PORTLAND---“Buona Sera! It is a real joy to be with you for this beautiful festa.”
The words of Bishop Robert Deeley fell upon the delighted eyes of a special community gathered again with fellow residents and faithful from around Maine and beyond for the 96th edition of the St. Peter’s Italian Bazaar on August 12-13 in Portland.
The festival, with its delicious food, pastries, games, and live music fills hearts and Federal Street for two days each August, celebrating St. Peter Church’s Italian heritage and commemorating two feasts of the Catholic Church: the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15) and the Feast Day of St. Rocco (August 16), a saint fondly called upon by Italian faithful for centuries.
Since 1925, hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, have gathered for the festival as a community of faith, welcoming non-Catholics and Catholics alike to join them at the party.
“In the publicity for the bazaar it is described rightly as ‘a gathering of generations proudly celebrating the heritage, family, and faith of a special community,’” the bishop said during the bazaar Mass on Saturday afternoon. “The special community is this Italian parish here in the heart of Portland. The bazaar certainly is a great help to the maintenance of this beautiful church, now renewed in this wonderful refurbishing, just completed. But the bazaar is also a valuable opportunity to gather people for a festival which honors the saints and the faith of this community.”
The bishop told the assembly that there are lessons to be taken from the festival that carry into the rest of the year, particularly the example of St. Rocco, who, in his great love of Jesus, cared and prayed for people in Italy during the plague that had spread in the country in the 14th century.
“Jesus sets our hearts on fire with the love of God and calls us to bring it to others. That was the work of St. Rocco. On fire with a will to bring the message of Jesus to those he encountered, he attended to their needs. Some of them he even cured. To all of them, he brought God’s love. This is the task of this community and all of us who seek to be followers of Jesus. It is the mission that Jesus has given us: ‘I have come to set the earth on fire.’ And so we pray in the midst of this celebration of heritage, culture, family, and faith that the Holy Spirit who set the heart of St. Rocco and the founders of this parish and festa on fire with the love of God, moving them to want to bring it to others, so, too, may that same Holy Spirit set us on fire with the call to live the message of God’s love we know in Jesus in the world in which we find ourselves today.”
After the festival was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the appreciation for its impact and meaning has grown even greater in visitors over the last two years.
“It’s a beautiful crowd. The food is so good,” said Michelle.
“Such a huge crowd,” said Lillian. “We had a great time.”
“The food, the music, everyone together,” said Mickey, “it was great.”
“It really was the best this year,” said Dolores.