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Italian celebration in Galveston Island, Texas, honors St. John the Baptist

Men at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Galveston, Texas, carry a statue of St. John the Baptist after a special Mass June 23, 2022, to honor his nativity. Generations of Italians on Galveston Island have maintained the Sicilian tradition of honoring St. John the Baptist for more than 60 years. (CNS photo/James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald)

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GALVESTON, Texas (CNS) — Each June, for more than 60 years, dozens of Italian Americans on Galveston Island in Texas have gathered at Sacred Heart Catholic Church of Holy Family Parish in Galveston to honor the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

The annual event carries on a Sicilian tradition of honoring St. John the Baptist for his intercession during a storm that endangered the Sicilian fishing village of Aci Trezza. The villagers were spared.

The survivors promised to honor the saint in thanksgiving for their miraculous survival with a celebration.

The Galveston events were inspired by this Sicilian tradition that proclaims every year in faith and in Italian, “Viva San Giovanni!”

This year marked the 65th celebration and took place June 23, the day before the actual feast of St. John the Baptist’s nativity.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston celebrated Mass, along with other clergy, including Father Richard McNeillie, archdiocesan director of vocations, and Father Jude Ezuma, pastor of Holy Family Parish, and with Italian Americans filling the pews.

The annual Mass concluded with a procession around the iconic church, which was designed by famed Galveston architect Nicholas J. Clayton in 1903 following the Great Storm of 1900 that completely devastated the parish’s previous church building.

Many wore red bandanas over their shoulders that bore the stitched image of the paschal lamb, a symbol of the risen Christ.

Under Sacred Heart’s vaulted white ceilings, men carried a banner with the image of St. John the Baptist throughout the church as fireworks went off outside to celebrate the saint’s birth.

An altar cloth, like the banner, was handmade especially for the celebration.

For Alfio Tropea, lead organizer for the celebration, the Mass emphasized the importance of tradition in the Catholic Church.

“We’re carrying on the tradition,” he told the Texas Catholic Herald, Galveston-Houston’s archdiocesan newspaper. “If you don’t teach the younger ones about it, it’ll be lost. We’re showing our love for St. John the Baptist in what we pass through to each generation.”

Much of the gathering, from the flowers, the statue and the red-colored clothing to the sky-high fireworks and Italian cheers, mirrors the same annual celebration in Aci Trezza, Italy.

Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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