A Taste of Italy on Columbus Day




Man in soccer jersey attends Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral. Photo: Andrew Bell

Congregants wearing Italian soccer jerseys, lapel pins of Italy, and carrying Italian flags joined the usual morning Mass attendees on Monday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate Columbus Day and their Italian heritage. A few dozen firefighters from Italy also came to celebrate not only the holiday but also the 150-year anniversary of Italian unification. A large “150” was printed on the back of the program to commemorate that event.

The principal celebrant of the Mass, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, opened the Mass by welcoming the Italians in the audience with his best effort at an authentic “Bienvenuti.” To the bewilderment of some, the two readings from scripture alternated between Italian and English.

The Homily, the part of the mass where the priest delivers a sermon, was spoken only in English. The Homilist, Reverend Monsignor Peter Vaghi, from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is of Italian descent. He spoke of the genius of Columbus, calling him “a man with piety, excitement and energy.”  He labeled Columbus “a man with deep and enduring faith and his courage and his guiding faith helped give mankind a new world. His mission brought the good word to those who had never heard it.” Vaghi was more reflective and personal when he spoke of the importance of his Italian heritage in shaping his character. “The Italian faith has contributed to the soul and culture of our nation,” he said.

The church was packed with parishioners and a plethora of tourists. One young Italian-American boy wore a shirt that read, “I’m smart, good looking and Italian, what could be better.”

The service culminated not with a traditional hymnal piece but rather with the national anthems of Italy and of the United States belted out by a soloist, Salvatore Basile, and the rest of the choir.

Vincenzina Santoro, an Italian-American woman in her late 40’s, was eager and proud to discuss what the event meant for her as she awaited the start of the Columbus Day parade, saying that she particularly enjoyed the parts of the service in Italian. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she said. She wore a lapel pin with flags of both nations on her shirt, like many others in the crowd.