BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Sunday is the Feast of St. Joseph and a Biloxi church honored the saints day by opening its doors to feed the hungry masses of South Mississippi. The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral Parish created their own version of an altar, modeled after the original Sicilian legend of the Saint Joseph altar.
Whether it's grown, caught or cooked, parish members say St. Joseph's altar reminds Catholics of the importance of sharing with the community.
"The altar goes back, as legend says, to old tradition in Sicily when they had a famine, and they prayed to St. Joseph, and the rains came, and they got food," said Jeannette Romero, Nativity BVM Parish Life Committee. "And so every year after that, they created an altar in his memory."
This is the third year for the St. Joseph's Altar at Nativity BVM in Biloxi, and Romero says it just keeps getting bigger and better.
"Each year, we add to the altar," said Romero. "Each year, we put different little foods on the altar, different things that we can honor St. Joseph."
The altar is comprised of three levels, representing the Holy Trinity. In keeping with tradition, it's draped in white and adorned with flowers. The church then places grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood and wines on the altar -- each of which has a symbolic meaning.
For example, the fava bean represents good luck, while oranges represent the fruit of the womb of Mary. Grapes represent the vineyards of Italy, while the scardilina represent the bones of the people who died from hunger. The bread - which is formed into various shapes, such as a hammer, the cross, Joseph's staff, and more - is eaten to protect occupants from starving.
And visitors to St. Joseph's altar at the Nativity B.V.M. agree that it's a lovely scene.
"I think it's beautiful and I think it's a wonderful tradition," said Mario Longo of Houston, TX. "Families would put out these tables and welcome anyone in the community to come, especially the poor, and just share in this food with them."
And whether they come from near or far, Romero hopes these visitors will all take away the same lesson.
"The symbols on the altar of what we have, represent things of years ago, of what they put on the altar," said Romero. "So it's knowledge that people take back with them as to how we honor St. Joseph."
Longo says it's a lesson that she will take with her back to college, where she is part of a student group that hosts its own version of the St. Joseph altar.
"I think it's just a really beautiful opportunity to share with others," Longo said.
After the feast at St. Joseph's altar, all of the leftover food is donated to local kitchens and shelters. Additionally, visitors are encouraged to make monetary donations, which will be divided between local outreach groups, like Loaves and Fishes and St. Vincent de Paul, who help feed the Gulf Coast's less fortunate.
To learn more about St. Joseph's altar and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, please visit the cathedral parish's website here.