Tammy Lewis and her sister, Linda Mack, had already taken in several St. Peter's Fiesta events over the previous days, and Lewis said they were looking forward to Sunday afternoon's Greasy Pole Walk and more.
But for her and hundreds of others, another celebration took precedence Sunday morning: The outdoor Mass to St. Peter that once again drew a packed crowd to St. Peter's Square.
"We love our sporting events," Lewis said, "but this should be the most important. It's about religion, family and tradition, and that's what all of this is about."
The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Mark O'Connell, the northern regional bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, and included the Rev. James Achadinha, pastor of the merged Catholic Community of Gloucester and Rockport. Achadinha opened the service with a rousing "Viva San Pietro!" from the altar.
In the ethnic spirit of Fiesta, O'Connell told the gathering, as he did two years ago, he was answering to a different name Sunday.
"I'm Bishop Marco today," he quipped, drawing laughter from the crowd.
"We all like St. Peter," said O'Connell, before delivering a serious message spurred by the spirit of the patron saint of fishermen. "Why do we like St. Peter? Because he's real. Saints are real."
O'Connell played off a gospel reading that told of St. Peter recognizing Jesus as the son of God, and Jesus' pronouncement of St. Peter as the "rock" on which he would build his church. O'Connell also spotlighted Peter's human failings, such as when he denied he knew Jesus three times when Christ was captured, and his sinking when he tried to follow Jesus in walking on water.
"He had so much faith, he could walk on water — until he looked around, looked away from Jesus and started sinking," O'Connell related. "He took his eyes off the Lord. That's what we do isn't it? We start with so much faith, yet we take our eyes off the Lord."
Despite those and other failings, Jesus stood by Peter, O'Connell noted. The patron saint of fishermen is recognized as the Roman Catholic Church's first pope.
"The Peter that God loved is the person he was, not the person he thought he could be," O'Connell said. "That's the way it is for us, too. He loves you now, just as you are, and as he did with Peter."
The Mass was carried out under mostly sunny skies and in comfortable 74-degree temperatures; thunder, lightning and rain would arrive later in the afternoon. As always, many of those in attendance arrived early.
Inge Bodoni, 93, of Gloucester, had settled into her seat four rows from the altar shortly after 9 a.m. for the 10 o'clock ceremony.
"I come every year," she said. "I won't miss it. I love it."
She was accompanied by her son Philip Bodoni, Philip's wife Kathy, and Inge Bodoni's friend, Carol Marques.
"We never used to come to the Mass, because we would usually have a cookout at home and we would be getting that ready," Philip Bodoni said. "But one year we decided to take (Inge Bodoni) to the Mass, and she loved it so much, we've kept coming ever since."
The Mass included some poignant moments. Achadinha noted that this was the first outdoor Mass since the February passing of the Rev. Eugene Alves. Alves served as pastor of Our Lady of Good Voyage and was always an integral part of Fiesta, its Mass and the Blessing of the Fleet.
While Angela Sanfilippo, longtime head of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, carried out the Scripture readings in Italian, the English readings were delivered by Amanda Dimetri-Lewis, whose late father, Philip, served as a church lector and reader for the outdoor Mass for some 40 years before his death in early 2018.
"I was so honored that Father Jim asked me to do it in his honor," Demetri-Lewis said afterward, adding she could "absolutely" feel her father's presence as she read.
"I know people like the rides and the carnival, and that's a big part of (Fiesta)," said Philip Bodoni. "But I still think of this as a religious (festival). When you come right down to it, this (Mass) and the traditions are really the basis of everything."
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or firstname.lastname@example.org.