The statue of Our Lady of the Assumption glimmered in the sunlight on this cool Sunday as if God was providing a halo, blue streamers rising up and out with money pinned to it.
This was a ritual celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption that has been performed here for a long as anyone can remember.
“I used to do this in the old country,” said Mike Masone, who walked beside the statue, charged with taking donations and pinning them to the streamers.
By “the old country” he meant Italy, a tradition that was carried over by immigrants to Hudson County towns and maintained here, even as communities like those in Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne change.
Many of those in traffic waiting for the procession to pass looked puzzled, although a number of people who stood along the sidewalks recognized the procession from similar events in their towns.
“I remember this from my hometown when I was a kid,” said one pedestrian, who did not give a name. “I remember if you gave a donation, they would pin it to the streamer and the band would play you a song.”
Red Mike Festival Band—whose founder Mike Acampora came to the United States in 1929—led the procession, as it has for similar festivals throughout Hudson County over the years. Mike died almost a decade ago. The group maintains the look (except perhaps for the bright-red Trombone) and feel of festival bands from the old country.
The festival, which takes place in most towns in mid-August, according to Masone, celebrates one of the significant moments in Roman Catholic doctrine, the Assumption of Mary. Catholics believe the Virgin Mary—the mother of Jesus—ascended body and soul into heaven, thus avoiding death. This is part of a series of Catholic traditions that are associated with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. The Assumption of Mary is considered one of the high holy days.
“In Bayonne, we celebrate it in September,” Masone said.
The Statue of Our Lady of Libera also came from the old country to Bayonne just after World War II, Masone said. But the feast itself is a century-old tradition in Bayonne.
Led by Father Joseph Barone, the priests recited the holy rosary in a call-and-response prayer, in which the priests called out the first part of Hail Mary and the parishioners responded with the second part.
The procession made its way from West 23rd Street to Avenue C, past ShopRite, west on West. 26th Street to Avenue A, and then to the senior center where they paused, prayed, and the band played a number of songs, including some Italian favorites. The procession ended in the parking lot of Our Lady of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, where volunteers waited to celebrate with rides, games, and food.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.