The annual Good Friday procession through Toronto’s Little Italy has been cancelled for the second straight year due to COVID-19. Photo by Vincenzo Pietropaolo

Good Friday procession on hiatus for second year

  • March 25, 2021

The annual Good Friday procession that brings the Stations of the Cross to life in the streets of Toronto’s Little Italy has been cancelled for the second straight year due to COVID-19.

Fr. Francis Walter, pastor St. Francis of Assisi Parish, said it was no surprise this would be the case and that no serious planning for the procession occurred because the writing was on the wall.

“City and provincial authorities have said we cannot stage large public gatherings so there was no question we couldn’t have the (procession) last year or this year,” said Walter. “Because of the restrictions, the parishioners knew it would not happen. We did not need to tell them it was cancelled.”

After all, the parish itself was closed to public Masses for several months because of pandemic restrictions. The rules were only  loosened March 15 when the Ontario government allowed 15 per capacity in churches.

Established in either 1953 or 1955 (no one knows the precise origin year), the Good Friday procession exploded in popularity as crowd sizes eclipsed 100,000 in recent years. In the beginning, at the time when St. Agnes Parish was the preeminent Italian parish in the neighbourhood, the procession was a humble affair featuring the priest, some altar boys and a congregation following behind. Only a small section of College Street needed to be closed to accommodate the procession in its infancy. The whole street is now cordoned off in modern times to host a more elaborate production.

Vincenzo Pietropaolo, a perennial attendee and photographer at the Good Friday procession since 1969, wondered when the event was cancelled in 2020 if it “might hasten the procession’s decline.” Walter admits that there is some concern about successfully bringing the event back in 2022 after a two-year hiatus.

“There is a concern because we have difficulty in getting the people in the way we used to in the past to organize and set everything up. It is a lot of work to set up these floats and life-sized statues,” he said. “We have a lot of elderly people who are enthusiastic, but don’t have the strength or stamina that they once had. And it’s a problem to get the younger people, from the same families even, to be interested.

“After a two-year hiatus, we might have a problem, but I really can’t tell. Hopefully not because it is something very important to people.”

Ultimately, management of the COVID-19 crisis — specifically the vaccine rollout — will determine the viability of next year’s procession.

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