You just started running. You couldn’t help it.
The annual Running of the Saints held by St. Anne Parish, our apostolate in San Diego, California, is a strange and wonderful event. An Italian tradition particular to the town of Gubbio, it was imported to the United States by the hands of immigrants to the humble town of Jessup, Pennsylvania, just down the road from our headquarters in South Abington. Gubbio holds La Festa dei Ceri on the eve of the May 16th feast of their patron, St. Ubaldo, the event involving a “race” through the streets of the town among St. Ubaldo, St. George and St. Anthony, whose statues are borne on the shoulders of teams of men wearing the colors of their saint (yellow, blue or black, respectively). Jessup holds its event on Memorial Day weekend, and if you drive through the town around this time, you will see the colors of the saints displayed outside houses as families show their support for their saint. Fr. Carl Gismondi, former pastor of St. Anne, brought the tradition to his San Diego parish, and they adapted it to their own patroness, holding it every year on a Sunday near her July 26th feast day.
This year, the Sunday in question was July 28th. The Running is not the only event in honor of St. Anne that day; it is but the crown on a day of celebration constituting St. Anne’s “Fiesta”. The festivities began at 9am with a Solemn High Mass, celebrated as the External Solemnity of St. Anne. Attendance was astounding. The pews were filled and attendees amassed in the back and in the side aisles. To accommodate the anticipated overflow, seating was set up ahead of time outside the parish doors under a shade-producing covering.
After Mass, the fiesta began. The work of setting up for this grand event, which was held in the relatively small courtyard and parking lot adjacent to the church, was not a burden shouldered by a few: the parish had turned out in force on Saturday to assist one another with the myriad tasks involved. Space was limited but utilized to perfection. Smaller tents were set up along the outside of the parking lot to accommodate the various food and drink booths, and large tents provided cover for long tables and chairs. A misting system was even installed in the large tents, a real blessing on a sunny summer day in southern California!
Breakfast was served after Mass, and the pro-life group provided iced coffee and smoothies. Throughout the day the food offerings included “A Taste of Manila”, a perennial favorite serving Filipino fare, Our Lady of Guadalupe Mexican Food, St. Juan Diego Tacos, St. John Bosco Hamburgers and Our Lady of Fatima Ice Cream Parlor. Attendees could try their luck at “Duck Range” and other games or at the table full of raffle prizes. A popular feature among the young ones was Jacob’s Ladder, a horizontal ladder that swiveled and swung and challenged the kids not to fall to the soft, bouncy surface below. Traditional Mexican dancers in colorful attire performed early in the day, and later on a mariachi band with guitars, violins and talented voices filled the air with the sounds of the country that lies only 15 miles south of San Diego.
But the lively fiesta was only the outward sign of an inward reality. Congregations are not happy unless they are first holy, and the joy on display that day was hardly a product of palm trees and beaches. Theirs is a joy that comes from within, fueled by the Sacrifice so well attended that morning and that is normally celebrated five times on Sunday and twice every other day of the week. Additional spiritual sustenance comes from Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament Monday through Saturday (Exposition is Solemn on Friday and Saturday) and Vespers on Sunday. Various parish groups round out the life of the parish, including a particularly vibrant young adult group that sees 45 – 50 attendees at its weekly events.
Larissa Lopez, a young adult who recently began attending St. Anne’s, told us a bit about what draws her to this parish.
“The community is awesome,” she explained. “I feel alive here.”
Andrew Daniels, another young St. Anne attendee who participated in the Running on the St. Michael team, echoed the sentiment. “I love everything about this parish,” he said.
Round about 3pm, it was time for the much-anticipated Running. Men dressed in t-shirts colored red for St. Michael or blue for St. Anne gathered in the church for a short talk by pastor Fr. John Lyons on the meaning of the event and a time of pre-Running prayer. Once outside, the runners gathered about the statues that stood mounted on wooden platforms and Fr. Lyons blessed the saintly cargo, sprinkling it with holy water. The participants hoisted their saints on their shoulders and they were off, traveling up Irving Avenue towards downtown San Diego, the gleaming buildings of the city looking down on the unusual goings-on from a couple miles away. Eight or ten runners would carry the platform at one time, with their teammates switching in and out as necessary. Vigorous shouts of “St. Anne, pray for us!” rose into the late afternoon air as they ran, the voices issuing what seemed like not only a plea to the saints but also a challenge to competitor and spectator alike. You heard it and your blood and your feet began to move in a way that maybe you didn’t expect, the sweat and pain of a mile run in the heat of the afternoon down unforgiving asphalt evaporating in the inspiration you felt at the sight and sound of such great faith in motion.
And that certainly is the answer to any question as to the “point” of such proceedings. Not only is the Running a display of our Faith that is a visible and audible witness to the world, it is also a rousing call to action, a reminder that our God and our heavenly patrons are indeed truly alive – alive, in action and taking our sanctification much more seriously than we do ourselves on a daily basis. They are calling to us to rise from sleep and from the spiritual lethargy that tempts us all at times, to move our hearts, minds and feet towards the heavenly goal where they are already awaiting us and cheering us on to victory.
Who won, you ask? No one, officially. The Running is, in fact, not a race, despite our calling it so. In the original Gubbio version, St. Ubaldo always wins, and from what we gather, St. Anne normally finishes first in San Diego. But in a result that stunned the Running world, St. Michael pulled off an upset victory over the defending champion. Maybe the two of them were letting us know that we should run so as to win. +
August 13, 2019