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Saying goodbye to Giglio, priest - Father Fonti’s departure from Mount Carmel announced as festival drew to a close

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Father Joseph Fonti approached the altar to lead one of dozens of celebration masses in honor of San Paolino and Our Lady of Mount Carmel for the last time last week.

“I feel like a kid who is enjoying something so much when his mother says, you have to share with your brother,” said Father Fonti, who will be stepping down in August, moving to the Brooklyn Queens Dioceses’ seminary in Douglaston, while Monsignor Joseph Calise will assume the duties of the parish. “I want to share this gift with the next pastor. It has been an uplifting part of my life and I’m sure it will be one for him too.”

While the annual feast’s signature event, the Dancing of the Giglio and the Boat attracts tens of thousands of revelers on Sundays during Feast Week, thousands of pilgrims from as far away as Florida, Chicago and Rhode Island join Williamsburg parishioners to attend High Mass and participate in devotionals at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (1 Havemayer Street).

The festival serves as a family reunion, fundraiser and communal devotion all wrapped up into a week-long series of masses and parades. Nine masses alone took place on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16, in English, Spanish, Italian, Polish and Creole. Haitians from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan took two or three buses to practice their devotion during high mass at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and walk in the procession through the streets of Williamsburg.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who has been coming to the Feast for the past 35 years, attended the festival’s Coronation Mass on July 9. He believes that the festival has become more of a media event than in the past, as an increasing number of former parishioners return to Williamsburg for the Dancing of the Giglio.

“This particular mass is important because it opens the feast and it is before the public spectacle,” Lentol said. “It gives locals the opportunity to celebrate the mass together.”

Father Fonti stated that while the parish has lost some population due to real estate pressures and shifting demographics, baptisms remain stable and the community continues to support the parish.

“We are grateful for the membership we have and the welcome mat is at the door,” Fonti said. “We are building new bridges and we want to be a house of welcome. This neighborhood becomes a lifelong romance for people.”

The parish raises much of its funding through the series of events and fundraisers that occur during Feast Week, attended by many former Brooklyn residents who have maintained an attachment to the church and pilgrims making devotional journeys.

“The nucleus of the neighborhood has spread out but there’s a steady influx of newcomers,” said Dan Konefal, a religious instructor and Williamsburg resident. “We want more people seeing what we’re doing and coming in.”

At the 3 p.m. Celebration Mass in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16, Reverend Octavio Cisneros, an Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, urged parishioners to not be afraid and leave their troubles at the church steps.

“Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God,” Cisneros said. “Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”

At the end of the mass parishioners and pilgrims alike prepared to carry the Statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel through the streets of Williamsburg, bringing the customs of the church into a community that has rapidly changed around it. As Father Fonti and Monsignor Calise bounded down the steps to join the procession, Ben Kasmider, a parishioner from Queens reflected the mixed emotions he experienced during the week’s ceremonies.

“The parades are a bit of bread and circus but the masses were beautiful,” Kasmider said.

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