The brass band plays a tune as a large, gilded statue of Mother Mary is processed around the church.
As soon as she is in place, the crowd turns sombre as the priest leads them in a decade of the Rosary.
This procession forms part of the annual Festa tal-Vitorja at Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) Parish, Greystanes, which celebrates Mary, Queen of Peace and the rich Maltese culture of the local community.
“[Festa] means trying to keep our Maltese heritage alive. I feel like we are losing who we are as Maltese, and this means the world to me to keep our heritage, the Maltese traditions alive,” OLQP Festa Committee Assistant Festa Organiser and parishioner Julie Piscopo told Catholic Outlook. “Family, to me, is this parish and the people here.”
View images from the annual Festa tal-Vitorja here or below.
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, was the principal celebrant for the Festa Mass on Sunday 29 September 2019, with prayers and songs recited in English and Maltese.
Concelebrants included parish priest Fr Paul Marshall, assistant priests Fr Joseph Lam and Fr Chinonye Akamadu and Fr Tarcisio Micallef, chaplain to the Maltese Catholic Community in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Special guests Hugh McDermott, NSW State Member for Prospect and Lawrence Buhagiar, the Consul General of Malta to NSW were also in attendance.
At the beginning of Mass, Fr Paul welcomed those who made the celebration “a truly holy, dynamic demonstration of God’s love among us,” including the presiding priests, readers, altar servers and the various community groups of the parish.
During his homily, Bishop Vincent said that the Festa is “one of the most significant feasts for Maltese Catholics” and how through the Gospel reading of the Annunciation (Mt 1:18-25), we are called to be ready for “divine interruptions” and say yes to God.
“The Word of God today is a summons to us to live our lives with radical openness to God’s will that is revealed to us in so many ways. Like Mary, we need to be ready for divine interruptions; we need to adjust to life’s constant changes. Growth and transformation can occur if we learn to discern and act on what God requires of us in the light of lived experience.
“After hearing the angel’s message, Mary’s life was fundamentally changed. She aligned her heart and mind to God’s unfolding plan. We must do the same as a community of disciples. We must have the humility and courage to see how far we have drifted from the vision of Jesus, repent of our institutional arrogance and orientate ourselves once again to the self-emptying journey of the humble Servant-Leader.
“Let us pray that we have the faith and courage of Mary in responding to unexpected events and interruptions that come our way.
“May we learn to live in vulnerable trust instead of holding on old patterns. May our Yes be total and unreserved as we endeavour to carry out the plan God has us as individuals and as the Church,” Bishop Vincent said.
In her presidential address, Lisa Bright, President of the OLQP Festa Committee, said that the Festa is a “unique opportunity within our community” and it “brings together faith, tradition, culture and community in a refreshed and exciting way while honouring that which has gone before us.
“At this year’s Festa, you will see more displays and information celebrating the richness of the Maltese culture. Why? Because if we don’t celebrate it and share it with younger generations, it will be lost. We can’t wait for other people to do something about it. it must be us.
“I thank the Festa Committee who have said yes in different ways to respond to the signs of the times as we grow the Festa. I also would like to thank the many, many people from our community who have assisted in setting up the Festa decorations, prepared food for events and assisted in so many areas behind the scenes. This contribution truly makes the Festa a parish event. Even during this Mass, we will see many communities of the parish represented – again bringing us all together – unity in our diversity,” Lisa said.
At the conclusion of Mass, the statue of Our Lady was processed around the grounds of the parish before the festivities began.
Community bands including the OLQP Maltese Band, the OLQP Primary School Band and the Maltese Cultural Association of NSW Choir performed to the crowds throughout the evening.
Traditional Maltese food and sweets were available as well as market stalls selling items that celebrated Maltese culture and heritage.
The festivities concluded with a large fireworks display on the grounds.
“[Festa] means everything to me. I was brought up in this parish, and all I can say is I’m more than happy today to celebrate the feast day,” OLQP Festa Committee Member and parishioner Charles Mifsud told Catholic Outlook with a quiver in his voice.
“I hope that this will carry on with the younger generation, because we’re getting old now, and we want the younger generation to come in and take over from us,” Charles said.
Parishioner Jacob Grech is hopeful that the Festa “[is] trying to get the rest of the community to join us, the different nationalities and cultures, so we’re trying to make it more cultural and bringing the communities together.”
“In thanksgiving today, through the Intercession of Mary our Mother, we experience Festa to share our faith, to invite the wider Greystanes community into this celebration and to celebrate culture, so that together, as Our Lady Queen of Peace Greystanes, we can continue to grow as a community in the likeness of Christ,” Lisa said.
In comments made to the NSW Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, 15 October 2019, Hugh McDermott said that the Maltese Festa was “a wonderful community event not only for our Maltese community but for the thousands of local residents who attend ever year.”
“I thank Lisa Bright and the festa committee for all their hard work in organising a terrific day and for sharing their culture with the entire Western Sydney community,” he said.
View images from the annual Festa tal-Vitorja here or below.