Combination of cultural festivals set for next weekend

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They’re unique; and Italian and Greek!

Within 6.2 miles, in fact, two of Rhode Island’s most popular summer food and fun fests will be held over a four-day period next weekend in Johnston and Cranston.

Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church will open its Italian Feast and Festival honoring the Madonna della Difesa on September 6 at 6 p.m. at Festival Field on Sherman Avenue behind the church. The feast will continue until Sunday, Sept 10 at 8 p.m.

The Church of the Annunciation will hold its 33rd Annual Three-Day Cranston Greek Festival from September 7 through the 9th on its spacious grounds located at 175 Oaklawn Avenue.

Because parking is always at a premium around the Greek Orthodox Parish, a special free shuttle service is available to festival-goers throughout the festival and Chairman Theofanis “Frank” Markos said additional parking is available in the Cranston West High School parking lot off Curtis Street where the shuttle will leave from every 10 minutes until closing time each evening.

So, if you like some of this state’s best homemade Italian food, plan on taking in OLG’s four-day event which will also feature carnival rides, games of chance and a chance to win cash amounts of $5,000, $1,000 and $500 in the festival’s annual Grand Raffle.

“This marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the feast society, named for the hilltop in Italy where, according to legend, four men who had seen the Virgin Mary in a dream later met each other on the hilltop,” Rev. Peter J. Gower explained. “And they discovered skeletons, the remains of a chapel, an altar, and a marble inscription – as they had been promised in their dream.”

In keeping with tradition, the Italian Feast and Festival will official open on Tuesday, September 4 with a Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of La Madonna della Difesa at 7 p.m. and it will be sponsored by the Rosary Society. A similar mass will be held the next evening, also at 7 o’clock.

The Feast and Festival will begin on Thursday, September 6 and organizers will be geared up for what could be record crowds of people who want to enjoy such foods as tripe, soffritto, linguini with quahogs, calamari, polenta and of course those tasty sausage and pepper sandwiches.

Festival hours are: September 6, 5 to 9 p.m.; September 7 to 11 p.m. September 8, 5 to 11 p.m.; September 9, 12 noon to 9 p.m.

The Cranston Greek Festival, which features authentic and specially made Greek foods like roast lamb, the always-popular and sold-out gyros, and souvlaki along with those Greek pastries that the event has become famous for through the years, will be offered from September 7 through the 9th.

Likewise, the three-day event will again be highlighted by the Annunciation parish’s award winning Odyssey Dance Troupe that will hold a total of five performances throughout this year’s festival. The first will be opening night at 7 p.m.

“We’ll also have a café, church tours, marketplace, bookstore and children’s activities,” Markos announced while previewing the event, which again figures to attract upwards of 30,000 people over the three-day period.

People attending the 33rd Cranston Greek Festival, which is sponsored by the Greek Orthodox Pariah of Greater Providence, will have a chance to win cash raffle prizes of $2,500, $1,000 and $500.

“The ladies of our church have been baking and will continue to do so right up to opening night,” Markos said of the Ladies Philoptochos Society which will have thousands of Greek pastries available during the three-day event. “People come from all over Rhode Island, even two bordering states, just to get some items like baklava and diples.”

When asked about the diples, Markos said, “They are fried strips of think, flaky dough topped with chopped walnuts, cinnamon and Greek honey syrup.”

The Cranston Greek Festival will begin on Friday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 12 noon to 10 p.m. ad Sunday, 12 noon to 9 p.m. There’s no admission charge and people are urged to use the free shuttle service.

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