Rivalry lives on at feast of St Cajetan
The locality used to be known as Casale San Giuseppe and the main street is still called St Joseph High Road. It was Bishop Gaetano Pace dei Baroni Forno who wanted the Ħamrun parish church to be dedicated to his patron saint when it was built in the 19th century.
History shows that the parishioners soon grew to love their new patron, St Cajetan, as can be evidenced through their enthusiasm during the parish feast year after year.
The feast of St Cajetan, celebrated over the weekend, is known for the rivalry between the St Joseph and the St Cajetan band clubs, even if there is a very strong connection between the two. The St Cajetan band club was formed in 1906 by a splinter group from the St Joseph band club.
Through the years, the rivalry increased, reaching a climax in 1987 when many remember “angels flying across the high street”. The reference is, of course, to the statues of angels adorning the long street and that ended up in the “crossfire” between warring supporters of the two band clubs.
It was probably the darkest day in history for the Ħamruniżi when years of hard work was destroyed in minutes and decorations ruined beyond repair.
A year later, the two clubs signed a public contract agreeing to regulate the outdoor celebrations. “Since then, the number of incidents dropped drastically and the clubs now enjoy a healthy relationship,” the president of the St Cajetan band club for 29 years, John Buttigieg, said. Dr Buttigieg, one of those who signed the contract in 1988, explained that the agreement even saw the two clubs form one band on the Saturday evening to play the anthem dedicated to St Cajetan.
During the Sunday morning band march, the bands pass in front of each other’s club. Some say this is done to tease their rivals but others insist it is done to pay respect to one’s competitors.
It is probably this great competition between the two band clubs that makes the Ħamrun feast one of the most exciting on the island.
All week, the band clubs are draped in different colours – blue for St Joseph and red for St Cajetan – and supporters dress from head to toe in those colours.
The president of the St Joseph band club, Louis Cuschieri, said the feast cost the band clubs thousands of euros even though the work is usually done by volunteers. But away from the festivities, the band clubs follow in St Cajetan’s steps and help the poor.
Born in an aristocratic family in North Italy, St Cajetan studied civil and canon law before he headed to the Vatican where he was appointed protonotary apostolic monsignor. He soon felt that Rome had lost its Christian spirit and launched a Church reform, first renouncing his titles, founding the Theatines and working with the poor and the incurable.
The Ħamrun community tries its best to follow his example. Blood donation is organised during the festive week and the two band clubs and residents fund food donations which the Church then distributes among the poorest.