The traditional Italian Festa: Toward a theology of communion and catechesis

Philip Anthony Franco, Fordham University


Contemporary theologians and religious educators are currently revisiting the issue of popular religious traditions as practiced by various ethnic groups. Once considered by many to be primitive and superstitious rituals devoid of true theological or educational substance, popular religious traditions are now valued by many as genuine expressions of the spirituality and theological worldview of a given people. This study approaches popular religious traditions in this positive sense, seeking to establish the value of such traditions as a means of socializing youth into the Christian community. This study specifically examines the popular religious traditions of Italian Americans. Through the celebration of the traditional Feast, called Festa, persons of Italian heritage honor God and the saints with elaborate processions, spirited liturgies and various other forms of secular and religious festivities within their Churches and throughout the local streets. Much more than a simple party or isolated event, the Festa is an integral part of the religious and social experience of many Italian American Catholics and assists in establishing their theological worldview and their connection to the Church community. In celebrating these Feasts, the study contends that Italians establish and maintain the bonds of Christian Communion with God, the saints, and one another. In doing so, they socialize the young into the beliefs and values of the Catholic Christian faith and establish communities in which to live out this faith into adulthood. While many variations of the Festa tradition exist and are celebrated throughout the United States, this study focuses primarily on the southern Italian Giglio Feast in honor of Saint Paulinus of Nola. It relates ethnographic research conducted in 2005 at the 118th annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Paulinus of Nola, celebrated in Brooklyn, New York. The participant observation in this Feast is documented and analyzed from both a theological and catechetical perspective. The study contends that the Festa tradition, as represented by the specific Brooklyn Feast studied, is rooted in a theology of Koinonia, or Christian Communion. The work of various theologians on the communal nature of the Church is examined and the theology of the Feast is elucidated in light of their work. Finally, the study suggests that contemporary religious educators might benefit from examining this and similar popular religious traditions as means of incorporating the young into the Church, fostering Christian Communion, and expanding the scope of religious educational endeavors beyond the borders of the traditional classroom.

Subject Area

Religious education|Theology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Franco, Philip Anthony, "The traditional Italian Festa: Toward a theology of communion and catechesis" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3201540.