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May 24, 2022

Portuguese tradition lives

The Our Lady of Fatima parade is still one of the biggest days
of the year in Portuguese culture
From afar the Our Lady of Fatima parade might be mistaken for a
giant, festive wedding procession.
A steady stream of young women in elaborate dresses floating
down Eigleberry Street in Gilroy surrounded by what looked like an
enormous, well-dressed extended family.
The Our Lady of Fatima parade is still one of the biggest days of the year in Portuguese culture

From afar the Our Lady of Fatima parade might be mistaken for a giant, festive wedding procession.

A steady stream of young women in elaborate dresses floating down Eigleberry Street in Gilroy surrounded by what looked like an enormous, well-dressed extended family.

The formal parade, a religious procession actually, commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children near the town of Fatima in Portugal in 1917, according to legend.

Eighty-five years later and half way across the world people still mark the event because of the messages of prayer and sacrifice that Our Lady of Fatima relayed to those children.

“Every Portuguese community has this out of faith,” says Luciano Costa, of Gilroy, who emigrated from Portugal 10 years ago.

Held in cities throughout California, the Our Lady of Fatima parade has a special significance for Portuguese Americans.

“The community away from home really grabs these traditions to maintain the culture,” says Costa.

The group moves slowly, like the surge of an incoming tide. Every so often those at the front of the group stop walking and wait patiently for the smallest members to catch up.

At the front of the group, the Gilroy contingent carried a turquoise banner high in the air. Each church represented declares its name on similar banners, more than 20 from around Central California. Some of the queens dress in formal white dresses, others have long flowing red and green capes that drag behind them like a small fleet of trolling boats.

In Fatima, the procession numbers in the hundreds of thousands every year. This annual celebration helps Portuguese Americans teach the tradition of the homeland to a new generation.

Shiny crowns and elaborate golden stitching shine in the midmorning sun. Each queen is framed by side maids to the left and right. The side maids wear dresses similar to the queens, yet not quite as elaborate.

By the time the end of the procession arrived at St. Mar’y Catholic Parish, the youngest queens were wilted from the heat.

Dresses were adjusted, church pews filled and then the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was carefully lowered through St. Mary’s double doors for mass.

When the mass is over, the worshippers head to the IFDES Lodge on Eigleberry Street. At the lodge the day ends with the traditional serving 5,700 pounds of sopas, beef served with sliced bread, to anyone who’s hungry.

“Back in the old country people had celebrations where they could pitch in what they could afford,” says Tony Leonardo, treasurer of the Our Lady of Fatima Society of Gilroy. “We will give to the poor as long as people are coming. If they keep filling it up we will keep serving.”

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