Driving Jersey:Hammonton

These days, it’s easy to be skeptical about about religion. Wars are waged in the name of god.  Extremists from all sides claim ownership of eternity and are willing to prove it by giving or taking life.  Even our elected officials use and abuse the “power of god” for the power they covet, as if they’re ready to throw virgins into volcanoes to appease their lust for being right. “God,” in the hands and hearts of man, is often misunderstood.  But not always.  Sometimes, as is the case in the little town of Hammonton, New Jersey, the people, the pilgrims march to a verse of thankfulness for simply being and being here.

In 1875 an Italian “pilgrim” named Antonio Capelli gathered a small group of his immigrant countrymen to his farm on Pine Road where they formed a procession and prayed before a painting of the Virgin Mary.  Their prayers were of thanksgiving for their safe journey to America, for a successful farming season and for the good fortune they found in their new home. 

These simple farmers knew a thing or two about the immensity of life because they too created it, from the seed to the soil to the sun and they were humble before the power of existence and we believe there is no higher intention, no better reason for religion, for faith and no finer practice of both than being in awe together.

The seed Capelli sowed that day continued to grow each year with more and more people joining the annual July 16th procession, which culminates the Feast of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel, a week long introspect and celebration of the patronage of Jesus’ mother, Mary.  The symbol of adoration, Capelli’s painting of Mary, was replaced with nearly-life-size statues of saints, which as they parade through the streets of Hammonton take on an eerily realistic, human quality, as if they are there, silently marching.

As we approached Hammonton on the day of  the Procession the sky turned a dark gray and lightning struck all around the church.  Huge, heavy drops of rain poured down and we retreated inside.  When we lamented about the weather with the folks attending mass there, they laughed it off and assured us that the sun would shine, that the Procession is, well, protected by the power of Heaven.  The Procession, apparently, has never been rained out.  When the mass concluded the rain did as well and the saints went marching in Hammonton. 

The story of the Procession is not simply one of an organized religious activity.  In fact, faith in god is only part of what it’s all about.  Search the sentiments of those we spoke to and discover faith in tradition and history and even each other.  And what’s better than that?

Enjoy DRIVING JERSEY: HAMMONTON and think about what you have faith in.  Music for

DRIVING JERSEY:HAMMONTON was composed by S.Amantus.  Additional music courtesy

of Hammonton High School Band and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society Band, under the direction of Herb Roselle.