By Richard Gaines
A special poignancy visited the opening ceremonies of the 82nd St. Peter's Fiesta last night.
It was carried in the stoic grace of a fisherman's widow reintegrated in the joyous celebration of faith, surrounded by family, friends and community — a sea of affection.
Josie Russo, who lost her husband and father in a fishing boat's sinking in January that has become an epic tragic -mystery, carried with her in the procession along with two candles the son, born a month ago fatherless —like his mother had become on Jan. 3. The son will know his father only in facsimile and lore.
With Russo, her two children, the curly-haired 3-year-old Salvatore and the infant John Matteo, in the procession along with her siblings, each speaker at the start of Fiesta paid respect to the loss of the fishing vessel Patriot.
"The spirit of the sea is in Gloucester and all the fishermen," said the Rev. Ronald Garibaldi during the invocation after the statute of St. Peter, which connects this to all previous fiestas, was removed from the window of the St. Peter's Club, transferred to a platform and paraded around the outside of the Fort where the first Sicilian fishermen settled in the 1920s, unaware that they would infuse their culture into Gloucester's rich melange almost as an afterthought.
Matteo Russo and John Orlando were "loving, caring, hard-working good men," recalled Joseph Novello, the long-time president of the Fiesta Committee.
The typical manic edge of fiestas past seemed a touch softened by the presence of a family seeking to close its wounds and move on as fishing families have been doing back to the dawn of Gloucester's time when the main fishermen first were colonials, then Nova Scotians, Newfoundlanders, Irish and Portuguese.
The ecumenical spirit was created by St. Alfio's Band of Lawrence, a Fiesta regular which began the evening with a medley of patriotic music by the great Irish-American songwriter George M. Cohan and the even greater Jewish-American songwriter Irving Berlin. When "A Grand Old Flag" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy" gave way under thin clouds and mild breezes to "Viva San Pietro," the fiesta was on but at less than full throttle.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, showing and admitting her practice in the "Viva" proclamation-exhortation since last and her first year as presiding official, let fly a verbal missile at the overseers of the fishing industry, the federal bureaucrats of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who have managed to make policing the fleet an act of zealous retribution, according to complaints filed with the Inspector General of the Department of Commerce by U.S. senators and congressmen.
"This has been a difficult year," Kirk declared. The Patriot's sinking in January was a wrenching start, but the mayor recalled it was followed by "intolerant enforcement action," and the "near collapse" of the economy.
She said "a sign of hope" was the prayer that St. Peter "guides us and gives us strength."
Josie Russo's younger sister, Grace Burbridge, spoke for the Russo and Orlando families to the standing-room only crowd in St. Peter's Square as dusk settled in.
"You're helping us through this. My father John, my brother-in-law Matt, we mourn together," told the crowd. "We celebrate together. God bless the fishermen, we pray for a safe trip home."
With the end of the opening ceremony began a three-day, hand-made antipasto of faith, mysticism, topped with raucous Olympian events and street revelry coalescing into improvisational Falstaffian set pieces all along the Fort and the waterfront until St. Peter returns to his year-long home on Sunday.
Along with the crew of the Patriot, the 82nd Fiesta was also dedicated to another longtime fisherman, Sebastian "Busty" Moceri, who passed away between the previous Fiesta and this new one.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at email@example.com