Festa de Espirito Santo in San Diego, May 15, 2016. Courtesy photo

By Colleen O’Connor

Already tired of the elections?

The Dark Money practicing the Dark Arts of insults and insinuations? The TV commercials, and pamphlets invading your front room mailbox?

Cheer up. I have good news. No, these unbecoming elections won’t be over soon, but there is some light.

Eleanor Roosevelt, still the most admired First Lady in U.S. history, helped lead Americans through the exceedingly Dark Ages of the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War aftermath, with a single belief.

“Better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” she advised.

That light and that belief paraded handsomely through the Portuguese neighborhood of Point Loma last Sunday.

Generations of Portuguese families, dressed in finery worthy of a Milan fashion show, assembled, blew kisses, hugged, held babies, escorted their elderly kinfolk, slipped effortlessly between English and Portuguese greetings, and strode from the staging area to St. Agnes church to celebrate one of the oldest ethnic festivals in the U.S.—the Festa de Espirito Santo (The Feast of the Holy Spirit).

For over 700 years, Portuguese worldwide have celebrated this event in thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit for help in “times of danger or calamity.” Not unlike today.

More specifically, the Festa commemorates the intercession of the Holy Spirit in answering the prayers of Portugal’s Queen St. Isabel. She, who defied royal tradition, by feeding the starving among her people, until without funds or enough food to distribute, she simply prayed.

In answer to her prayers, a miracle—ships loaded with supplies and foodstuffs—sailed into the harbor.

Since 1922, San Diego’s Portuguese have kept that spirit of faith alive with a procession and Mass every Pentecostal Sunday.

The Portuguese history in San Diego is steeped in rich tradition and a steadfast commitment to their heritage.

Despite the loss of a their once thriving tuna industry, and the loss of their many homes that once dominated the Point Loma neighborhood—as well as the exodus of family members back to the old country, to other states, or to the hinterlands of California—they return to celebrate, offer thanksgiving, and to feed over 4,000 people (homeless, strangers, and friends alike) with traditional home-cooked sopas and sweet bread.

They also raise funds for their church and for their community. While many other Catholic properties have been summarily sold or closed, the Point Loma Portuguese have saved both their St. Agnes church and school. No small feat.

These families have accomplished what no government can. They have preserved a unique sense of place and belonging. Something, like a family, they fiercely protect, tax themselves for, and celebrate.

Good, bad, indifferent, rich or poor, they light their own candles—rather than “curse the darkness.”

Colleen O’Connor is a retired college history professor. 

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