The Procession of Saint Pio in Astoria

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    Founded in 1879 by German Catholics, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church is clad in the yellow Kreischer brick typical of the south eastern section of Astoria which borders Woodside and Sunnyside. It’s found on 30th Avenue between 44th and 43rd Streets, and if you live anywhere near it, you’re familiar with its bells.

    A massive complex, the church also maintains a parochial school and (or, used to maintain) domestic residences for both priests and nuns.

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    An annual tradition, St. Joseph conducts a procession of the statue of San Pio through the neighborhood. There is a band which plays traditional fair music, and the procession is part of a week-long celebration which culminates in a Parish Carnival.

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    The congregation gathers outside the church after mass and forms an enormous lineup which is festooned with banners and flags.

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    The statue of the saint is escorted from the church. It’s set up on a sort of litter, and ornately decorated with floral arrangements. Dollar bills and mass cards have been pinned to the statuary, offerings from the faithful.

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    The priests lead the procession, and over the loud speakers they catechized that this was no parade, rather it’s a solemn religious procession.

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    The group was organized to proceed up 43rd Street towards 28th Avenue, and as you might observe, the various prayer groups and church societies all carried banners proclaiming their provence. The congregation was praying along with the priests who were speaking on the loudspeakers while they marched.

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    These ladies were carrying what were described as relics of the saint himself. St. Pio of Pietrelcina was a 20th century man, an Italian stigmatic who was canonized by Pope John Paul ll in 2002.

    In life he was known as Padre Pio, and he was a member of the Capuchin order.

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    Padre Pio died in 1968, but remains an inspiration to generations of Roman Catholics.

    This site at catholicwebservices.com describes his life, trials, and struggles against evil in great detail.

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    St. Joseph Parish bought the property on which the church sits in 1879 for $750, under the direction of Bishop John Loughlin. The modern structures were erected in the first decade of the 20th century (likely 1907) under the direction of Bishop Charles McDonnell.

    They conduct Mass in a variety of languages which include Italian, Croatian, and Spanish.

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    History in Queens is not a collection of dry facts gleaned from dusty old books, rather it’s a living and breathing thing. Those of us lucky enough to live here know that, of course.

    I shot a lot more images of the procession, for those who might wish to take a deeper look at the procession and the pageantry offered by the parishioners of St. Joseph, click here for a Flickr slideshow of the entire set.

    Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.

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