NEW ORLEANS -- Archbishop Gregory Aymond blessed the large St. Joseph Altar at St. Mary's Church in the Ursuline Convent, remembering how this religious commemoration influenced his youth.
"I remember as a kid growing up and living in New Orleans that we visited the St. Joseph Altars," the archbishop said. "That was an important tradition in my family. My parents, along with my two sisters, we would visit two or three St. Joseph altars."
The altar tradition started after rain followed prayers to St. Joseph during a drought and famine in Sicily 900 years ago, and the archbishop says Sicilian immigrants brought a unique tradition to New Orleans.
"I'm amazed every year the number of St. Joseph altars that are offered increases, increases," he said. "It is all to help the poor."
Aymond noted that Pope Francis chose to officially begin his papacy on the Feast Day of St. Joseph.
"Pope Francis, who was just inaugurated this morning, it is very clear that he is calling us in a new and very powerful way to be for the poor."
The altars often feature fava beans, which were very important in keeping people alive during the famines in Sicily. Now they are considered symbols of good luck, and I can certainly use all the good luck I can get.
But for the food on the altar, well, there's a traditional use for that as well.
"And then to carry out Joseph's spirit of poverty, and then to help the poor, so all of the food on this altar will ultimately be given to the poor," Aymond said.