by Ray O'Hanlon
Cardinal Timothy Dolan may or may not be back in New York from Rome by Saturday, but if he is not, Cardinal Edward Egan will be on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral to review the 252nd New York parade and greet Grand Marshal Al Smith IV.
Smith will be leading a march that organizers style "The oldest, biggest and best St. Patrick's Day Parade in the world" and this year takes place on Saturday because tradition dictates that the parade doesn't take place on St. Patrick's Day if it falls on Sunday.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is in New York for a series of events over the weekend including the pre-parade Mass on Saturday and the parade itself. On Sunday, he will visit Breezy Point in Queens to assess at first hand the post-Sandy recovery work which has been strongly aided by New York's Irish community.
Saturday's parade will have all its familiar marching groups but in addition, this year there will be a poignant addition - a special contingent from Newtown, Connecticut, so recently devastated in the school gun attack at Sandy Hook Elementary.
According to parade organizers, an estimated 250 members of the Newtown community, including students, teachers and first responders, will participate as a marching delegation.
The Newtown High School Marching Nighthawks will be making their first appearance in the parade. A group of 95 musicians will be led by the 27-member color guard from Newtown High.
"It is a great honor to participate in the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade," said Kurt Eckhardt, director of bands at Newtown High School.
"All of our kids are looking forward to the parade. Most of the performances by the Marching Band are in the fall, so this is something special. I think everyone who sees the parade will enjoy the band. I've been director now for 10 years and I think this is the finest band I have had the privilege to lead. We have an outstanding group of seniors who are great musicians and great leaders. As a group, I am sure the marching band and color guard will make everyone in Newtown proud," he said.
The parade this year will be dedicated to Covenant House, the organization which for over 40 years has been caring for New York City's homeless and runaway youth.
As part of the celebration, 50 formerly homeless youth, many of whom lived on the streets, will march in the parade.
"Our kids are so excited to be part of one of New York's greatest traditions," said Covenant House President, Kevin Ryan.
"Most of the kids who will be marching came to us from the streets, where they struggled to survive. Being honored by the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee is such a gift in their lives, another way we can show our kids that people really do care about them," he said.
Throughout its history, the parade has been held in honor of the Patron Saint of Ireland and the Archdiocese of New York. The parade starts at 44th Street at 11 a.m. and marches up Fifth Avenue past St. Patrick's Cathedral at 50th Street and continues to 79th Street, where the parade finishes at approximately 4:30 to 5 p.m.
The Parade is also televised for four hours on New York's WNBC Channel 4 to over half a million households and, since 2008, video coverage has been streamed over the Internet at http://nycstpatricksparade.org.