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Festa: Honoring Holy Ghost & celebrating families
Isabella Pires, center, daughter of Michael and Cheryl Pires, will be among the young children taking part in Sundays MRPS Holy Ghost celebration. She was a side maid four years ago when this picture was taken. - photo by Photo Contributed

Festa – it’s a word that conjures up two images. One is that of an epicurean feast featuring a simple but rich and tasty dish called sopas. The other, and the central essence of this annual celebration, is a religious feast that revolves around the miracles of the Holy Ghost involving Portugal’s 16th-century Queen Isabel who helped and saved her people during a time of catastrophic famine in her country.

The significance of the day in both its historical and religious sense is ingrained in the mind of everyone who is of Portuguese extraction in Manteca and elsewhere in the valley. And the celebration is a source of pride for families, like the four-generation Liberato family of Manteca.

“It’s such a big thing for the Portuguese people,” said the family’s matriarch, Connie Liberato, whose parents Nelia and Sebastian Brazil came to America from the island of Terceira, also called the “lilac” or “violet” island in the Azores.

She certainly will be going to the 93rd annual festa celebration of MRPS this weekend, she said.

“I’ve been going to it ever since I was born. It’s something that’s in my blood,” said the 81-year-old Liberato who grew up in Manteca and lived in a dairy. Her parents had the dairy in “many different places” in Manteca but “mainly right on Locust Avenue where they have all the houses now,” as well as on South Manteca Road, and Graves Road, she recalled.

In years past, she and her late husband Joseph – who was actually of Italian extraction – were very involved in the staging of the annual celebration.

“Every year; it’s quite a deal. And it’s a lot of work,” she said, referring to the task that the dedicated officers of the MRPS Society go through to run a successful event each year.

Today, it’s her children’s children and grandchildren who are now upholding the banner of tradition. Great-granddaughter Isabella was a side maid when she was four years old. Now eight years old, she and her siblings – Michael, 4; and Emily, 2 – will again take part in the procession.

“Last year, they were the little peasants,” said their mother Cheryl Pires, Connie Liberato’s granddaughter whose husband Michael is very much involved in both the MRPS and the FESM (Festado Espirito de Manteca, the other Portuguese organization in Manteca).

Like her grandmother, and the rest of the extended family for that matter, Cheryl Pires does not want to miss this annual gigantic Portuguese get-together.

“I love it. Like, now, I’m looking forward to it,” she said of the festa and the sopas.

“And you know why? Part of it is because I married somebody who is full-blooded Portuguese, so I’m very much into this. He’ll be there all day helping with the sopas. He just likes to give back,” she explained.

Like the rest of her large clan, she likes the sopas. But, she qualified, “I only like it a couple of times a year. It’s rich. I can’t eat it that often. But I love it. Like now, I’m looking forward to it.”

She can say that, too, because her mother-in-law, Maria Pires of Escalon, also cooks delicious sopas so she can have sopas anytime and not just once or twice a year.

Something else that makes the Pires family unique – they are members of both the MRPS and the FESM.

“We also march for the FESM Hall; we are members of both halls. Can you believe it? We do. We all go along really well,” Cheryl Pires said.

Also in the parade will be her cousin Jaycee “miracle baby” Rieb, 9, the daughter of Lenny and Teresa Rieb. Teresa is the youngest of Connie Liberato’s five children.

Anthony, the second to the youngest of the siblings, did the same thing as a little boy.

“I carried a flag, I carried the saint’s statue,” he recalled.

“Growing up, we’d go places” up and down the valley to attend other festa celebrations, especially in communities where they have relatives like Fresno and San Jose where the event turns into informal family reunions.

It’s a chance to “meet up with family and friends,” he said.

Being involved in the festa “is a huge commitment. It’s promoting and carrying on our forefather’s traditions from the old country,” Anthony said of the significance of this event.

The religious aspect of it is, of course, the big thing, Cheryl Pires said.

“Very much so, that’s why we celebrate it – to celebrate the Holy Spirit,” she said.

And as her grandmother instilled this belief to all the members of her four-generation family, Pires is now doing it to her own children.

“I want them to understand our heritage and what it means,” she said.