BENSONHURST — On the first night of the Santa Rosalia Feast in Bensonhurst, the festival committee held a dinner in honor of this year’s grand marshal, City Councilmember Justin Brannan.
The kick-off dinner was Thursday, Aug. 22, at Il Colosseo restaurant at 77th Street and 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst. It was hosted by District Leader Joseph Bova, who welcomed guests and told the story of St. Rosalia, who was born in Palermo. According to the story, she turned to God at an early age and went to live in a cave, where she devoted her time to worship.
St. Rosalia eventually moved to Mount Pellegrino, about three miles from Palermo, where she continued to worship God. She is said to have appeared after death and to have revealed that she spent several years in a little excavation near the grotto. She died alone, in 1160, unknown to the world. Her body was discovered several centuries later, in 1625, during the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII.
The feast in honor of Santa Rosalia has become a much-anticipated event in the Bensonhurst community. It’s a time to honor the patron saint of Palermo, Sicily with live entertainment, music, rides, games, food and drinks. Among the delicacies are zeppole, rice balls and freshly made brick oven pizza.
Sponsored by Figli di Santa Rosalia, a member of the Federation of Italian American Organizations, the feast, also known as the 18th Avenue feast, is taking place, this year, from Thursday, Aug. 22 through Sunday, Sept. 1 from 67th Street to 75th Street along 18th Avenue, aka Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard.
The Santa Rosalia feast has been held continuously in Sicily since 1624 and is the largest Italian-American feast in Brooklyn.
Also present at the dinner were State Sen. Andrew Gounardes; Assemblymembers Peter Abbate and Mark Treyger; Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann; former City Councilmember Vincent Gentile; Capt. Anthony Longobardi, commanding officer of the 62nd Precinct; Community Board 11 Chair William Guarinello and Frank Naccarato, past president of the Federation of Italian-American Organizations of Brooklyn.
Bova stressed the importance of Italian Americans celebrating this event as a way of honoring their Italian heritage. Bova cited two recent examples of Italians being slighted in recent weeks: Chris Cuomo being disparaged for his Italian ancestry and the city ignoring a popular vote to build a statue to honor Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants and a one-time Brooklyn resident.
“We have to continue to strive to instill in our children our traditions and let our public officials know that our traditions are important to us,” said Bova. “We still have feelings and we still deserve to be respected… and it’s incumbent upon us to instill in the generations that follow the importance of these traditions. And tonight we honor as our grand marshal somebody who actually took the city to task about the statue.”
Brannan recently wrote a letter to the mayor asking why a public vote in support of Cabrini would be ignored. Bova introduced Brannan as “the son of a record salesman father and educator mother.” Bova also thanked Brannan for improving the quality of life within the community.
Brannan, who attended the dinner with wife Leigh and mother Mary, received a plaque from the festival committee recognizing him as this year’s grand marshal.
“This is very, very cool,” Brannan told this paper. “I grew up going to the Santa Rosalia 18th Avenue Feast, so to now have the honor of representing this neighborhood but also being recognized by this organization is humbling. Part of my family comes from Italy so it’s nice to remember this tradition.”
The feast will conclude Sunday, Sept. 1 with a religious procession at 3 p.m. beginning at 18th Avenue and 72nd Street and ending at St. Dominic Church at 20th Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway where there will be a full mass at 4 p.m.