Salem ‘Saint Fest’ restores Christian message to Halloween

SALEM — Amidst the mayhem of witches, vampires and pagan imagery that engulfs the town of Salem on Halloween night, a Franciscan priest rapped about chastity, God and abortion at a concert in the parking lot of Immaculate Conception Parish.

“Abortion by the hands of the doctor and the nurse turns the God-given blessin’ into a human curse,” rapped Father Stan Fortuna, CFR for concertgoers and people passing by to hear.

Mama you was wrong. I know you wasn’t strong. You can say ya sorry. You can be forgiven. I’m in heaven. I’m still livin’ with perfect love. The kind you couldn’t give me. The kind that you receive. It’s a gift from up above.”

The song, “Never Been Born,” calls for women who have had abortions to repent and seek forgiveness and for fathers of unborn babies to fight for their children’s lives.

The Saint Fest concert began with Mass inside Immaculate Conception Church, followed by a talk and musical performance by Father Oscar Pratt, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Boston. After, Catholic musicians Monica Ursino and Father Fortuna performed.

Around 100 people were gathered in the parking lot at any given time. Most of those in attendance were not in costume, but instead said they were trying to bring the holiday back to its Christian roots. Many performers, organizers and participants said Saint Fest is a celebration of the night before All Saints Day or “All Hallows Eve.”

“If Halloween is the eve of all hallows, all saints, it’s a celebration of the saints,” Father Pratt told The Pilot during the concert. “This is a reminder of what it’s all about.”

The concert is a witness to the faith for people in Salem on Halloween, he said.

All sorts of people swarmed the closed roads in downtown Salem on Oct. 31. People dressed as witches, vampires, angels and devils walked by the concert, some of them coming in and others snapping pictures.

One man, outside the parking lot fence, repeatedly yelled, “Jesus in the house.”

Father Fortuna responded from the stage, “Of course. It’s His house, what did ya think?”

Father Fortuna later told The Pilot that Saint Fest is “light shining and triumphing over darkness.”

Andy Flathers, Saint Fest’s MC who runs the music ministry at Immaculate Conception, said people practicing Wicca, a neo-pagan belief system which involves witchcraft, have “turned this city upside-down.”

Their religion is about “power, control and putting spells on people,” he said.

Recently, a Halloween vam-pire’s ball, one event in the weeklong Festival of the Dead, drew controversy in the town when promotional posters, featuring nude, bloody women, were hung, said Flathers. The city asked the festival group — which practices bloodletting and drinking blood — to remove the “sexual and violent posters.”

For the last two years, Peter Campbell, director of Campbell Concerts, has run Saint Fest — a spin-off of his Proud 2B Catholic summer music festival.

Campbell called the concert a “bold event” and said he hoped to draw interest from the crowd of people in Salem. He added that he sought to present Catholic musicians with a “contemporary sound.”

Catholic musician Monica Ursino said, “There’s no better place to preach the Word than in Salem on Halloween.”

Ursino described herself as having been a “rebellious college student” in the past. While working at Jimmy Hendrix Studio in New York after graduation, she realized she was putting her talent to waste, she said. She moved back to Boston and started doing things for the “right reasons.” After seeing an advertisement Campbell had placed in The Pilot, she sent him a CD she made at home and has now recorded her music in a studio.

“I want to reach the young people. They’re most in need,” said Ursino. “You can’t let the world influence you.”

Maggie Boon, a 17-year-old from Marlborough, Conn., heard about Saint Fest from fellow participants in Steubenville East, a conference for high-school-aged Catholic youth held annually at La Salette Shrine in Attleboro.

“I love the music, obviously, and the people here are great too,” she said. “They’re really cool and outgoing. It has a good atmosphere.”

Carolann Edscorn brought a vanload of youth from Jaffrey, N.H.  Nearly a third of their three-hour drive to the concert was spent waiting in the logjam of cars making its way through downtown Salem.

People in Salem on Halloween are dressed in “dark themes,” some dressing as clergy in order to mock the Church, said Edscorn, who participates in the music ministry at her parish.

“This spreads grace,” she said about the concert.