Columbus Faithful Navigate New York Festivities

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The chief of staff of the U.S. Army, a New York City police officer, a bishop from Italy and a just-engaged couple were among the multitudes of Catholic Italians who commemorated Christopher Columbus through prayer and a parade on Columbus Day, Oct. 8, in Manhattan.

Bishop Antonino Raspanti of the Diocese of Acireale in Sicily, Italy, delivered the homily at the 9:30 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “Beyond economic and political interests, Columbus believed that God had entrusted him with a mission,” Bishop Raspanti said.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn served as principal celebrant. Cardinal Egan was in attendance. Concelebrants included Auxiliary Bishops Dennis Sullivan, Dominick Lagonegro and Gerald Walsh, and priests of the archdiocese.

Cardinal Dolan was unable to celebrate the Mass as he is in Rome participating in the Synod for Bishops on the New Evangelization at the Vatican, which opened Oct. 7.

“On this Columbus Day, I join in solidarity with you as we pay tribute to our Italian immigrants who brought their Catholic faith to the shores of America and who enriched our land with their love of God and loyalty to His Church,” Cardinal Dolan said in a letter to the faithful Oct. 8.

Bishop Raspanti, in his homily, spoke about the New Evangelization and the universal Church’s celebration of the Year of Faith, which began Oct. 11 and concludes Nov. 24, 2013.

“Decades later, you, the sons and daughters of immigrants, have a new challenge in this Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict. In this year, the New Evangelization calls us to engage in a dialogue with the world—not to be complacent and remain confined in our ethnic or religious communities, but to accept the challenge to speak and bear witness to our faith in the public square.”

The 68th annual Columbus Day Parade, sponsored by the Columbus Citizens Foundation of New York, followed the Mass, running north on Fifth Avenue. Among the parade honorees was Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who has served as the 38th chief of staff since September 2011.

“The Catholic Church plays a large role in any Italian’s life growing up, as it did in mine,” he told CNY after the Mass, before marching in the parade.

And it continues to, particularly through his command with the military. “We talk about physical fitness, mental fitness and spiritual fitness,” Gen. Odierno said. All three are crucial, the general added, “especially when you’re operating in environments that have a lot of pressure.”

“Having a spiritual means to continue to rely on is very, very important.”

Gen. Odierno observed the examples set by the day’s namesake as well as by his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from Italy. “Christopher Columbus had tremendous courage for what he did, in trying to reach out and change the world. I also relate that to my grandfather who had incredible courage coming here from Italy. To me, it’s that courage that drives us.”

The nation’s history of advocating for religious liberty for all also resonates with the general. “How fortunate we are to live in this great country of ours and the fact that we can have the chance to practice our religion in any way we see fit,” he said. “That’s not the case in a lot of places around the world.”

The parade’s grand marshal was Mario J. Gabelli, a philanthropist and investment innovator who grew up in the Bronx. An alumnus of Fordham Preparatory School and Fordham University, Gabelli, in 2010, donated $25 million to Fordham University to help globalize its undergraduate business program, known now as the Fordham University Gabelli School of Business.

The parade was viewed by many Catholics from the steps of the cathedral at Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st streets. The V.I.P. section there, which included a red carpet cascade for prelates, dignitaries and select guests, was also the venue for the marriage proposal of Mark Ventimiglia of the Diocese of Brooklyn to Mary Ellen Fontana D’Angelis of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The couple, both 53, are of Italian descent.

An honor guard of the Knights of Columbus from the Second New York District of the Fourth Degree were on duty throughout their namesake’s day.

New York City Police Officer Dan Foran of the 111th precinct was also on duty, stationed outside the cathedral throughout the Mass and parade.

“Italians have very strong family values,” added Foran, 24, whose father was born in Italy.

Having a strong family background helps Foran in his job, particularly when he is dispatched to calls involving domestic disputes, he said.

“Sometimes it just helps being from a heritage and culture where family is so important,” he said. “It helps us to also be able to talk to people when we arrive on domestic incidents or situations about why family is important and to subdue the situation.”

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