LAWRENCE — For the past 90 years, Italians have been obedient to the theme of the Feast of the Three Saints, “Con vera fede” — with true faith.
That is the reason many say the feast honoring the three brothers, Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino — murdered in the third century for not renouncing their Catholic faith — has remained such an important part of Lawrence’s history.
“The three brothers were martyrs who died for their Christian belief and that touches me as a Catholic,” said Wayne Peters, the current president of the St. Alfio Society, which organizes the feast.
“They could have said, ‘No I don’t believe in Christ’ but they did not. For them to do that, it means a lot. We want to keep that message alive,” Peters said.
Peters said members of the St. Alfio’s Society wear a red sash symbolizing the blood the three brothers shed. Alfio’s tongue was torn out with a pair of tongs; Filadelfo was burnt on a gridiron set over coals and Cirino was burnt in a cauldron filled with hot oil.
“It is an honor to remember them and wear the sash,” Peters said.
The feast began yesterday with the opening parade of St. Alfio Society members marching from Common Street to Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church on Union Street. Red, white and green colored lights, representing the hues of the Italian flag, and three crowns for each saint, hung over the streets.
People walked up and down the street meeting old acquaintances and savoring delicious Italian foods including rice balls, Italian sausage, pizza and crispelli — whether plain, filled with ricotta cheese or anchovy, a favorite at the feast.
Children’s laughter filled the night air as they jumped on the bouncy house, had their face painted or tried their luck at winning stuffed animals at different games.
The focus of the feast today is the traditional torchlight parade honoring the Three Saints, ending with fireworks and the playing of the Cantata, the traditional three-part hymn in honor of the Saints.
Peters said the highlight of the Feast this year is the 90th anniversary Mass celebrated by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley Sunday at 10 a.m. at Holy Rosary Church. The Feast culminates with the procession of the Three Saints on Sunday afternoon. At 3 p.m. sharp, the bell rings, the confetti fires and the band plays the Marcia Reale, with the statues of the Saints leaving the church to be placed onto the vara. Children are hoisted up with offerings and pay their respects to the Saints, amid the cheers shouted by all: “VIVA SANT’ ALFIO!”.
Local Italian Americans have such a devotion to Saints Alfio, Cirinio and Filadelfo because their ancestors brought it with them when they emigrated from Italy. The St. Alfio Society, which sponsors the event, is committed to keeping the feast alive.
“It’s very rare that you see a tradition like this last for 90 years,” Peters said, crediting the 160 members of the organization. While they have many members in their 60s, the average age of a man in the society is between 30 and 50, though many 18 to 25-year-olds are also getting involved.
“It would be a shame to lose our heritage,” said Robert Frasca of Epping, N.H., a member of St. Alfio Society for the past 40 years. “The members goal is to keep it alive.”
For the past three years, local historians Richard Padova and Joe Bella have lectured on Italian history at the feast.
“We need to keep in mind why we’re here,” Padova said. “The food and the entertainment are great, but the main reason why we’re here is to honor and celebrate the three saints.”
Angelo Magliocchetti of Haverhill agrees.
“Italian people are very religious and they believe in the saints,” he said. “This will go on forever because we’re passing it on to our children and grandchildren.”
The fun continues Feast of the Three Saints It continues on Saturday and Sunday. Events include a church fair both days at 2 p.m. at the parish center. A Saturday highlight is the torchlight parade around 7:30 p.m., honoring the Three Saints, ending with fireworks and a cantata played by the St. Alfio's Band. Sunday there will be a 10 a.m. in honor of the Three Saints celebrated by Cardinal Sean O'Malley at Holy Rosary Church. The procession with the saints' statues throughout downtown starts at 3 p.m. Mahrajan Festival celebrating Lebanese heritage and culture through music by Andre Keedy and Ensemble and DJ Rikon, and dancing by the Dadke troop. It runs Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 11 p.m. at St. Anthony Church, 145 Amesbury St. There will also be Lebanese and American dishes, raffles, baskets, games. There will be a souvenir booth featuring handcraft items from Lebanon. Bread and Roses Festival It features entertainment on three stages, including five-time Grammy nominee, Marcia Ball as headliner. Other performers include Bread and Puppet Theater, Odaiko New England Taiko drummers, Emma's Revolution, and more. There will also be children's activities and trolley and walking tours highlighting the city's historical sites. It runs Monday from noon to 6 p.m., in and around Campagnone Common, 200 Common St.