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Smiles, moments of reflection and an occasional hearty laugh, are the reactions of the Italian-American community of Los Angeles while watching the documentary film, “Processions of Faith: The Story of Saint Peter’s Italian Catholic Church, its Parishioners and their Saints”. Produced by Justine Mestichelli’s Midair Rose Production and masterfully directed by her husband, Joe Medeiros, upon commission from the Barbera Foundation, the film traces the beginning efforts of the Italian community as a way to bring about a meeting point and to give continuity to their traditions, especially religious ones.
St. Peter's Italian Catholic Church was built in 1904 and from then on, came to be a meeting point and home to the Italians of Los Angeles. Today, the church, which stands like a true cathedral in the desert, along with the Casa Italiana cultural center, are all that remain of the Italian district, engulfed over the years by Chinatown. A part in Lino Cicone’s film reminds us that the fathers and grandfathers of those who attend mass today came to California in search of work not knowing the English language but looking for a place to fit in. In the documentary, the hard times and the unimaginable endeavors of the past, similar to those told by Franco Iezza, are remembered: "My grandfather arrived in Los Angeles in 1892 at the age of eleven; he came from New York on foot, taking him two years". Without forgetting of their roots or traditions, these are stories of a hard, raw life, which led Italian immigrants to redemption and offered them the possibility to change their living conditions for the better- starting from the veneration of saints. The director followed all of the festivities and functions the various religious associations participated in and shared it in the film in a very engaging manner through the parish priest, Father Louis Piran. On this he shares, "commemorations are a nice way to meet and to renew one’s faith, traditions and devotion to a particular saint".
Although each association holds its own ceremonies and its own peculiarities, the whole community always takes part in the events. In fact, it is not limited only to the veneration of the saints, but centers itself around those who are most in need. Every year, each association organizes the St. Joseph Table- the most important event of the year- which requires both organizational and economic efforts. For this occasion, the “Casa Italiana” becomes a place of welcome where the weak can find a hot meal and join in the hospitality of a great family.
Of all of the Italian communities in the United States, the one in Los Angeles is probably the least known. For this reason, Grande Ufficiale and Publisher, Robert Barbera, has always been committed to the enhancement of the Italian-American cultural heritage. Thanks to his foundation, he decided to invest in a project that would be both a gift to the community and a business card for those who did not know of it. "It hurts me to think that this generation can loose the memory of its ancestors, along with the story of their suffering; forgetting is easy. We now have a documentary film that people will like and want to keep but, above all, they will show it to their relatives, friends and children, because the film shows our history in its entirety and the heritage of our ancestors. St. Peters Church is a representation of the love we have for our saints; it is our home which we use not only for weddings, funerals and anniversaries, but also to get together and remain united. The church represents who we are and that we have traditions, culture and heritage".
Continuing on, he said, "The point of this film is to revisit what we already know of our past in order to celebrate it. Being Italians or Italian-Americans does not mean eating spaghetti or other amazing foods, but having, even as Christians, values such as integrity, honesty and devotion to the saints who are our heroes and to whom we turn to in the face of tragedies".
The producer, Justine Mestichelli, could not help but be excited to take on this experience which has gotten her involved emotionally, in that she is an Italo-American born in Philadelphia. "I come from the Little Italy of Philadelphia where I was born and raised with all of the Italian traditions and when I moved to Los Angeles, I felt a great emptiness, as if I had lost my home- my roots. I was unaware of this church, of this place (la Casa Italiana –ed). No one, other than the people who traditionally visited it, knew anything about it. Robert (Barbera – ed) called me, together with my husband Joe, to observe the Italian community of Los Angeles and to appoint us the film. In that moment, we immediately knew that it would be a fantastic experience dedicated to the Italian traditions. We had to make them known to the entire city and beyond it. Through this film, we must get the message across that the Italians of Los Angeles still exist and that they come together to carry out their traditions".
With the same opinion, the director Joe Medeiros confesses, "I have lived in Los Angeles for more than twenty years and never knew it had an Italian community. It displeased me so much that I did not discover it until now. My relatives are Italian, my children were brought up around Italian culture and when they found out about this place, they wanted to come and see it. For me, it was like reliving the times when I was in Philadelphia; being back rekindled in me old feelings of belonging to the Italian community that I had lost here in Los Angeles. America is a magnificent country that offers great opportunities, but, at times, it can lead you to run, making you forget your past. However, our roots are part of us, of the present, and of what is to come; you can never run from it. Knowing where you come from is extremely important to understand who we are and where to go in the future. To have a culture is a good thing, but to have an Italian one, for me, is so much more. I would have wanted to be born Italian because I respect, admire and love Italian art, its music and the country in and of itself; this is why I am so proud and honored to have Italian ancestors".
To Purchase Processions of Faith the film please visit www.stpeteritalianchurchla.org