HAMMONTON — The Capelli family was in front of St. Joseph Church on Thursday afternoon, awaiting the start of the 140th procession of saints on Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast Day.

Their ancestor Antonio Capelli, of Pine Road, started the group that puts on the nation’s longest-running Italian festival and procession, back in 1875.

CathyCapelli Viers lives with her husband, Jeff Viers, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but often comes back for festival week.

She and sister Patti Capelli are direct descendents and have relatives living on Pine Road, said Cathy, although she grew up on Middle Road. Her mom, Anna, still lives in town, she said.

In all the years the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society has held the procession, this was the first time a bishop accompanied them on their 2½-hour walk through town.

Camden Diocese Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan walked with society members, as volunteers pushed statues of saints from St. Joseph Catholic Church on wheeled pedestals, collecting donations from the faithful along the way.

The society’s all-male membership is limited to 50 and mainly open to descendents of the founders, or to men who marry into original families. Occasionally an “outsider” is elected to membership if there are no descendents in line, but it is rare, said Lou Pantalone Sr., whose family has held memberships since about 1918, he said.

He is a former secretary of the group, his son David is the current secretary, another son Lou Pantalone Jr. is a member, and his nephew Lou J. Pantalone is the president.

Members get a lot of help from family members and volunteers in putting on the weeklong festival, he said.

In the morning, Bishop Sullivan honored the town’s Catholics for continuing their ancestors’ traditions at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society Mass, and encouraged them to see the similarities between their own family histories and those of immigrants coming to the United States today.

“Your ancestors originated the feast to thank God for their new homeland of America,” he told society members and their families.

At the time, Italian immigrants met with prejudice and ridicule, he said. But they were brave.

“They followed traditions they knew from the old country,” Sullivan said during the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church across Third Street from the festival grounds. “Fidelity to the Catholic faith, to the family, and to the community in Hammonton. These are the anchors.

“And when the Holy Father comes to visit (Philadelphia) in September, he is coming to celebrate La Familia — family,” Sullivan said.

Those same fidelities distinguish new immigrants to the United States today, he said.

Sullivan didn’t mention recent negative comments about Mexican immigrants by presidential candidate Donald Trump, but his words clearly drew a parallel between their experiences today and Italian American experiences in the past.

“All of us here owe an enormous debt to our immigrant ancestors,” he said. “I belong here today as one of you. My name may be Sullivan, but for today you can call me Sullivano.”

Michael Barbere, 78, of Atlantic City, attended the Mass, and planned to walk in the procession later in the day. He said he has participated each year since he was a child.

So has 80-year-old Anthony Mino, of Hammonton, who always walks with St. Lucy the patron saint of people with ailments of the eyes. After wearing thick lenses all his life, his sight was virtually restored to 20-20 through surgery, and he is grateful, he said.

Eleanor Pasquarello, of Philadelphia, said she comes to the procession every year because her family always attended, back to her grandmother. She donated to St. Joseph as his statue passed.

“My husband passed away two years ago, and his name was Joseph,” she said.

Festival week and Feast Day activities are a fundraiser for the St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish here. The festival, with food, rides and entertainment, runs through Saturday night at the festival grounds on Third Street. Visit mountcarmelsociety.org.

Contact: 609-272-7219

Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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