A Roman Catholic priest bestowed blessings and holy water on an estimated 400 motorcyclists who traveled from across Long Island Sunday for the 12th annual Riders of Fire bike blessing in Manorville.
The nonprofit group is made up of firefighters from across the Island who are off-duty motorcycle enthusiasts. It holds the event each year at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island.
"How cool is it to be in the bucket of a firetruck?" said the Rev. Hugh Gillespie of the shrine, who was elevated about 20 feet in the air. "This is not an experience that many priests get to have, and it's a way of bringing the gospel into situations where people don't expect to find it."
The Riders of Fire invites firefighters, EMTs and police officers from Suffolk and Nassau counties to the shrine, at 258 Eastport Manor Rd., Manorville, so they may receive the blessing for another year on the road as spring arrives, unofficially kicking off bike season.
"We need all the help we can get out there," said Joey Nuccio, 57, president of the Riders of Fire, based in Bay Shore. On the road, he said, "Some people can't see us . . . [on our bikes]."
The event is also a fundraiser, charging $20 per bike plus an extra $10 for passengers, along with other donations.
Nuccio said the group expected to raise about $5,000 this year, which goes toward helping firefighters who are injured or struggling financially, as well as their families. They also give $500 to the shrine for its assistance.
"Everyone likes coming here," Nuccio said. "They feel it's a holy place. Whatever your faith."
For the firefighters in attendance, it's an annual sign that it's time to ride, and a reminder for themselves and others to be safe on the road.
"It makes my mom happy to get the bike blessed," said Edmund Platt, 49, of Holbrook. He is a firefighter with the Coram Fire Department and was at the event for the fifth time.
Dominik Novelli, 74, of Bethpage, is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a national volunteer nonprofit based in Kansas.
The group offers its services when requested by families of fallen members of the military by providing a motorcycle escort for funerals or a shield for grieving families from war protesters.
Novelli said he's been riding for 57 years and that he and the Patriot Guard Riders attend the blessing every year. He keeps his late wife's rosary on the handle of his bike to remind him of her and of God's blessing.
"I love riding, but I also love being safe," Novelli said. "I feel the good Lord is looking out for me."