Thursday, October 8, 2009

Saints On Wheels

Over the weekend we attended the beautiful Feast of St. Nicholas at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish deep in the heart of South Philadelphia.
We were blessed with an absolutely golden autumn day - bright and sunny with balmy breezes. The sky was so wonderfully blue and all around us were vivid images of the richness of Philadelphia's most famous and most beloved neighborhood.
Joined by Aimee and Carole Cirucci and our dear friends Mark Tarasiewicz and Michael Viola we delighted in the music of the Verdi Band as the festival began with the American and Italian national anthems followed by the procession of the saints through the narrow streets of South Philadelphia.
We walked with our patron saint, Saint Anthony. But others followed their own saints, including Saint Padro Pio, Saint Rocco, St. Rita, St. Jude, St. Joseph and of course, St, Nicholas. The Blessed Mother was also part of the procession and as you might expect, she attracted many followers as well.
As a child I remember the saints being carried in these processions. But now the saints are moved on wheeled platforms. As the saints go by (with the music of the band leading the way) people pour out of their row homes to pin one, five, ten and twenty dollar bills on ribbons attached to their favorite saint. They are paying homage to these great martyrs of the faith and also venerating them. At the same time these devotees are also thanking saints for previous favors granted and/or asked for additional favors. The saints are asked to intercede to the Lord on behalf of the faithful.
This is the old Italian way. And it continues to endure.
It reminds me of the old Italian saying: A ciascun santo la sua candela. Offer to each saint his candle. And, more broadly interpreted: Give honor where it is due.
What a joy it was to walk through the streets and see so many loving, intact families and so many well-kept homes, small gardens, caring neighbors and old-fashioned trust and devotion.
As the procession continued we winded our way we were back to Ninth Street between Moore and Morris Streets for the huge, three-block long festival with food, games of chance, shops and non-stop entertainment. Italian delights included pasta, porchetta, roast beef, sausage and peppers, broccoli rabe, mozzarella sticks and tripe. Homemade wine was also on the menu along with espresso and an a wide array of pastries. The whole thing continued till the grand finale at 9 PM which included fireworks.
We wish we could have stayed till the gala conclusion.
Perhaps we will next year.
All photos by Michael Viola

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