Portland church festival celebrates Italian heritage, community

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PORTLAND — The undisputed highlight of the annual Italian bazaar at St. Peter’s Church is the food, particularly the pastry, from cannoli to almond cakes to traditional cookies.

In all, organizers are expecting to bake about 7,300 cookies for the event, which is billed as “a beloved neighborhood street festival,” by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

The bazaar will be held Friday-Sunday, Aug. 11-13, and will include live music as well as carnival games, a variety of booths, a lottery with $5,000 in prizes and special events held each day.

The festival is held in mid-August every year to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Feast of Saint Rocco, according to the Diocese.

Saint Rocco is venerated as a protector against the plague and all contagious diseases. He was born in France in 1340 to noble parents and was known for having a red cross-shaped birthmark on the left side of his chest.

The event also honors “the heritage, family and faith of a special community,” the Diocese said in a press release.

St. Peter’s Church is at 72 Federal St. This will be the 92nd year the Italian bazaar has been held.

The event is free and open to the public and runs 5-9 p.m. Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday and 4-8 p.m. Sunday. Among the special events being planned are a Mass held by Bishop Robert Deeley at 4 p.m. Saturday.

The mass will include hymns sung in both Italian and English and will be followed by a procession in which the statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Rocco will be carried into the street.

Thousands of local residents, along with parishioners, are expected to attend the three-day festival, the Diocese said.

In preparation for the bazaar, over 60 volunteers are expected to turn out Wednesday to take part in the day-long cookie bake.

The volunteers run the gamut from youngsters lending a hand for the first time to older parishioners who have taken part in the festival for decades, the Diocese said.

“We are blessed to have the help and support of younger people who enjoy participating and working at the festival with the older generation serving as role models and mentors,” Ellie Fields-Cooper, coordinator of the cookie bake, said.

After the cookies come out of the ovens, rows of volunteers sit at tables “diligently performing various tasks from frosting to packaging,” according to the Diocese press release.

Volunteering at the cookie bake is “a way to give back and help our parish stay strong,” said Nancy Taliento-Goodwin, a parishioner at St. Peter’s for more than 60 years.

It’s also a way to “perpetuate our traditions (and) the importance of family and faith,” Fields-Cooper added.

“Most of us have known each other all of our lives,” she said. “We not only share our Italian heritage, history and faith, but we have seen each other through many challenges and triumphs.

“We are so blessed. There is nothing more important in life than the love and good times you share with family and friends (and) we have that in abundance.”

Preorders of pastries are available by emailing Taliento-Goodwin at egoodwin@maine.rr.com.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Scores of volunteers are expected to turn out Wednesday to bake cookies for this weekend’s 92nd annual Italian bazaar at St. Peter’s Church on Federal Street in Portland.

Parishioners at St. Peter’s Church in Portland work hard every year to make enough cannoli to satisfy attendees at the annual Italian bazaar.

This weekend, St. Peter’s Church in downtown Portland will host its 92nd annual Italian bazaar and street fair at 72 Federal St.