By LINDA MOSS
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Sunday rolled out the red carpet for a delegation from Montclair’s sister city Aquilonia, and also heard tell of a purported miracle that happened when township officials visited Italy this summer.
Sunday’s local festivities — outside in the rain and inside the Pine Street church, founded in Montclair by Italian immigrants from Aquilonia — included a short procession from the church’s St. Vito Social Club, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, to the brick house of worship. The Montclair Police Honor Guard and the Knights of Columbus Honor Guard took part, and Hillside Elementary School’s Drums of Thunder played outside in front of the church before everyone entered for the 11 a.m. Mass.
At lunchtime after Mass, the Italians got a taste of the American tradition of Thanksgiving, feasting on roasted turkey in the church’s lower room.
Local officials who visited Aquilonia this summer as part of the sister-city program were in attendance at the club, and most went on to the Mass. They included Township Mayor Robert Jackson, at-Large Councilman Rich McMahon, First Ward Councilman William Hurlock and Municipal Clerk Linda Wanat. Deputy Mayor Robin Schlager, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville and at-Large Councilman Bob Russo also came, as did Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford and Fire Department Chief John Herrmann.
Jackson briefly addressed the several hundred attendees at the Mass, thanking the visitors and noting that many of the township’s Italian-Americans have their roots in Aquilonia. The mayor then went on to describe an incident involving clerk Wanat when the Montclair contingent visited a shrine dedicated to St. Michael during its sister-city journey to Italy.
Wanat’s granddaughter had long been suffering from an illness, which Jackson did not identify, and while at the shrine Wanat said a prayer for her granddaughter, according to the mayor. Shortly after that, Wanat got a call from her daughter in America, according to Jackson, saying “by some miracle” the granddaughter no longer needed treatments for her illness.
“That convinced me, if nothing else, that prayers are answered,” Jackson said.
During the Mass an Aquilonia council member, Mirco Annunziata, read the second reading in Italian, while Hurlock read the first one in English. The Rev. Amilcar Benito Prado, the new administrator of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, briefly welcomed the Italian visitors to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and the parish’s new vicar, the Rev. Samuel Monaco Jr., said Mass.
A year ago the Archdiocese of Newark merged OLMC and the Church of the Immaculate Conception on North Fullerton Avenue to create a new parish, St. Teresa. OLMC parishioners, led by Raffaele Marzullo and several others, feared their church would be shuttered and have waged a campaign to keep it open. Marzullo led the effort to create the Sister City relationship with Aquilonia, where he was born, and accompanied township officials there this summer.
The Italian delegation and parishioners were invited to the luncheon, where Marzullo said seven turkeys had been prepared to feed the group. The spread also included Italian fare, like stuffed shells.
The Italian group, which arrived in New Jersey last Thursday, is slated to participate in New York City’s Columbus Day Parade on Monday, marching with the New York City Police Department. So far the group’s activities have included visits to Montclair State University and Eagle Rock Reservation. They are also slated to get a private tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
In addition to Annunziata, the visiting Aquilonia contingent includes: Vito Maglione, town councilor; Raffaele Michele Gala, president, Aquilonia Sister City Committee; Fausto Gala, welcoming committee member; Vito Antonio Ramundo, welcoming committee member; Walter Capone, journalist and welcoming committee member; Maria Donna Capone; and Fabio Diego Lotrecchiano, Aquilonia Sister City Committee member.
At the Mass Jackson said that the township has forged what will be an ongoing relationship with Aquilonia and Italy. There’s an opportunity to encourage Italian businesses to engage in more trade with North Jersey, according to Marzullo.
“I believe we have planted a great seed,” the mayor said.
With Marzullo translating, Annunziata said he had enjoyed the presentation that the Township Fire Departments had done for his delegation.
“The trip has been more than they expected,” said Marzullo, who anticipated that the delegation wouldn’t be prepared for the magnitude of the Columbus Day parade.
“They can just imagine what it’s about,” Marzullo said. “They can’t fathom it. They have to physically see it.”
Through Marzullo, Annunziata said that Montclair’s Italian-Americans “have greeted us with open arms, and we’ve exchanged lives together.”
The Council officially recognized Aquilonia as a sister city in January of this year, “acknowledging the significant role played by Italian Americans in the community.” In June the delegation of Montclair visited the city.
Marzullo and local officials said that township funds are not being used to host the Italian delegation, who will be staying in a hotel in the Meadowlands. The Italians paid for their own airline tickets, and there has been fundraising by the township’s sister-city committee and donations by sponsors to pay for the visit.