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FESM gets ready for celebration this weekend
Regina Fagundes smiles as she gets ready to put more Portuguese sweet bread dough into the oven. Fagundes was one of several faithful volunteers who showed up at the FESM Hall Wednesday as early as 4 a.m. to prepare the bread that will be auctioned off during the festa celebration on Sunday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
Manteca’s second Portuguese festa is being celebrated on Sunday, July 11.

This is the celebration put on by the Festa do Espiritu Santo de Manteca (FESM) organization. Last month, the Manteca-Ripon Pentecost Society staged its observance of the Holy Spirit’s feast day for the 91st year in a row. FESM, the younger organization, is having its 78th festa this weekend.

FESM’s celebration actually runs the entire week leading up to Sunday when the traditional procession to and from St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on East North Street will be held. The procession will begin from the FESM Hall on North Main Street at 9:30 a.m. for the 10:45 a.m. bilingual Mass in Portuguese and English that will be presided over by Monsignor Myron Cota from the Fresno Diocese. After the Mass, the procession will return to the hall where the traditional free meal of sopas and meat will be served to the public. The meal will be  followed by an auction, with sopas served again in the evening followed by dancing from 8 p.m. until midnight.

Traditionally, the daughter of the organization’s current president reigns as the queen. However, the daughter of FESM president Carlos Gaspar and wife Melissa is barely a year old.

“My daughter’s too young. She’s just 11 months old. But if you (the president) have a daughter that’s old enough to be queen, then they become the queen,” Carlos Gaspar explained.

In their case, “We hand-picked them,” Carlos Gaspar said of this year’s Big Queen Marissa King and Little Queen Gianna Vasconcelos, 4.

Marissa is a junior high student at George MacParland Elementary School in Manteca. Gianna is from Stockton.

In keeping with the religious theme of this celebration, which goes back to the 13th century in Portugal, Sunday’s climactic event is preceded by a nine-day rosary novena in the FESM Hall’s capella or chapel.

During the day starting Wednesday, a flurry of activities takes place at the hall – from the baking of the Portuguese sweet bread that will be served along with the free sopas, to the making of coffee cake and sweet bread that will be auctioned off during the weekend festivities. Friday will be the day for cooking the sopas courtesy of the Correia family – John and Jodie and their three daughters and son. Making the sopas – the ingredients are a secret closely guarded by the Correia family – is a tradition started by the late Mazie and Joe Correia and is being continued by their son and his family.

An FESM festa tradition that is coming back after a few years of being in hiatus is the St. Isabel’s float.

“We’ll carry on the tradition of the Holy Spirit and St. Isabel. We’re going to have a St. Isabel float with my niece, Angelica Gaspar, from Santa Clara representing Queen Isabel, and eight angels including my daughter Juliana. There hasn’t been a float in two years because it’s a lot of work,” Melissa Gaspar explained.

The festa tradition began in 1296 when Queen Isabel of Agagao, wife of King Diniz of Portugal, saw her subjects suffering from the effects of a devastating drought followed by a long famine. Thousands of people died as wells ran dry and food began to get scarce. Queen Isabel came to the people’s rescue during those hard times. One of her most popular pictures shows the queen holding red roses in one hand and a small loaf of bread in the other. This image was inspired by her habit, according to historical accounts, of taking bread from the palace and secretly passing the food to the poor and the hungry. The story goes that one day, the king found out about this and confronted his queen. When Isabel opened her apron to reveal the stolen bread, a miracle happened. Instead of the bread, a bunch of red roses filled her apron, a sign that her generosity and love for her people had been honored by  God.

Serving with Carlos Gaspar as FESM’s officers this year are the following: Danny Silva of Manteca, vice president; Dennis Linhares of Ripon, treasurer; Jose Goncalves of Escalon, secretary; and Jeremy Goulart of Acampo and John Andre of Manteca, marshals.