October 18, 2011

Fiaccolata di San Rocco, 2011

Viva San Rocco! Protector of Quaglietta
By Giovanni di Napoli

Last Saturday (October 15th), some friends and I headed to Astoria, Queens, to participate in the annual Fiaccolata di San Rocco, or candlelight procession, sponsored by the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana. Holding candles, the women and children sang traditional songs and prayers commemorating the death of their patron while the men carried a litter bearing the saint. The somber procession began at the society's social club (3704 28th Ave.) and made its way through the neighborhood to the beautiful St. Joseph's Church, where services were held. 
The faithful gather outside the social club
After mass the congregation made its way back to the social club, where we were invited in to mingle and partake in their sumptuous feast. Warmly greeted, we were given a quick tour of their facilities. Naturally, the statue of Saint Rocco was given a place of honor under a wooden baldachin in the building's makeshift chapel. We learned that the figure was imported from Naples and a cloth relic from the Chiesa di San Rocco (the saint's resting place) in Venice was prominently on display. Blessed bread was distributed to all the guests.
The candlelight procession makes its way through the neighborhood
I especially enjoyed the old black-and-white photographs of past members, showing the long history of the benevolent society. Maps, flags and photos of Quaglietta, a small bucolic hamlet in the Campanian region of Southern Italy, also decorated the walls. An older gentleman passionately regaled us with the Saint's story and tales of the old country. He proudly recalled the important charitable work the confraternity provided to the early immigrants and the aid ("soccorso") it still offers to those in need. I was deeply touched by the love he holds for his adopted country and how grateful he is for the opportunity it gave him to provide for his wife and children.
Leaving Saint Joseph's
I also had the great pleasure of talking with Tina Carpinelli, the women's president, who took time from her busy schedule to make sure we felt at home and answered all of our questions. Through her we learned that in addition to the Fiaccolata di San Rocco the society hosts a number of other cultural events, including a Festa della Donna e Gara dei Vini (Women festival and Contest of Wines) in March, which sounds vaguely reminiscent to the ancient Bacchanal celebrations of Magna Graecia.

In August they have a Festa di San Rocco (Saint Rocco Festival), which Mrs. Carpinelli assured me draws large crowds and is a lot of fun. Photos I've seen of some recent festivals clearly corroborate her claim. In September they have a Sagra dei Fusilli (Fusilli festival). The very idea of a pasta festival makes my mouth water, so I needed little persuasion to become interested. She had me at fusilli.
The shrine to Saint Rocco
The Societá Gioventú Quagliettana also holds an annual dinner dance for its members and this year's (November 5th at 6:00 PM) will mark the group's 100th anniversary. A photo of last year's Christmas celebration shows that they're blessed with enough children to potentially be around another one hundred years.

Considering how long they've been around I'm embarrassed to say that I only just discovered this wonderful organization and subsequently been missing out on their many celebrations; but now that I met them and experienced first hand their warm, generous hospitality I plan on supporting our Quagliettana brothers and sisters by attending as many of there public events as possible. If these other gatherings are anything like the Fiaccolata di San Rocco they'll definitely be worthwhile.
Tina Carpinelli with Luca Sessa, Presidente Associazione Tre Sicilie, before the shrine. (Photos by New York Scugnizzo)