Faith, family and hometown. They are three basic pillars that people build their lives on. Isn't the third one supposed to be "country"? I was tempted but thought about it. For most of us, our lives happen in our hometown or pretty close to it.
In a Pew Research Center survey, 57 percent say they have not lived in the U.S. outside their current state and 37 percent have never left their hometown. It also finds that people overwhelmingly say they remain because of family ties and because their hometowns are good places to raise children.
Faith, family and my hometown have instilled in me a core belief and strength. They are the foundation of who I am. Sometimes the relationship I've had with them has been very complicated. But this is not the week to dwell on that part. On Sunday, Aug. 18, the Feast of Maria Santissima del Soccorso di Sciacca (MSS) will celebrate its 109th year. The 11:30 a.m. Mass at Holy Saviour Church in Norristown will be followed by a street procession and a day-long social at Saviour Hall. For me, it is one of the few times that faith, family, and hometown are together.
"I have a love for the parish and the people of Norristown. They are wonderful people that I am proud to serve. Every day I see their generosity, faith and love of God. It's magnificent," said Monsignor Charles Sangermano, pastor of Holy Saviour Church.
My grandparents where a part of the MSS club when it was located on Marshall Street and the feast was a three-day-long event. It was an annual rite of summer that brought family together that we only saw at holidays.
There is power in a community gathering. The area feasts are open to everyone, not just parishioners or Catholics. Any type of event that invites the town -- from arts fests, farmers markets to feasts -- are necessary and important. It instills a sense of pride in the town and camaraderie among neighbors.
Talking about one's faith in the pages of a newspaper has a certain taboo to it. Some columnists never mention it. In the 10 months I've written this weekly column, I've mentioned my ties to Holy Saviour School and church. It is a part of who I am. A big part. So is my family. So is Norristown.
Many of those who attend and volunteer for the area feasts feel the same way. A few of them go above and beyond. I only had to look in the kitchen.
Carl Venezia has been manning the steaming pots containing the feasts signature pork sandwiches for almost four decades.
"My grandfather was a charter member and I got involved in my 20s," said Venezia who grew up on Oak Street minutes from the MSS club. "The feast was a tradition we grew up in. The day of the procession we had relatives over the house. It was a big, day-long celebration."
"A lot of generous people help with execution of all three feasts," said Monsignor Sangermano referring to the Holy Saviour and Mount Carmel feasts. "Carl is a wonderful example of the zeal and devotion the people of this town have to their patron saint."
When the MSS feast was a three-day event, Venezia, his father and brothers made up to 3,800 pounds. For the one-day event, they prepare 1,900 pounds two weeks ahead. On Sunday, Venezia will be joined in the kitchen by his son-in-law and Duke LaPenta. They will be manning six large pans on the stove while Venezia constantly tastes and seasons the pork to assure optimal flavor. He will only have one sandwich on the sturdy Conshohocken Bakery roll.
"It makes me proud because my family has been in the meat business for 53 years," said Venezia, whose butcher shop is located on Germantown Pike in Plymouth Meeting. "It's part of family pride. I feel like I'm keeping our family tradition going at the same time of the MSS tradition."
"The pork sandwich, there is something about it that you only want to have it in context of the feast," said Monsignor Sangermano. "It's good at home but it's extra good at the feast."
When Monsignor said that I was still trying to get over the fact that he tries to discipline himself and only have one sandwich during the feast. Maybe two if he was especially hungry. I am good for at least two after the procession, and I may or may not bring a few home for later.
I had a few days to think over his words and I have to agree that even the pork sandwich -- okay sandwiches -- I have later that day are not the same.
Maybe some things are meant to be together. Like the feast and pork sandwiches, enjoyed in the comfort of family and faith in my hometown.