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Mount Carmel pastor reflects on the Giglio

One week before the launch of the Festival of the Giglio, Monsignor Joseph Calise of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church walked down North 8th Street toward Havemeyer and stopped short at the curb, staring at a row of parked cars.

“The ConEdison crane already moved the metal base for the Giglio tower but we can’t move the base for the boat down the street because of the cars,” Calise said.“We forgot to put up ‘No Parking’ signs and now we have to move the cars.”

Assisting with logistics of the Feast of San Paolino is one of the many duties that Father Calise will be taking up over the next few weeks during the duration of the festival, Williamsburg’s largest cultural event of the year.

Twenty thousand people are expected to flood the Northside between July 8 and July 19, though most of the activity will be concentrated on Havemeyer Street in front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (275 North 8th Street).

On Sunday, July 12, Williamsburg’s Italian community will celebrate the return of the Bishop of Nola from Moorish captivity with a parade, mass, and the official Dancing of the Giglio, the main event of the feast.During the dance, nearly 200 men will lift a four-ton, two-story wooden and metal tower into the air and rotate it on command for four hours before joining a two-ton wooden boat, while a 10-piece band plays traditional Italian songs to the delight of a crowd of thousands.

This is Father Calise’s first year as pastor and unofficial coordinator of the festival.A board of church parishioners, helped by six dozen volunteers, handle everything from fundraising to booking rides and street vendors, operating the bazaar and flea market, and making sure all the lifters know where to go and when to lift.

“People come from all over the country,” said Calise.“I came last year to learn what the scheduling is like and all the behind-the-scenes things.It takes a lot of work for this to be put together.The work is being done by a crew of very dedicated volunteers.”

Calise came to Williamsburg after serving in parishes in Ridgewood, Woodside and Corona, Queens.This is his first Brooklyn parish, though he says that every parish has been unique in its own way.

“There’s a history of people here in this parish as members of the Giglio committee before some parishes were even open,” said Calise.“There’s a sense of history and tradition.”Brooklyn-Queens has always been known as a Diocese of immigrants.We’ve always had to respond to the needs of newcomers,” he said.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was originally located on Union Avenue, before being dismantled and relocated in 1950 after Robert Moses’ Brooklyn-Queens Expressway bisected the neighborhood.Williamsburg, like many neighborhoods in New York, experienced declines and rapid growth in the intervening decade, though the feast has fostered a sense of neighborhood identity among those who have stayed and those who return.

Father Calise knows that many of the newer residents may be unfamiliar with the traditions of Mount Carmel but hopes that the Feast will introduce them to Italian culture in Williamsburg, the Church, and the K-12 Northside Academy which is looking to enroll students next year.

“New residents are looking for a kind of connectedness and we can provide a sense of roots and tradition that is already established in this neighborhood,” he said.

Those concerns will have to wait until after the festival.Meanwhile, there was the small matter of moving the steel frame of the boat to its proper place.

The Dancing of the Giglio occurs on 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 12, and the festival continues through Sunday, July 19.For more information about the feast, visit www.olmcfeast.com.

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