Omahans including Mayor Stothert are off to Carlentini, Sicily, to advance sister city “friendship” bond

By: - August 17, 2022 2:15 pm

Santa Lucia statue at the festival ‘s overnight adoration, where devotees take shifts guarding her until the Sunday worship service at St. Frances Cabrini Church. (Courtesy of Charlie Venditte)

OMAHA — Nearly 100 Omahans, including Mayor Jean Stothert, will be converging upon Carlentini, Sicily, over the next several days to advance a sister city connection with the motherland of many local families of Italian descent.

Stothert will be meeting with Carlentini Mayor Giuseppe Stefio, her counterpart in that Italian city of about 17,000, which is in the province of Syracuse, Sicily.

Carlentini Mayor Giuseppe Stefio greeted by Mayor Jean Stothert during 2022 Omaha Santa Lucia Festival. (Courtesy of Charlie Venditte)

The two mayors in a virtual ceremony last September signed the official sister city “friendship” agreement, recognizing a century-long bond between the two communities.

Just last month, Stefio and a small Carlentini contingent visited Omaha to meet with various business and civic leaders — and to celebrate the 98th local festival honoring Sicily’s Christian heroine, Santa Lucia.

The event was born as Italian immigrants built new lives in Omaha. Early settlers such as Grazia Bonafede Caniglia wanted to recreate Carlentini’s annual Santa Lucia festival to help stay connected to heritage and traditions.

The Omaha group, while in Carlentini, in turn will be guests at that city’s 401st Santa Lucia celebration.

Omahans to perform for Carlentini

Omahans (some already there and others arriving this week and next) include members of the local Sicula Italia Foundation, Sons of Italy, the Santa Lucia Festival Committee and the American Italian Heritage Society, as well as the Omaha Sister Cities Association.

Many of the Omahans will be meeting with distant relatives, forging new partnerships and presenting gifts such as a painting by local artist Jeremy Caniglia. It is of Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) at an olive tree with her mother, and Santa Agatha appearing to tell her she will be the next martyr.

Omahan Carmelita de la Guardia, whose family emigrated from the area, and her band will be performing at the festival celebration.

Carlentini immigrants began to arrive in Omaha more than a century ago, largely to work in railroad jobs. They built a community centered at Omaha’s Little Italy, south of downtown Omaha.

Charlie Venditte at 2022 Santa Lucia Festival south of downtown Omaha with guests Eleonora Formica and Mayor Giuseppe Stefio, both of Carlentini. (Courtesy of Charlie Venditte)

Sheri Kanger of the nonprofit Sicula Italia Foundation said nearly 100 Omaha area residents will be visiting Carlentini for the festival and to connect with their roots.

Mayor to pay her bill

Stothert said in a statement that she will pay her travel expenses and would not spend taxpayer dollars. She leaves for Italy on Friday and is to return to the U.S. on Sept. 10.

“Sister cities build relationships that better our city, our country and our world,” Stothert said. “I am proud to serve as the honorary chair of the association and represent our great city.”

Omaha, under its Sister Cities Association flag, has established six sister cities in addition to Carlentini and one other “friendship” city. The relationships provides opportunities for cultural, educational and business partnerships and exchanges.

The six sister cities are Shizouka, Japan; Siauliai, Lithuania; Yantai, China; Braunschweig, Germany; Naas, Ireland; and Xalapa, Mexico.

The other friendship city is a region along the Normandy coast of France that includes Omaha Beach.


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.