Last Wednesday, Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, presided over a virtual celebration of the feast. Streamed from the parish hall, the Facebook Live video was watched by 63,000 people.
The following day, the parish hosted a mass in both English and Italian, followed by a procession through the neighborhood, to celebrate Feast Day for OLMC.
Gigantiello said at the celebration that he hopes it will be their first and only virtual feast.
“We will not be celebrating this feast for the first time in 75 years,” he said. “For many people, this is the first time in their lives that the feast is not being celebrated and the Giglio is not being lifted.”
The virtual celebration provided an opportunity for the organizers of the festival to discuss the importance of the feast and their roles in it.
John Christopher, who was set to be the Number One Capo at this year’s Giglio lift, explained that the position is in charge of all lifts throughout the feast.
“It takes a long time to work your way up to that position,” he said. “It’s a long process to get here.”
Like other participants of the festival, Christopher started off as a lifter. He worked his way up to a lieutenant, which he said is in charge of about 40 men in the corner of the lift.
“You make sure the structure moves smoothly,” he said.
From there, lieutenants are elevated to the Apprentice Capo. Gradually, they move up to Number Three Capo, then Number Two, and finally to the top.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Christopher said about the position. “When you stand there in front of the Giglio and make it move, you think about the people who came before you.”
He noted that dating back to the 1950s, there have only been 32 Number One Capos in the local tradition’s history.
“This is a very small fraternity,” he added. “Because it takes you so long to get here, you really do appreciate it so much.”
Gigantiello recalled that when he was a kid, the Giglio festival also took place at St. Rita’s parish in Long Island City. As a teenager, he participated in the lifting process.
Now that he’s pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg, where the feast traditions have survived for decades, Gigantiello said the annual event brings back memories.
“This feast does something for me, because as a kid I remember going there with my parents and my family,” he said. “I can relate to all the people who are involved, and how much this means.
“Every time we lift that Giglio, everytime we watch it on the streets, it brings back the memories with our families that connect us to the church,” Gigantiello added. “So many things come together.”
That’s why it was so sad that the feast was cancelled this year due to COVID-19, the pastor said, who noted that the celebration is much more than just a street fair.
“I’m very proud to be the pastor of this parish,” he said at the virtual celebration. “There are so many young people, especially men, who are involved in running this feast and are dedicated to our parish. It really means a lot.”