HAMMONTON - With the sun beaming on the hot asphalt, faithful pilgrims embarked on the 141st annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel procession in Hammonton on Saturday.
The local tradition began in 1875 when Antonio Capelli and a few friends formed a procession and prayed in thanksgiving in front of a painting of the Blessed Mother. They gave thanks for a safe journey to America and for an abundant harvest.
Since then, thousands have gathered every year in an act of faith to pray, give thanks and express their devotion to the Blessed Mother and the saints. Some helped roll the statues in the procession; others walked behind the Blessed Mother and many lined the streets to express their devotion.
It was a time of faith and family, and it has become a tradition for many who have participated for decades.
Anthony Jiannpetti of Hammonton remembers watching the procession from his childhood home on Third Street. “After World War II, the mothers were crawling behind the Blessed Mother. I didn’t understand it then, but they were saying thank you to her for bringing their sons home,” he said.
One year, he was “drafted” to help push one of the statues in the pilgrimage. “I’ve been here ever since,” he said as he walked beside the St. Padre Pio statue.
Others were following in their ancestors footsteps.
“My grandmother ushered St. Lucy, and I wanted to keep that tradition,” said Alex DeStefano of Hammonton.
Some were making traditions.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old,” said Cosmo LaMazza, also of Hammonton. “It’s my religion, and it needs to be passed down.”
Many such as Louis Casadia of Hammonton were there to express their gratitude for answered prayer.
People lined the streets and gave financial offerings to the saints as the procession gradually moved through the traditional route from Third Street to Fairview Avenue to North Egg Harbor Road to Bellevue Avenue and back to Third Street. Believers filled Third Street for a final glance as the procession returned.
Angel Gambone of Mantua has attended the Feast Day procession since she was 5. Her grandmother participated when her father was injured and she has returned annually. “She asked me to come here every year if I was able, and I do,” said Gambone.
The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society hosts the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festival, and this year Feast Day fell on Saturday, which was the closing day of the festival, drawing one of the largest crowds at the procession in recent years.