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the committee, at rest

The men who are entrusted to carry the saint on her procession are all members of a family that’s been doing this important task for centuries. When we asked how that family was originally chosen, our guide said it was so long ago that no one knows. That sort of dedication to a saint, to personal beliefs, to a community is admirable. And is something that I do not believe I’ve witnessed before.

Thank you for your patience as I presented all these photos of Sicily. It took me several months to commit to making the trip; finally making the commitment to go was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. So, here’s my Big Important Advice: don’t put off doing that thing that you think you want to do but aren’t sure about it because this might not be the best time or your schedule might be too tight to make it work or what about that other thing that you’ll miss at home (or at the office) if you go. If you CAN, you should.

Bivona, Sicily
photographed 9.4.2022

 

 

la processione

Later on the day of the saint’s feast, Santa Rosalia was carried on a procession through the town. A trio of priests led the way, and a marching band followed. The saint is heavy – and top-heavy, too – so there were frequent stops. The local residents followed on the sidewalks or crowded into the street.

Because our visit was well-known in Bivona and because we’d met the Mayor earlier that day, he was kind about waving us into good positions in front of the procession. And the townspeople were also very nice about our participation in an event that was a sacred day for them but which could have easily been perceived as a novelty to us. It was easy to get caught up in the magic (which is a thing that sounds like an easy cliche, but it really did feel that way).

Bivona, Sicily
photographed 9.4.2022

technology and the ancient saint

I would guess that nearly everyone at the church that day used their phones to document at least part of what was going on.

Chiesa Parrocchiale di Santa Rosalia
Bivona, Sicily
photographed 9.4.2022

the saint’s kindly face

After the saint was moved from her niche, the faithful in attendance began to press forward – to briefly place their hands on the base of the statue, to take photos (or pose for them), to stand in silence for a moment.

Our group, without even seeming to have made a decision, headed for the stairs down from the loft (where yesterday’s photo was made), and joined the people moving toward Santa Rosalia. Why did we join up? I am not sure. What did we think would happen when we got to the saint’s statue? I have no idea. And what did happen when we got there? I can’t explain.

Chiesa Parrocchiale di Santa Rosalia
Bivona, Sicily
photographed 9.4.2022

preparing for the move

“How weird that my eyes are so sweaty.” -actual thought I had, standing on that church balcony.

Our group was in Bivona, Sicily, on the feast day for the their patron saint, Santa Rosalia. Following Mass, the church members prepared to move the saint from her niche in the front of the church. Later that day, men of the town would carry her on their shoulders as they processed through the narrow streets. It was the first time they’d been able to hold the Mass and procession since 2019. It was clearly an emotional event.

Through our outstanding tour leader, Allison Scola, from Experience Sicily, we had remarkable access to the day’s events, including getting to watch the process of moving Santa Rosalia from a vantage point that gave us a unique view.

And this is the part I cannot explain – and I’ve been trying to understand it every day since it happened. The faith shown by the townspeople seemed so pure, so real, so honest, so truthful, so much a part of their lives. It was the most honest expression of faith (and maybe even of Faith, since that’s two different things, perhaps) that I have ever witnessed. I didn’t understand what anyone was saying. I don’t have any particular knowledge of Catholic traditions. I am generally a skeptical person. But this: it wasn’t so much that my eyes were sweating. It was in fact tears, tears I couldn’t stop, tears I was surprised to be shedding, tears at the beauty, the faith that I was witnessing.

I still don’t understand it in ways that I can write down. But, I know what I saw. I know how it impacted me. I know I will never be the same.

And that’s a lot.

Chiesa Parrocchiale di Santa Rosalia
Bivona, Sicily
photographed 9.4.2022

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