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Festival an international affair

When the Rev. Patrick Rebel speaks about this weekend's Ethnic Festival at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, he refers to family.

"We are family, and we're bring the family together, and the family is international," Rebel says.

The three-day event began Friday and will continue today and Sunday.

St. Joan of Arc, which was founded in 1988, began its community outreach program by offering an annual ethnic dinner-dance. In 1992, it was decided to pool the resources of all the parish organizations and sponsor the Ethnic Festival. All work _ from obtaining vendors and equipment to writing local businesses to erecting tents _ is done by parish volunteers.

Bob Fritz said it's a learn-as-you-go system. This is his first year as co-chairman, although he has been involved with the festival since its inception. Jim McDermott, who also has been involved since the beginning, said organizers expect this to be the largest affair yet.

This year's souvenir journal contains more than twice the number of pages as last year. A letter describing the event and asking for sponsorships went out to local businesses in August. McDermott said the business community was "very responsive."

This is St. Joan of Arc's largest annual fund-raiser. Vito Delgorio, the church business administrator, said last year the festival hosted about 10,000 visitors. "We hope to double that" this year, he said. One of the big attractions will be the festival's first big-time raffle: first prize, $2,000; second prize, $1,000; and third prize, $500.

Four tents have been erected on the church grounds. The largest will contain international foods: Italian, Polish, Irish, Mexican, Greek and American. Beer and wine also will be offered. There also will be a dance floor and stage. The second tent will contain games from a "bubble bounce" to a dunking tank. Also available will be hot dogs, pizza, nachos and cheese, ice cream and cotton candy.

The third and fourth tents will have a craft and secondhand rose booth consisting of donated gifts, and also a first aid booth, a dressing room for entertainers and a ministries booth for people who are interested in what the church has to offer.

Fritz said the church is especially proud of the entertainment being offered this year. Dick Wagner, a singer and New York entertainer, was hired as chairman of the entertainment committee. Wagner's own 10-piece band will offer big band music on Saturday.

Other entertainment will include country-western groups, a barbershop quartet, a magician and an acrobat.

The Nature Coast Sandkickers, Ketchup the clown, the Country Line Western Dancers and the Stringers and Strutters will perform.

Delgorio said although the church hopes to make money, the purpose of the festival is to "create brotherhood and love within the people of Hernando County." He said everyone is welcome to attend and meet parishioners and members of the community.

"We bring all these nations together from different cultures to say we are in harmony with the Lord," said Rev. Rebel. "We look at our differences ... and know that we have more in common than we do differences. It's like bringing unity and diversity together."

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: Ethnic Festival.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 13485 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill.

COST: Admission is free. "Fair money" will be sold for the purchase of food and refreshments and some games.

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