By Dave Grunebaum
About 1,000 bikers from across New Jersey revved their engines on some downtown streets. They were on their way to a Catholic Mass that’s like few others.
Leather jackets and bandanas replaced blue blazers and ties. And you were more likely to find someone there with a tattoo of the devil on an arm than a Bible in their hands. Even the monsignor in charge of it all opened the outdoor service by riding his Harley Davidson to the foot of the pulpit.
[sidebar title="Long Distance Bikers" width="630" align="right"]In October 2011, Bill Littlefield spoke with Melissa Holbrook Pierson, who wrote about long-distance motorcycling in her book The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing. [/sidebar]It’s the annual Motorcycle Mass and Bike Blessing outside St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Paterson. Each motorcycle gets blessed. Many bikers there said this helps keep them safe on the roads.
“Oh, you won’t get hurt, you know God’s with you and all that good stuff," said Guy Rutigliano, one of those local bikers. "Kind of gives you that superstitious thing that you’ll be OK on the road.”
Rutigliano has yin yang symbols tattooed on his left arm and the grim reaper on his right shoulder, a possible contradiction to his presence at the mass. But he is not concerned.
"Some things you do in your life are bad, some things you do are good," Rutigliano said. "God forgives, right?”
The event draws bikers from all walks of life from Wall Street bankers to blue collar workers to off-duty policemen, such as Sergeant Donato DeAngelis of Paterson, who rides a maroon chopper with a fat rear tire.
“I believe that bikers are brothers in a strange way, no matter what race or background or where you come from," DeAngelis said. "I do believe that motorcycle enthusiasm and the fact that you’re riding together, yeah, I do believe that you become a brother with that person next to you, no matter who it is.”
DeAngelis, 41, has been coming to this mass for more than 20 years. He stressed that almost everyone here is a good, law-abiding citizen. But he acknowledged that occasionally he has rubbed elbows with someone in the crowd who has been on the wrong side of the law before.
“Sometimes you come across people that you’ve had encounters with in the past, whether it’s an arrest or just a confrontation, and usually when you come to this event, there’s no hard feelings and everybody’s here for the common goal, which is to ride safe and be safe," he said. "And if I have to deal with them on the street another day, I’ll deal with them at that date, but for today it’s all about coming together.”
The decorations on the motorcycles ranged from images of the American flag to flames to skulls and bones. But at least one Harley had several paintings of Jesus. The bike belongs to Monsignor Mark Giordani, the man who started this annual mass back in 1969.
“I love this event," Giordani said. "It began 43 years ago, and officially we kick off the riding season with this mass and blessing. We pray for safety for all bike enthusiasts. What do you think when you see someone with a tattoo of the devil at your mass? They need more prayers.”
Monsignor Giordani, a native of Italy, is 69 and has been a biker for more than 50 years. “I do love biking," he said. "It’s such an exhilarating feeling. It just gives a sense of freedom of independence, and I’m really enjoying God’s beautiful creation.”
When he’s on his Harley, Monsignor Giordani trades in his vestments for a leather jacket and denim vest. He said being a biker helps him bond with the other riders here. “There’s a special connection with them, gives us a camaraderie that only comes about by being bikers,” he said.
DeAngelis agreed. “He’s definitely a cool cat, no doubt.”
The mass ended with each motorcycle riding out one at a time, past Giordani, who blesses each bike with a sprinkle of Holy Water.
This segment aired on June 30, 2012.