More than 100 Catholics walked several miles in the hot sun through the village of Tickfaw down La. 442 on Sunday to honor their loved ones and ask for special intentions.

As parishioners moved from Our Lady of Pompeii Catholic Church to the Mother of Grace Chapel as part of the celebration of the Blessed Mother Feast, many said prayers and recited the rosary.

First held in Tickfaw in 1927 — when the Blessed Mother statue arrived in Tickfaw from Italy — the two-day event coincides with the feast of Our Lady of Grace — a name for the Blessed Virgin — held July 2 in Palermo, Italy.

“Our celebration of the feast is both a spiritual and a temporal event,” said Deacon Al Levy. “This event enables us to bring our community together in prayer, worship and for some, a connection with their past. We know it also creates a wonderful opportunity for fellowship and reunions for families and friends.”

Joe John Bravata, a New Orleans native who relocated to Tickfaw following Hurricane Katrina, organized the event, which included a procession on Saturday to bring the statue of Mary from her home in the chapel to the church’s altar, where a celebratory Mass was held in her honor by Father Elridge, of St. Benedict’s Church in Covington. After Mass, parishioners convened to the fellowship hall for fun, games and food.

Meinrad and Karen Guagliardo, drove more than 1,100 miles from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to attend this year’s event, and marched in the procession along with their daughter, Samantha, 21, a senior in communications at Southeastern Louisiana University. Samantha’s parents are alumni of SLU. Meinrad, a lieutenant with U.S. Department of Treasury Police grew up in Hammond and worked at the celebration 27 years ago as a member of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s department.

“We were very happy to have shared this festival with our daughter, Samantha,” Meinrad said. “It definitely helps to encourage children to understand and learn about their culture. Especially since our daughter grew up so far away from here, this event exemplifies the old traditions which my father and his father have either participated in or heard about from their ancestors in the old country.”

The feast closely mimics the one celebrated in Palermo, Italy, said Anthony Mussacchia Jr.

“Our feast is exactly the same ritual and activities you would see in the old country which previous generations originated. We hold this tradition in a very important and reverent place in our hearts,” he said. “Many of the people you see here today are here to thank Our Lady for favors granted. Many are here to honor their loved ones, now passed and many are here to ask for special intentions. You’ll look around and see quite a few generations of a family together bowing their heads and praying the rosary.”

Although many of this weekend’s participants no longer live in Tickfaw, they attend the procession each year to honor their family’s promise to the Blessed Virgin to march in the procession each year, Mussacchia said.

“We don’t even know their names,” he said. ‘They come and tell us which relative they are substituting for and take up the heavy burden of the statue for the procession. They come, do their familial duty and leave to return home.”

“It’s amazing but each year if it is raining, it’ll stop in time for our procession,” Bravata said. “It has never rained on our parade. We also believe Our Mother watches over Tickfaw since we’re also the only community in Tangipahoa that has never had a tornado.”

Under the director of Bob Priez, the Italian Town Band, of Hammond, played old Italian tunes. Noted musicians wearing traditional white shirts and black pants join together each year to play music to entertain the crowds on Sunday afternoon and later accompany the devout on their prayerful journey down the highway back to the chapel. As the crowd escorted the statue back to the chapel, they stopped briefly at the Fedele Cemetery to pray while Joe Messina played a soulful taps on his horn.

Church workers Sue Mussacchia and Debbie Trabona, both 63, of Tickfaw, were best friends at Hammond High School. They have been volunteering for the event for more than 10 years.

“I first started working for this feast when I lost our son in an accident,” Sue Mussacchia said. “The grief brought me here and my friend, Debbie, came with me. My husband and I dedicate our work to Our Blessed Mother for our son.”

The parish has not had their own parish priest for two years, and Levy is the administrator of the church and handles most spiritual needs for the congregation.

“Our church is alive and well. Look around at the crowds, the enthusiasm of everyone here and the attendance at our masses each Saturday and Sunday is good,” Bravata said. “We feel there’s something very special here and anyone that comes here, usually comes back.”

“Our Lady watches over Tickfaw and so we will continue our feast on the first weekend of July, year after year and generation after generation to thank her,” Bravata said.