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Feast of Saint Rocco






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Every August the community holds a celebration for the Feast of Saint Rocco. The article below, originally published in the September 2001 Il Postino, describes one such event.
The Feast of Saint Rocco
By Il Postino Staff

The story of a Frenchman who made a pilgrimage to Rome, curing many of disease along the way through religious acts, draws people to churches every August to celebrate his life. This man would later be proclaimed a saint – Saint Rocco.


Photo: Laura D'Amelio. The Ottawa Firefighters Band led a procession to celebrate the Feast of Saint Rocco.

On August 12, the Italian community in Ottawa gathered at St. Anthony’s Church to celebrate the Feast of St. Rocco. Though the sweltering summer heat challenged the stamina of those who attended, St. Anthony’s Church was filled beyond capacity for this religious and cultural tradition.

After mass, the Ottawa Firefighters Band led a procession through the surrounding area of the church. The band was accompanied by local women and children dressed in traditional Italian outfits and carrying flower arrangements. A statue of St. Rocco, carried by four local men, was followed by a procession of people singing and praying in honour of the saint.

This Sunday scene is typical of the Feast of St. Rocco, and for that matter every Saint’s Feast Day. While the event may seem predictable, it is steeped in the past of the Italian community not only in Ottawa, but across the country and around the world.

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On August 16 the city of Roccamontepiano in Chieti, Italy, celebrated the Feast of St. Rocco with the same fanfare and traditions as Ottawa. The Ottawa Firefighters Band had the honour of performing at this feast as well and Canadian visitors got a chance to experience the feast day in a town that honours St. Rocco as their patron saint.

Located on a wooded foothill on the eastern side of the Maiella, near the Alento River, the town of Roccamontepiano has a population of around 2,000 inhabitants. The town dates back to the Middle Ages when people were attracted to settle there because of the abundance of water.
Photo: Laura D'Amelio. Women and children dressed in traditional Italian outfits to celebrate the Feast of Saint Rocco in Ottawa and, like those in Roccamontepinao, balanced conche on their head.
Theologians consider Saint Rocco’s statue unique because of its pose – he points to a sore on his leg. Few images of saints expose any afflictions or handicaps.
The Ottawa Firefighters Band led a procession to celebrate the Feast of Saint Rocco.

Each year on August 16th, people flock to the town to drink water from a spring which is a part of Saint Rocco’s Sanctuary, the location of a miracle performed by the saint. The festivities in Roccamontepinao also began with a religious ceremony and led to a procession much like that seen in Ottawa. Women in traditional dress and a statue of the saint proceeded through the city followed by a large crowd. The women balanced conche, traditional water-carrying vessels, on their heads. For the festival they fill the conche with bunches of colourful flowers. The Abbruzo region, where Roccamontepinao is located, is known for its abundance of flowers because of the fertile soil. Later, food and fun were served up to complete the celebration.

Though thousands of miles apart the similar festivities convincingly prove the connection Italians maintain with their culture. And the inclusion of young Italians in the festivities ensures the continuance of this tradition.

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