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Breakin’ Bread

Prayers, sopas hallmarks of FESM festa celebration

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Breakin’ Bread

Maria Bento, left, better known as FESM Hall’s “head lady for the Portuguese sweet bread,” applies homemade glaze on the dozens of coffee cakes that will be auctioned off during the weekend Holy Gh...


POSTED July 12, 2013 12:05 a.m.

It’s sopas time at the FESM Hall in Manteca.

Today at noon, a priest will bless the meat, cabbage, and other ingredients that will be used to make the Portuguese soup that is the staple food served free of charge to all festa guests. It will take all day and all night to cook the soup alone.

On Thursday, a small group of dedicate and faithful volunteers – all members of the Festa do Espirito Santo de Manteca – had their hands busy from early dawn through the evening making Portuguese sweet bread, the other festa food staple, in the FESM Dining Hall. Including the preparations, the women actually spent a total of two days mixing, kneading, forming, baking and then glazing 150 pounds of flour to make the perennially popular Portuguese bread for the festa. Some of the bread will be served to the guests along with coffee; the rest, including one that is in the form of a cross, and another shaped like a crown, will be auctioned off during the two-day weekend celebration.

Actually, FESM Hall – primarily the dining hall, which is the older of the two buildings on the property (the newer building on the north side of the property on North Main Street is the dance hall) – has been busy all week, with activities building up to a crescendo culminating with the festa procession from the hall at 230 N. Main Street to St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on East North Street where the Mass, the spiritual highlight of the festa, will take place.

The first part of the week had been mainly focused on prayers. The food preparations don’t start until Thursday.

“We pray all week long. We pray the rosary at the chapel every evening at 7:30 p.m.” said Duarte Bento, this year’s FESM president along with wife Mary.

The rosary prayers are always well attended. “We fill up the chapel,” Bento said, except the Friday and Saturday before the day of the festa when there is such a big turn out that they have to hold the rosary in the dance hall “because it’s bigger.”

Two days of festa celebration this weekend

The major part of the festa celebration takes place Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, events will begin with the rosary at 7 p.m. in the FESM dining hall. At 9:30 p.m., the 2013 festa queens and officers will be presented. From 8 p.m. until midnight will be a dance featuring the Alma band.

This year’s FESM officers are Duarte and Mary Bento (co-presidents); Sergio and Annabelle Leonardo (co-vice presidents who will be inducted as the 2014 presidents in August); Joe Goncalves (secretary); Dinis Linhares (treasurer), Carlos Gasper (marshal); and Jeremy and Darcy Goularte (past presidents).

Little Queen is Monica Bento, daughter of the co-presidents, and sidemaids are Isabella Avila and Alayna Azevedo. Big Queen is Kaitlyn Castro, and her sidemaids are Brianna Martins and Madison Kindberg.

The events on Sunday will begin with the parade leaving the hall to St. Anthony’s Church where the mass presided over by Monsignor Myron J. Cotta will begin at 10:30 a.m.

Sopas will be served at the hall to all guests at 1 p.m. following the mass, followed by the auction. Sopas will be served again at 7 p.m. followed by dancing until midnight to the music of Alma.

“It’s all for a good cause,” Mary Bento said of the festa celebration. For the FESM Hall, this is its 81st annual Holy Ghost celebration. “The Holy Spirit came through St. Isabel who fed the poor. This is celebrating our belief in the Holy Spirit.”

She was referring to the events of the 13th century in Portugal when, according to historical accounts, Queen Isabela who later became St. Isabel, saw the suffering of her people during a devastating drought and famine and saved their lives by giving them bread to eat. The people offered prayers and novenas until the day of Pentecost when the rains returned ending the years of drought. In thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit for this miraculous deliverance, the day of Pentecost was declared a national holiday. The serving of free sopas to anyone commemorates the miracle surrounding the story of Queen Isabel.

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