St. Roch’s Feast set to rock Chickahominy this weekend

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It’s time to feast once again in Greenwich as the St. Roch Church begins its four-day celebration tonight, welcoming guests to come enjoy a traditional Italian celebration every evening through Saturday, Aug. 9. 

St. Roch’s Feast has become a beloved local tradition for the entire community and this year it will run from 6 to 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and from 6 to 11 p.m. on Saturday. A procession and Italian mass will close out the weekend of festivities on Sunday morning. Accompanied by a brass band, Honorary Grand Marshal James Brunetti will lead the procession through the neighborhood beginning at 9 a.m. and culminating at the steps of the church just before noon.

Some 500 attendees are expected to take part in the weekend affair, which serves as the church’s primary fund-raiser. Though fundraising is a goal, the spirit of the event lies within its focus on community building and Italian culture. Greenwich Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention Officer Brian Kelly reports that more than half of the current Byram volunteer firefighters were recruited at St. Roch feasts, speaking to the atmosphere of good will and networking that surrounds the event.

About 70 church and community members have united to volunteer as staff for the feast.

“It’s about getting this community back together, having a good time, giving back to the community, giving back to the church and letting the kids come and have some fun.” event organizer Jackie Budkins said.

The feast’s origins hearken back medieval Italy. Originally born in France, St. Roch, who is known for, among other things the patron saint of the sick and vulnerable as well as being the patron saint of dogs, traveled throughout Italy to care for those suffering from the black plague. Typically observed on Aug. 16 in Italy, the St. Roch feast was meant to celebrate the end of the plague. Italian immigrants chose to continue the tradition in Chickahominy honoring their patron saint during the “dog days” of summer, led by the Societa San Rocco di Morra de Santis, a mutual aid society founded in 1909.

But the feast is not just for Greenwich’s Italians or Catholics. This has become a beloved annual summer event with people attending from all over town. Live acts will entertain attendees each night, featuring returning artists such as Angie Rubino, local country band Gunsmoke and Francisco Castiglione of JFC Music. Raffle tickets will be available as well, with the second, third and fourth prize winners earning $4,000, $3,000 and $2,000 in American Express gift cards respectively. The first prize winner will be awarded a 2015 Audi A3 Quattro. Raffle winners will be announced during the extended Saturday night program.

For the younger crowd, there will be a petting zoo, pony rides, games and magic demonstrations, along with a bevy of tasty treats. In terms of food, the event will offer the much-sought-after pizza fritta, an Italian deep-fried dough dish, along with sausage and peppers, cotton candy and other summertime fare. Pizza fritta is the feast’s signature dish, with dough being provided by Bronx Italian bakery TerraNova and a sauce crafted from 100% fresh ingredients by Ray Balidernaj of Albas Ristorante in Port Chester N.Y.

There will be parking in the area but for people who would rather not fight for a spot, there will be shuttle service provided as well. Ms. Budkins said that people can park nightly at 500 West Putnam Avenue and then be taken to the feast. There will be no set schedule for the two shuttle buses that will be used for the event but Ms. Budkins said they will be running regularly as needed.

Members of the Greenwich’s government will also be in attendance to show their support for the feast, including First Selectman Peter Tesei, who grew up in the neighborhood surrounding the church, and State Rep. Fred Camillo.

During the procession, parishioners will march with a statue of the church patron around Chickahominy, pinning their donations to the visage of St. Roch. Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport will be taking part in Sunday’s procession as well as the subsequent Mass led by Father Matthew Mauriello.

In a statement to the Post, Bishop Caggiano said he was looking forward to the event given that it was steeped in “history and tradition.” He noted that the Chickahominy section of Greenwich, where the festival is centered, had many descendents of original parishoners who prayed to San Rocco in small Italian villages before coming to America and called St. Roch “a beautiful and enduring example of caring for the sick and vulnerable” that’s as relavent today as it ever was.

“At a time when we are inundated with the voices of the here and now, the joyful procession through the neighborhood is a reminder of how tradition nourishes us even across cultures and continents,” Bishop Caggiano said. “And that the deep roots of faith bring grace and meaning to the experience of living and celebrating our good fortune.”

The parade is one of the highlights of the entire event both for the participants and those watching.

“We proceed through the neighborhood while carrying the statue of San Rocco (St. Roch). We stop at homes along the way where little old Italian ladies have cookies and Italian pastries waiting for us at one home while the next home will have iced tea and lemonade,” church member and event chairman Paul Cappiali said. “We stop at homes of recently deceased parishioners to say a prayer and pay our respects – no one says a word.  It is a close as you can get to the old country of Italy as anyone could imagine,” he said.

The church is at 10 St. Roch Avenue, across the street from the Hamilton Avenue School.

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