Monday, September 1, 2008

Strength By Candlelight

After our visit to Blandford on Sunday, we hurried home; I wanted to get some time in at the Portuguese Festa in Ludlow.

The Portuguese Festa ('Festa' being Portuguese for, you guessed it, Festival), is huge. People come from all over New England and down the eastern seaboard for this. Attendance daily gets into the upper 10's of thousands during the three day weekend. The event is put on primarily by the church that my family and just about every Portuguese family in Ludlow belongs to; Our Lady of Fatima. I grew up in this town, and grew up going to this church. As a kid I didn't really think too much about how lucky we were to have such a huge, unique gathering right in our own back yards. And never gave too much thought to the fact that so many people travel for hundreds of miles to attend it. It was just another cool thing to look forward to every year.

The Festa is a coming together of all things Portuguese: The food and drink is served up all day and night from a large pavilion and several side kiosks, Bifana sandwiches (pork), Chourica (sausage) and whole or half barbecued chickens are among the main foods to be had. Wine, beer and fruit drinks are the more popular beverages.

In the parking lot behind the church is a large stage, where entertainment, music and dancing goes on all night.

The rides and midway are first class, among the largest of any fair around...

But above and beyond all these things, the Festa is first and foremost a religious gathering. A celebration for the devoutly Roman Catholic. All the 10's of thousands of people that travel here every year are really on a sort of pilgrimage to worship and pray, and mainly to the Virgin Mary. There are masses held outside at a chapel on a small hill next to the church all weekend. The chapel is itself a re-creation of one in Portugal, in the religious center of Fatima. The weekend-long worshiping reaches a crescendo on Sunday night, with the Candlelight Procession. Thousands of devout light candles in wax lined paper cups, and march en-masse; first behind a priest bearing the cross of Jesus Christ to the chapel, then followed by a statue of the Virgin Mary, carried on shoulders.

It's a powerful sight, and this years was as good as any I've seen; video might do the scene some justice:

Among the Portuguese in America, the Catholic religion is still as strong and uniting a force as it ever was.


LarryK4 said...

Powerful symbol indeed.

Right up there with a national flag at half staff.

Anonymous said...

Im not catholic nor am I portuguese, but I have attended the festa for many many years now. I have a deep admiration for the community and the church as well as the food and wine. Cant wait for 2009