GALVESTON, Texas – Every June for more than 60 years, dozens of Italian Americans from Galveston Island, Texas have gathered at Sacred Heart Catholic Church of the Holy Family Church in Galveston to honor the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.
The annual event continues a Sicilian tradition of honoring Saint John the Baptist for his intercession during a storm that endangered the Sicilian fishing village of Aci Trezza. The villagers were spared.
The survivors promised to honor the saint in thanksgiving for their miraculous survival with a celebration.
The events in Galveston were inspired by this Sicilian tradition which proclaims every year in faith and in Italian “Viva San Giovanni!
This year marked the 65th celebration and took place on June 23, the day before the actual feast of the nativity of Saint John the Baptist.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston celebrated Mass, along with other clergy, including Father Richard McNeillie, archdiocesan director of vocations, and Father Jude Ezuma, pastor of the Holy Family, and with Italo -Americans filling the pews.
The annual mass ended with a procession around the iconic church, which was designed by famed Galveston architect Nicholas J. Clayton in 1903 following the Great Storm of 1900 that completely devastated the old church of the parish.
Many wore red bandanas over their shoulders that bore the stitched image of the paschal lamb, a symbol of the risen Christ.
Beneath the white vaulted ceilings of the Sacred Heart, men carried a banner of St. John the Baptist throughout the church as fireworks erupted outside to celebrate the saint’s birth.
An altar cloth, like the banner, was handmade especially for the celebration.
For Alfio Tropea, the main organizer of the celebration, the mass underlined the importance of tradition in the Catholic Church.
“We are carrying on the tradition,” he told the Texas Catholic Herald, the archdiocesan newspaper of Galveston-Houston. “If you don’t teach this to younger people, it will be lost. We show our love for Saint John the Baptist in what we pass on to each generation.
Much of the gathering, from the flowers, statue and red-colored clothing to the dizzying fireworks and Italian cheers, reflects the same annual celebration in Aci Trezza, Italy.
Ramos is an editor and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.