A saint’s feast day? Just another excuse for a party, if you’re Italian. But all the saints?? That’s a BI-I-I-I-IG party. Heck, it’s a festival. And now that Indian summer is upon us, we’ll take this excuse to remember warmer days recently past – and catch you up on a few things we did this summer. In this case, Joe was the party guy, so we’ll let him tell it. Take it away, Joe!
Benvenuto! If you are familiar with our blog site, you know that Maria has been posting up a storm. However, it’s been some time since I’ve written a piece for the blog. It’s not that I haven’t been working on all things Route 66. In fact, I am the Special Guest Editor for two special Route 66 issues of the Illinois Geographical Society’s Illinois Geographer – to be published this fall and winter – and that’s kept both of us busy from July through September. The issues will have the dual themes of preservation and tourism and will have articles and book reviews from geographers, historians, preservationists, and road enthusiasts. Meanwhile, Maria went to the Illinois History Conference in Springfield and chaired a Route 66 panel of historians and preservationists (more on that later). But I digress: that’s not today’s topic. As we often do on the route, we return to fun and food!
On Sunday, August 24, I attended La Festa di Tutti I Santi (the Festival of All Saints) at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood. The shrine, at 1224 W. Lexington St., touts itself as “the oldest Italian-American Church in the City of Chicago.” It’s a stone’s throw from the Mother Road near the Illinois Medical District, just west of downtown Chicago. You’ve probably read about the church in our earlier blog posts about the congregation’s sumptuous St. Joseph’s Table, held annually in the spring during the feast of St. Joseph in mid-March.
This feast is another special occasion for celebration for Italian-American Roman Catholics, but it shouldn’t be confused with All Saints’ Day, a holy day of obligation for Catholics that occurs on November 1st of each year (and which is coming up shortly). This festival basically is a fundraiser for the shrine, which receives no financial support from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Nearly 20 years ago, the church was about to be closed permanently, because the neighborhood changed from a predominantly Italian community and the number of parishioners had declined. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, however, allowed the church to stay open as a shrine. The festival grew out of the need to find operating funds (it’s long been true that parishes get diocesan support, but shrines have to be self-supporting). Now as then, the event is both pious and fun. Festivities traditionally begin with a morning Mass at the shrine, followed by a family-oriented picnic.
Mass started out with a general greeting, followed by a procession into the shrine, consisting of banners dedicated to specific saints, the presiding priests, and children costumed to depict the saints being honored. After the procession, which was accompanied by an instrumental gathering song, the congregation welcomed the relics of martyrs and saints, chanting “Evviva Santa!” to each specific saint being recognized. Among those saints were St. Anthony of Padua, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (an American saint!), Blessed Mother Teresa, and the St. Kateri Tekakwitha (another American saint!), the first Native American to be nominated for sainthood. After the Gloria, the service continued primarily in Italian. However, the priest gave the homily in English and stressed the importance of love, so needed in today’s society, and God’s patience with us.
The Mass continued with the presentation of gifts and a rendition of “Ave Maria.” During communion, “I am the Bread of Life” was sung with both English and Italian refrains. Mass closed with a procession exiting the shrine, led by La Banda Siciliana di Chicago (the Sicilian Band of Chicago, a musical group). The procession trailed out onto Lexington Street and headed west along Victor Arrigo Park, ending at the festival stage in the park. Now to eat!
The cuisine was, as expected, mostly Italian or what many consider to be Italian: pizza, spaghetti with meatballs, and Italian beef sandwiches, among other offerings. I chose an Italian combo – a large beef and Italian sausage extravaganza, topped with mild green peppers and served on what seemed to be an entire loaf of Italian bread. Being a born-and-bred Chicagoan, I was very familiar with this sandwich and ordered mine “wet,” i.e., dipped in well-seasoned beef gravy. Mmmmmmmmm! (You Chicago folks know what I mean.)
I passed on a glass of wine, as it was remarkably hot and humid that day, and the alcohol probably would have gone straight to my head instead of reviving me; but the wine and peaches served from punch bowls did look very appealing. Next, I sampled the homemade panzanella or frezelle, which was like a large tomato-and-olive-oil bruschetta on ringed, toasted bread. Delicious. Of course, one had to have dessert. I passed on the cannoli – again, it seemed too hot for that particular sweet: the normally crisp shell would be limp in the humidity, and the cream filling would be runny – and instead I chose the wonderful and cooling Italian lemonade, the Italians’ answer to the Sno-cone. Bene! A wise, refreshing choice.
I had my Italian ice and chatted with several festival goers prior to visiting the bocce ball courts. Bocce ball is an Italian lawn bowling game, possibly developed from a similar game played by the ancient Egyptians and adopted by the classical Romans. It’s popular with Italians across the globe, and these folks were having at it with gusto. For specific rules on how to play, see http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Bocce-Ball.
But alas, bocce ball was more than my poor body could handle. My stomach was full, and I had a long way to drive home. It had been a satisfying but exhausting time in all that heat. And then it was time for a nap after a good day on planet Earth.
Next year, you should try it!
Ciao for now,