The Community Grants Program is an annual project that provides financial support for groups and initiatives which benefit local residents.

“Here at the City of Canada Bay we are committed to supporting local organisations, events and services which enrich our community,” City of Canada Bay Mayor Angelo Tsirekas said.

“This year I am delighted to announce our grant and sponsorship programs will see $104,707 distributed to 56 well-deserving groups.”

The money awarded to the Associazione Isole Eolie Confraternita San Bartolomeo Apostolo will support them with their San Bartolomeo Festa, to be held on February 9, 2020.

The festa is a tradition which celebrates the patron saint of the Aeolian Islands, Saint Bartholomew.

President of the association, Bob Natoli, said that Saint Bartholomew was made patron saint of the Aeolian Islands in 264 AD, when his coffin washed ashore onto the island of Lipari.

“When they [residents] found the coffin of Bartholomew, who was one of the Twelve Apostles, they said: ‘how could a body be washed up from the Black Sea, around Russia, to the Aeolian Islands?’ So they adopted him as a patron saint and since 264 AD they hold a festa for him every year,” Natoli explained.

He added that the tradition was carried to Sydney with the continual migration of the Aeolian people.

In 1938, the first mass service for Saint Bartholomew was held at St Mary’s Cathedral.

In following years, the tradition spread to the Leichhardt area, where “all the Italians were living in and around”, with a service at St Fiacre’s church.

The celebration then moved from location to location, including at Five Dock Park and Five Dock Leisure Centre, where it was first held in 2011 and where it will be held again in 2020.

The day includes a mass, procession, live entertainment, speeches and a floorshow of artists.

The procession is carried out in traditional Aeolian style, with the use of a statue of Saint Bartholomew, which was actually handcrafted in 1953 in Italy and is now housed at St Fiacre’s.

 “We used to write to Lipari and ask if there was a priest available to do the mass service,” Natoli remembered.

“We’ve had many dignitaries from Lipari do the mass service.”

In 1991, the Bishop of Lipari came all the way to Sydney to attend the festa, and in return 20 children and two chaperones were invited back for an all-expenses-paid trip to the Aeolian Islands.

Natoli said they also had Anthony Fisher, the current Archbishop of Sydney, carry out the mass one year.

The association was founded in 1971 under the name Associazione Isole Eolie, with first president Ross Maniaci, before amalgamating in 1984 to form the official Associazione Isole Eolie Confraternita San Bartolomeo Apostolo in 1992.

The association seeks to raise cultural awareness of and celebrate the Aeolian Islands, which are an island group in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the northern coast of Sicily, in the province of Messina.

Natoli said that the association would like to get young people involved again, particularly those with Aeolian heritage.

“We want to get some young entertainers and artists from Lipari to perform at our festa in the hope that the youth here would then come to the event,” he said.

“And if they liked the association, they could come onto the committee to help organise something!”