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Blessing of the Fleet celebrates faith and culture of Fremantle


The Blessing of the Fleet once again succeeded in bringing people of diverse cultural backgrounds together in celebration of faith, fishing traditions and the wider Fremantle community. Image: Sourced

By Marco Ceccarelli

Scenes reminiscent of processions held in southern Italian villages to honour the saints could be seen through the streets of Fremantle on Sunday, 25 October 2015.

The Blessing of the Fleet once again succeeded in bringing people of diverse cultural backgrounds together in celebration of faith, fishing traditions and the wider Fremantle community.

Beginning with a morning Mass celebrated by Archbishop Emeritus Barry Hickey under the majestic arches of St Patrick’s Basilica, the event continued with a procession of thousands down to Fremantle’s Fishing Boat Harbour.

Groups of men carried two Madonna statues on their shoulders, the Madonna dei Martiri (Our Lady of Martyrs) and Madonna di Capo D’Orlando, before placing the statues on two beautifully adorned boats.

Archbishop Emeritus Hickey then cast his blessing over the fleet, asking the Virgin Mary for a bountiful season and to ensure the safety of fisherman at sea.

The procession made its way back to St Patrick’s Basilica, with a brief stopover at the Esplanade for fireworks, while preparations were made for the breathtaking grand fireworks display that sealed an unforgettable day of colour and pageantry at 8pm.

Now in its 67th year, this festa (feast) was introduced to Fremantle by Italian migrant fishermen from the town of Molfetta (southern Italian region of Puglia) in 1948 to venerate their patron saint, the Madonna dei Martiri.

The Molfettesi were then joined by their Sicilian neighbours from the seaside town of Capo d’Orlando, who introduced their own Madonna to the procession.

As one of the biggest and most popular of Italian feasts in Western Australia, the event is symbolic of the loyalties of Italian migrants in Fremantle, as well as Portuguese and Croatian fishermen affiliated with Fremantle’s fishing industry.

The event has built a reputation as being a beautiful opportunity for migrants to remember and pay tribute to their country of origin, while simultaneously celebrating their new home of Fremantle.

In an interview with The Sunday Times Social Reporter, Daniele Foti-Cuzzola, the Mayor of Fremantle, Brad Pettit, stated that the Blessing of the Fleet is an event of great importance to Fremantle as “it captures in many ways the heart of Fremantle and its cultural history”.

“It’s been going now for over 65 years - when Sicilians came to Fremantle and brought that rich tradition with them. It’s fantastic to see that it goes on from year to year,” he said.

Current Founding President of the Blessing of the fleet, John Minutillo, also expressed his admiration and pride at seeing this event celebrated throughout the decades.

The planning of the entire day, he added, did come with a significant effort from those in charge of organisation.

“We would have a meeting once a month and then every fortnight as the event date drew closer. Unfortunately, it is very expensive to put on an event on such a scale: for this, we do a lot of fundraising.

“We have family nights at the Fremantle Italian Club and also go around houses collecting money; people give us a donation and we give them tickets to a variety night concert where there are local singers such as Tony Pantano.

“The night before the event, we usually have The Blessing of the Fleet Ball which attracts a lot of the younger people. We have had more than 500 attendees some years,” he said.

Seeing a year of planning disappear in just one day does not dampen Mr Minutillo’s spirit. He is a firm believer in the benefits of the event for both the fishermen and the greater community of Fremantle and hopes to see the tradition carried on by new generations.

“We believe this event protects and safeguards the fleet during the year. Plus, it attracts many people. Even non-Catholics love seeing the procession as we walk through the streets of Fremantle. They like seeing the Italian culture; you would be surprised at the people in the streets on Sunday to actually see this.

“We also have a Portuguese group that walks through together dressed in their costume… people do really come from everywhere. Personally, I believe it is a great tradition that needs to keep on going.”

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