Thursday, July 16, 2009

Crowning Carmel

On a sentimental note, today's the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel -- patroness of the parish where your narrator made his sacraments, first climbed a pulpit, discovered the sacristy chatter... in a nutshell, the place where this South Philly kid's long, strange trip through the Wide World of Church began.

Before anything else, there's a prayer to the Madonna that's long been a house favorite -- so tradition says, it's "never known to fail" when prayed for three days....
O most beautiful Flower of Mount Carmel,
Fruitful Vine,
Splendour of Heaven,
Blessed Mother of the Son of God,

Immaculate Virgin,
assist me in my necessity.
O Star of the Sea,
help me and show me herein you are my Mother.

O Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Queen of Heaven and Earth,

I humbly beseech you from the bottom of my heart,

to succour me in this necessity;
there are none that can withstand your power.
O show me herein you are my Mother.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. (3 times)

Sweet Mother,
I place this cause in your hands. (3 times)
...and what you seek, may you find.

* * *
It's no secret that today's one of the more-celebrated feasts... at least, for the Italians (and Maltese) among us.

From the celebrated giglio of "Billysburg" (right; video) to Hammonton, New Jersey -- where the days-long Carmel festival, first held in 1875, draws annual throngs of 40,000 (...this year squaring off with the new Harry Potter flick playing down the street) -- to points well beyond, what's usually the summer's peak week has become the traditional moment to showcase and carry on the best of faith, family, fun... and, of course, food.

That said, though, one of the nation's big Mount Carmel celebrations got an early start this year as Chicagoland's sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna hosted a rare rite -- the "papal incoronation" of its twin figures with new headgear, both blessed by the Pope and made from the treasures of its members:
When parishioners of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Melrose Park decided to create gold crowns for statues of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, they donated to the cause by reaching deep into their hearts and memories.

Joe Rosa gave his grandfather's wedding band. Corinne Principe wept as she slipped her own wedding ring off her finger. Antonio Godinez removed the big Jesus medallion he wore close to his heart and plopped it into a collection basket.

In all, 15 pounds of gold was given, including a dozen gold watches, several rings, bangle bracelets, earrings, chains and medals. Carrying out a religious tradition from Southern Italy, the donated gold was then melted down and molded into two new 14-karat gold crowns appraised at $75,000.

The call for jewelry went out last July during the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and brought donations not only from the parish but from Italian Catholics across the nation. Struck by the devotion, the pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Rev. Claudio Holzer, e-mailed the Vatican to request a papal blessing for the crowns.

Few expected a response. But within a week, a Vatican aide approved and asked that the crowns be brought to Rome. Last month, Holzer and 35 parishioners traveled to Italy for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI where he blessed the crowns."This is very emotional for all of us," said Principe, who has been married for 41 years. "I didn't think twice about giving my wedding ring. I wanted a piece of me to be with her always, so she could pray for me and my family."....

The beginnings of the shrine date to 1894 when an Italian immigrant named Emmanuella De Stefano made a promise to God.

Fearing her sick husband would die, she promised the Virgin Mary that if he lived, she would establish a Melrose Park feast in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel as it was celebrated in her native village of Laurenzana in Potenza, Italy.

When her husband's health improved, De Stefano obtained a replica of the lifelike statue that stands in Laurenzana, brought it to her home, and started the first feast that year. By 1903, with the rapid growth of the Italian community, the archdiocese established Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish at 1101 N. 23rd Ave. In 2006, Cardinal Francis George recognized the chapel as a national shrine.

The crowns, created by La Grange Park jeweler Gino Blando, mark another historic chapter at the shrine.

Though the statue wore modest gold crowns when brought from Italy, they were replaced with more ornate tin ones in 1969. The new crowns replace the tin ones and use melted gold from the originals as the base.

The Madonna statue stands on a pedestal high above the altar in a glass case and is only brought down for the July feast.

Josephine Roberto said she turned to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel when she was diagnosed with endocrine cancer in June 2000. In tears, she brought her husband and two young daughters to the chapel and asked to get better. After several surgeries that removed part of her pancreas and 80 percent of her liver, Roberto is close to being cancer-free.

Adoration has even spread to Mexicans in Melrose Park such as Antonio Godinez. Although most Mexicans revere the Virgin of Guadalupe, Godinez said being raised in Melrose Park made him come to love the Madonna del Carmine.

"I feel like she's done miracles for me," he said. "All the good things in my life, I believe they have come because of her."
Now in its 116th year, the week-long Melrose Park festival ended Sunday... with fireworks by daylight.

Buona festa to one and all.