Before carnival goers crowd St. Peter’s Square and the first winner snags the flag from the end of the Greasy Pole, the annual Novena to St. Peter — the nine nights of prayer leading up to the start of St. Peter’s Fiesta — culminated Tuesday night at the Lester S. Wass American Legion Hall on Washington Street.

While the novena still centers around the same prayers and songs, its attendance has grown from 100 to 150 women since Jeanne Linquata and a new group of women took over leadership of the event seven years ago.

“I’m pretty amazed that it just keeps getting bigger, and I tell my husband every night I can’t believe how many people are here,” Linquata said. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of time, and it just keeps growing. I want it to continue to grow.”

`The event not only includes more people. it is also seeing more younger faces.

Fifteen-year-old Elise Amaral, along with 12-year-old Lilly Interante, try to attend the event with their families as often as they can in order to preserve their culture.

“It’s nice to see the younger generations trying to carry on the tradition that the older generations have set up for us, and I also just like it,” said Amaral at Monday night’s novena. “I like singing the songs, even though I don't know all of them, but I try.”

Toni Ciluffo said the young people who do come to the novena genuinely enjoy being a part of the event.

“My 3-year-old grandson loves singing all the Italian songs and screams ‘Viva san Pietro’ at the top of his lungs (at the novenas),” said Ciluffo. “I’m trying to keep (the tradition) going, you know?”

While the novena is a chance to introduce new generations to their heritage — it has been part of the St. Peter Fiesta since the beginning, brought to Gloucester from Sicily by fishermen and their families 92 years ago — Fay Puopolo said the event also brings family and friends together who may not often see each other.

“This is what it does,” said Puopolo as she embraced her mother, Fina Feirara, and godmother before the start of Monday’s novena. “Everybody comes home for Fiesta.”

The novena is the official kick-off for Fiesta and is one of the few women-oriented events of the Fiesta season. Just as the stage at the Legion features the statue of St. Peter praying over the ocean during the novena, women have historically used the novenas as their way of watching over their loved ones at sea and praying for a bountiful catch.

However, their prayers are not only for the fishermen. The women pray for those who are sick, those who have died and “anyone who needs a prayer,” according to Puopolo.

Before the clinking chorus of rosary beads and songs of prayer began, Feirara reflected on why she loves the novena.

“We have faith and pray with our hearts,” said Feirara. “Then we have a cup of coffee with good friends.”

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