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NEWORLEANS - The St. Joseph altar is a centuries old tradition that began in Sicily.

The altar serves as a reminder to those with good fortune that they must share it with those who have less.

On Tuesday morning, Archbishop Gregory Aymond blessed St. Louis Cathedral Parish's St. Joseph altar at the old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter.

The tradition dates back to 1100 when there were famines in Sicily, Aymond explained.

'They asked St. Joseph, who is the patron of Italy, to pray with them, to pray for them. Through God's power and the inspiration of the prayers of St. Joseph, the famine was ended. They said that they would always build a St. Joseph altar on his feast day in order to thank God for his faithfulness and to thank God for the plenty that was given to them,' the archbishop said.

The fava bean was plentiful at the time and is still incorporated into the tradition.

One of the reasons the feast day is so important in New Orleans is the large Sicilian immigrant popualtion in the city, Aymond said.

'We see it not only as an opportunity to give thanks and praise to God for St. Joseph, but the St. Joseph altar is to feed the poor and people are always welcomed in. It is a very, very strong tradition in New Orleans. I've been in other dioceses where St. Joseph's Day is they have mass and that's it. But here, it's a very special feast day, where we have altars throughout the archdiocese and it's to feed the poor,' he said.

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