CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's Italian American community dressed itself in red, white and green on Monday to celebrate Columbus Day.
It was a busy day, from the traditional early morning church service to what organizers called the biggest and best Columbus Day parade yet.
An 8 a.m. church service at Little Italy's Our Lady of Pompeii kicked off Chicago's Columbus Day celebrations. The packed church gathered many who have been going there for generations.
"I was here in 1966. I was 15 years old, standing with my mom and dad when that Columbus statue went up. This is my parish," said Theresa Sabatino.
That Christopher Columbus statue, around the corner at Arrigo Park, is no longer there. It was removed by the city in 2020, and has remained in storage ever since, even as leaders within the Italian American community seek to have it restored amidst the ongoing controversy surrounding the holiday and its continued celebration.
"Monuments and statues are important, merely concrete and bronze. It's the feelings. It's the passion. It's what we stand for," said Ron Onesti with the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans. "We all stand here in unity, so we can be proud and share our pride in our ethnic heritage, our Italian roots and those that came before us."
Those same feelings of unity were on display along Chicago's State Street, where hundreds turned out to celebrate Italian-American culture and to watch one of the city's longest running parades.
"I'm proud to live in the United States, and I'm proud to be Italian," said parade participant Enzo Brusca.
The live event was hosted by ABC7 sports reporter and Windy City Weekend host Ryan Chiaverini, reporter Liz Nagy and meteorologist Greg Dutra reported all the festivities from the street.
Pasquale D. Gianni, attorney and Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans officer, also contributed color commentary from the broadcast area.
Taking part in this year's celebration of Italian American heritage and riding atop the ABC7 float were members of ABC7's Eyewitness News team: Jessica D'Onofrio, Eric Horng, Jason Knowles, Larry Mowry, Roz Varon and Stephanie Wade.
A tribute to the late Tony Bennett was featured prominently during the parade. His daughter, Antonia, served as grand marshal, with his music heard up and down the route.
"It's great that this is still going on, and that the city of Chicago recognizes it and brings it out here. My husband is very proud and happy to be a part of it today," said parade-goer Monica Saviano.
The parade also honored the memory of the late WLS Chicago radio DJ Dick Biondi.
The Ides of March, a popular band from Berwyn, whose hit songs were often played by Biondi during his career, also paid tribute.
"When I was in high school, I was actually in the parade. I was in the Italian club in high school," said Marie Dini, another parade-goer.
For those wanting to continue the celebrations, a post-parade outdoor extravaganza is being held at Stone Park's Casa Italia on Monday afternoon.