LAWRENCE — The 96th annual Feast of the Three Saints culminated on Sunday when statues of the holy martyrs were carried out of Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church and were stationed on a large, mobile cart.
While the cart — called the vada — paused in front of the church, a marching band played and confetti guns showered the crowd in strips of colored paper while children and adults handed members of the St. Alfio Society money they pinned to ribbons draped across the statues of Saints Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino.
The crowd cheered, “Viva St. Alfio!” over the over again as the excitement reached a fever pitch. The crowd of people that packed the street in front of the church included Stephanie Sewade, who brought along her husband, Vernon Sewade.
Stephanie stood beside the vada taking photos for herself, her friends and the St. Alfio Society, before the vada slowly traveled through the old Italian neighborhood, making frequent stops to receive donations of cash.
“My mother and grandmother came from Trecastagni, Sicily, where the Three Saints were martyred,” she said.
Nancy Kady, 75, of Salem, New Hampshire, has been attending the feast ever since she was a child growing up on Common Street, in a home next to the St. Alfio Society building.
“When I was five years old, I rode in the vada, which was a big thrill for me, and when I was 10, I served as the color guard captain for what was then called the Pontiac Drum and Bugle Corps,” Kady said.
For Marie Byrne, it was also a return to her old neighborhood. She brought along her son, Fred Byrne, and her friend Lorraine Gilmartin, of Seabrook, New Hampshire.
“I also live in Seabrook but I grew up on Union Street and I’ve been coming to the feast all my life,” Marie Byrne said.
Byrne has a spiritual connection to the Three Saints. In 1988, she visited Trecastagni, where she kissed a box holding the bones of the holy martyrs, she said.
Since the 1500s, the people of Trecastagni have held a grand “festa” each May 10 in honor of the Three Saints, who rested in the town before being marched to the town of Lentini, where on May 10 in the year 253, the young brothers were martyred for refusing to denounce their Christian faith.
As the story goes, Romans tied 22-year-old Alfio to a post and tore out his tongue as he was the most outspoken of the three. Filadelfo, 21, was burned on a gridiron and Cirino, only 19, was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil.
“My family was from Lawrence and I decided to bring my daughter, Lily Ann, 7, and Ryan, 3, to the feast for the first time,” said Leigh Hajjar, who travelled from Vermont and was among a number of people sitting in chairs outside of Tripoli Bakery and Pizza. “It’s been a long time since I came to the feast.”
If it was food you were looking for, this year’s feast offered a wide variety, There was carnival food such as fried dough, pizza, and sausage sandwiches, as well as Hispanic specialties like empanadas and pastelitos, and the Italian favorites such as crispelli and arancini.
St. Alfio Society member Tony Palmisano, who co-chaired this year’s feast with fellow St. Alfio Society member Tony Bruzzese, said the society tried something new this year by introducing its Cafe Tre Santi, along with a wine and beer garden. Both were set up in the church parking lot along with dining tables and chairs under large tents.
“We introduced our cafe to bring certain authentic Italian foods that were not being offered by other vendors,” Palmisano said. “We wanted to fill the void and people loved it.”
The menu at Cafe Tre Santi included shrimp or mussel scampi, friend calamari or shrimp, eggplant parmigiana and various types of pasta.
The feast culminated in the evening with the “Moment of Glory.” The vada came to a stop in front of the St. Alfio Society building. The marching bands played, an angel character strung high above the street was lowered, confetti flew, pigeons were released and a banner honoring the Three Saints floated away, carried into the sky by helium balloons.