Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Faith in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a "cool" place. That's just not my opinion, it's the opinion of the thousands of young people (some of them artists) who have made it a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood. It's a great mix of people and cultures-an older, established neighborhood made up of native Brooklynites mixing and living alongside young "hipsters," from all over the country who live and work there. Whenever I visit or go for lunch there, I'm amazed at the crowds walking along Bedford Ave. or eating in the restaurants, especially on the weekends. It's a very alive and "hip" place. I like to look at it as a thriving neighborhood, but also as a living, breathing "museum" of sorts.
A New York Times article on Monday titled, "Still Taking to the Streets to Honor Their Saints," by David Gonzalez, mentions the religious processions in Williamsburg which have gone on for decades in the Italian enclave in North Williamsburg. I attended a backyard party and watched a procession in honor of St. Paulinus of Nola a few years ago and it was a great experience-very Brooklyn. Similiar to the Brooklyn that I remember as a child. The Giglio feast at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg is a great collective effort on the part of the Church community and it raises money for the parish.
Gentrification is never without problems and apparently some "old-timers" in Williamsburg don't appreciate the lack of respect some young people show for the religious processions. I quote from the article, "For decades, the faithful who lived in the wood-frame houses along the route of an Italian enclave in North Williamsburg, Bklyn, knew their duty during the area's many religious processions. As the elaborately carved statues would approach, they darted out to the street to pay their respects or to join the procession. Today, another ritual has emerged: curious hipsters whipping out cellphones to take a snapshot. 'It used to be the whole street was waiting to give money,' recalled Lucy D'Alto, a longtime resident of Devoe St. 'We don't see that now. They don't understand. They see it as something superficial. They don't respect us.'"
Perhaps that's the problem, they don't understand the importance of religious processions for Catholics. They don't understand the saints that are being honored. Perhaps if there was greater understanding, they would be more respectful of the processions.  What about printing cards with information about the saints on them, so they could be given to anyone who wanted to know more? That might help. Sounds like an evangelization team might work to deepen understanding and do some "bridge-building."
Some of the onlookers at the parade last Sunday which honored St. Cono, made the observation, "It's kind of like a vestige of the old neighborhoods of Brooklyn." Well, that's true and I would guess that's one of the reasons young, creative people were drawn to the neighborhood in the first place. It's culturally, ethnically and spiritually rich with Italians, Hispanics, Orthodox Jewish people and other ethnic groups living side by side. Isn't that one of the reasons young people from all over the country (and even the world) are drawn to Brooklyn and have helped real estate prices go through the roof, in many neighborhoods. Brooklyn has great ethnic diversity, great food (the best bread and pizza), it's close to Manhattan and it's a short train ride to the ocean, the Atlantic Ocean that is. 
There will be about 20 processions in Williamsburg this year, honoring a variety of saints. The biggest and most elaborate feast and procession will begin in July for the Giglio Feast. Preparations are made throughout the year for the incredible event. You can learn more about it at their website at-
If you've never attended the Giglio Feast you should try to do so, if you are nearby. It's a great celebration of religious traditions, highlighting some of the great religious heritage of Brooklyn and it shows how a community of faith carries on a tradition for future generations of believers.