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La Madonna del Lume: Our Most Holy Mother of Light

16 9.14.17_la.festa PAGELa Festa della Madonna del Lume is a Roman Catholic celebration and tradition established in 1935 at Sts. Peter and Paul church in North Beach by the families of Sicilian fishermen, a tradition originating in the fishing village of Porticello, Sicily. Participants process with a painting of La Madonna del Lume aboard a float for eight blocks from the church to the Fishermen’s and Seamen’s Memorial Chapel in Fisherman’s Wharf. This year’s festivities take place Sept. 29-Oct. 1. (Courtesy photo)

September 14, 2017
Bertina Cannizzaro

Since a very young age, I have been blessed to be a part of the beautiful tradition of celebrating La Madonna del Lume, Our Most Holy Mother of Light, each year in San Francisco. This is a Roman Catholic celebration and tradition established in 1935 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in North Beach by the families of Sicilian fishermen, a tradition originating in the fishing village of Porticello, Sicily.

Each October, over the last 82 years, after a solemn High Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, a faithfully devoted group of men and women, old and young alike, and a young queen of La Festa della Madonna del Lume, walk in a procession with a painting of La Madonna del Lume aboard a beautifully decorated float for eight blocks from the church to the Fishermen’s and Seamen’s Memorial Chapel at Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf. There, a Salesian priest sprinkles holy water on the boats, blessing all of the fishermen, and prays for their protection from harm. He also asks for “abbondanza” in the catch. In Porticello, Sicily, La Festa della Madonna del Lume is also still thriving, with the festa spanning the full first week of October each year, and the entire municipality participating in the procession of La Madonna with fireworks and veneration of La Madonna at the original church of Madonna del Lume.

This beautiful religious and cultural celebration was passed on to me through my family’s Sicilian Catholic heritage and many years of community collaboration to keep this special tradition alive and vibrant in San Francisco. I learned from a young age about the purity, grace and strength of our Most Holy Mother Mary, La Madonna, as our protective, loving and most powerful ambassador of Christ in the midst of a challenging and often chaotic world. As a dedicated and loving mother with her children, La Madonna comforts each of us with the light of faith, hope and love through all of our subtle and most profound challenges and afflictions.

La Festa della Madonna del Lume shares quite visibly with our community a tradition and a profound story of faith and hope. It is a story of the powerful intercession of La Madonna on behalf of a group of Sicilian fishermen many years ago, who were tormented and cast off course by torrential storms at sea and faced the tragedy of perishing at sea. These seafaring men, although experienced at sea, were frightened, unsure and desperate for guidance and safety to return safely to shore, to embrace their families and community once more.

It was in these moments of grave darkness and fear in which God answered the faithful prayers of these fishermen, who had humbled themselves in complete trust and devotion to God. God answered their prayers with a glowing light illuminating the dark sky above. As the wise men once followed the guiding star over Bethlehem to visit our newborn savior over 2,000 years ago, the Sicilian fishermen gratefully recognized and received God’s blessing and answer to their prayers, and faithfully followed the glowing light He shown above to guide them safely home again.

Upon returning safely home, the fishermen continued to follow the mysterious guiding light above to a grotto near Porticello. Exploring the sea cave, they found a slab of marble bearing the Madonna’s image. They carried it in to town, but twice it mysteriously returned to the grotto. The community decided to leave the image of La Madonna at the grotto and build a church on the spot to protect it. It is fervently believed in Sicily that the lives of hundreds of fishermen have been saved by the intervention of Maria Santissima del Lume, Our Most Holy Mother of Light, the guardian and patroness of fishermen. To this day, we continue to celebrate and honor La Madonna del Lume for her guidance and intercession to help guide fishermen safely home and into Christ’s light.

This story is for fishermen, and it is truly a story for all of us, wherever we are on our journey in life. It is a story of a return home, and it is also a story of a return to faith, a return to God. How many times in our lives have we been lost, confused, uncertain, or fearful? “Lost at sea,” so to speak. Whether we are fishermen at sea, laborers on land, or workers at home, in cities, or in foreign nations, this story gives each of us hope that there is always a light, no matter how dark, and there is always faith, no matter how hopeless our situation. This remembrance of La Madonna del Lume shows us how powerful Our Most Holy Mother’s intercession is on our behalf as Christ’s ambassador of light to each of us.

As Catholics, especially as we prepare for the consecration of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to the Immaculate Heart of Mary this October, we honor, venerate, and cherish our Most Holy Mother, Mary, and give thanks for the warmth of God’s guidance and light, which She so lovingly shares with each of us. Through Mary’s faithfulness and obedience to God and her constant presence in the midst of all of life’s difficulties, La Madonna generously and lovingly comforts each of us, transcending our despair, and illuminating all darkness with Christ’s eternal light, love, hope and mercy.

Contact Bertina Cannizzaro, outreach coordinator for La Madonna del Lume Society, at mdlnewssf@yahoo.com for more information about La Festa della Madonna del Lume festivities Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in San Francisco.

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