was here Salvatore fished and raised ten children and felt “So thankful for all his blessings”, he wanted to share with his neighbors. Every year a group of eight fishermen carry the statue, mounted on a large platform, through the streets of Gloucester. People join the parade shouting, “Viva San Pietro.” (from Alice Gardner’s book St. Peter’s Fiesta)
Peter’s the patron saint of fishermen, not just Italian fishermen. Growing up Baptist, I thought saints belonged to the Catholics. I’ve had a lot of catching up to do. While doing my knee exercises, I pray the prayer of Saint Patrick, excerpting especially, “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left.” As I push to bend my balky knee on the stairs I add,”Christ to bend and push me.” Saint Patrick’s prayer reminds me I’m not in this alone.
Fishing’s a dangerous occupation, just ask the widows of Gloucester, read or watch The Perfect Storm. Remember how terrified Peter and other disciples felt caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus was IN the boat with them, asleep?(Matthew 8) These fishermen ( there are women who fish, as well) have many opportunities to pray or call for help during long days and weeks on an unpredictable ocean.
Saint Peter’s Festival’s a time to haul in their nets and drop anchor in Gloucester harbor.
On the Sunday of Fiesta, families gather for the outdoor Mass in Saint Peter’s Square. There are prayers for safety and good fishing, followed later by the blessing of the fleet. Faith and hope, sounds of Italian, Portuguese, English, at home amidst the aroma of sausages, fried dough, cotton candy, music, carnival rides, gatherings of family, friends and curious folks. “Some families entertain as many as 350 people or more in the backyards on the Sunday of the Fiesta: aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, neighbors, friends….anyone who walks by is welcome.”(Gardner’s St. Peter’s Fiesta)
When the Fiesta ends late Sunday evening, fishermen carry the statue back to the Saint Peter’s Club, while folks sing, “God Bless America” maybe it’s tradition, or perhaps because they feel so blessed, even with all that’s happening in this world, our country, and in our families.
Salvatore Favazza would be pleased.
So would, Saint Peter, I think, and Jesus, lover of fishermen, their families, immigrants and all the rest of us who don’t fish but sometimes feel terrified in the ship we’re in, lost at sea or hunting a harbor.
Maybe parading the statue of a saint through the streets isn’t such a bad idea. Symbols matter and for Salvatore, Saint Peter represented one who protected fishermen and for that and more he responded with “I’m so thankful for all my blessings.”
On this 4th of July, when flags fly, may they remind us to love our neighbors north, south, east and west, recognize and share our wealth, appreciate differences and remember we are a nation of immigrants, hand over heart pledgers to promote, “liberty and justice for all.”
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