By James Niedzinski
---- — Whistles blew, and the statue bearers dressed all in white gracefully hoisted Gloucester’s iconic image of St. Peter to shouts of “Viva San Pietro” in a bright Sunday morning ceremony that celebrated the patron saint of fishermen — and kicked off the beginning of the end of this year’s St. Peter’s Fiesta.
Thousands of people flooded the intersection of Tally’s corner at Main, Rogers, Washington and Commercial streets to see the statue depart the blue and gold altar and stage in St. Peter’s Square, and parade through Gloucester’s streets. A departure from the usual Italian color scheme of red and green, the color arrangement was meant in part as a tribute to those who were killed and injured in the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this year, said Fiesta Committee member Anthony Cusumano.
In many ways, St. Peter’s blessing was clear from the start Sunday, when the Fiesta came to a close with the street procession, the annual Outdoor Mass (see related story), the Blessing of the Fleet, and athletic classics like the Greasy Pole Walk of Champions and the final seine boat races. While forecasters had predicted morning precipitation, there was no such rain in sight — and nothing could have rained on Sunday’s parade anyway.
”Did you see the forecast? Look at the weather now,” said Gloucester resident Scott Guyer, standing along Rogers Street as the parade began.
”All I can say is, thank God, St. Peter cleared the clouds,” said Gloucester state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, who watched from in front of the Mother of Grace Club in Washington Street.
As the fanfare began, parade attendees said one of the most important aspects of Fiesta was the sense of community involvement and the history of the holy festival, which just ended its 86th year.
”Tradition — everyone thinks of tradition,” said Patricia Imperato.
While Imperato now lives in Revere, she still comes to Fiesta. While some aspects of the parade have changed throughout the years, such as the bands playing and groups involved, the core ideas have remained the same, Imperato said.
Imperato, who first met her husband Phil at Fiesta while he was playing a band, said she was happy to see younger generations getting involved and sharing a sense of pride.
”We’re passing it on,” she said.
Others said they felt Fiesta, as a whole has become too commercialized through the presence of the carnival, and that not paid enough attention has been paid in recent years to Fiesta’s religious and Italian ethnic heritage.
“It’s just a money maker,” Guyer said.
The statue, decorated with crosses and covered in a blanket of money, paused with its carriers at the Mother of Grace Club, where it was met with a shower of confetti from the second floor of the club, and more cries of “Viva San Pietro!” — a scene repeated a number of times along the route.
“What a great day and a great sense of community and spirit,” state Attorney General Martha Coakley marveled, as she joined Ferrante in floating through the parade route.
Coakley said Gloucester exemplified a community in need coming together. Earlier this year, Coakley filed a lawsuit against NOAA alleging the federal agency has used flawed science and violated the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act in clamping tight limits on the city’s and state’s fishermen. But amid prayers for relief from what the federal government has recognized as an “economic disaster,” Coakley noted that said Sunday’s Mass, procession and other events extend beyond the fishing industry.
“It’s bigger than that, this is about being together,” Coakley said.
As the parade of the St. Peter’s statue and other religious symbols made its way throughout Prospect Street, the bearers stopped and focused on particular families and houses in order to console or heal those involved in the fishing industry, in the past and present.
After early rains on Wednesday night and Thursday, Fiesta organizers said this year’s five-day festival essentially went off without a hitch.
Joe Novello, who, with Cusumano and others, heads up the St. Peter’s Fiesta Committee, praised the additional security, through first-year Police Chief Leonard Campanello.
“I think the new police chief has done a great job,” Novello said. “Inside Fiesta (grounds at St. Peter’s Square) has been nice.”
Cusumano said that one of the more impressive aspects of the five-day tribute and celebration was the turnout for the Fiesta 5K road race, now in its 10th year. Having started with about 34 runners, it drew nearly 950 last Thursday night, with the YMCA of the North Shore as a cosponsored and teams from elementary schools around Gloucester competing.
“It’s great to see little kids involved,” Cusumano said.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who attended the Outdoor Mass and procession, noted the event is a celebration of Gloucester itself, with its emphasis on the city’s roots and heritage. And she was once again struck by the thousands who joined in.
“It was a massive crowd, I think the biggest we’ve had so far,” she said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.