Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during the opening ceremony of the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament. Tim Dunn/TSM

NEW BEDFORD- The 103rd Feast of the Blessed Sacrament kicked off in New Bedford Thursday night, and featured some notable visitors. The annual feast is the largest ethnic gathering in New England, as well as the largest Portuguese feast in the world.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker spoke alongside New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and President of the Madeira Parliament Jose Gomes, amongst other dignitaries.

Governor Baker noted that this was his first time attending the feast professionally as he admitted to enjoying it for many years as a private citizen. He also applauded the authenticity and longevity of the annual celebration in the Whaling City.

"To be able come down here as the Governor of the commonwealth, and speak on behalf of the people of Massachusetts, and just tell you all how much we admire 103 years of commitment and follow through to the people of this community, to the Portuguese community, and to the culture that this sandstone represents is very special for me," Baker said.

Another high-ranking politician, President of Madeira Parliament Jose Gomes, also spoke during the opening ceremony. The Madeira native spoke of his admiration of the size and long-standing tradition of the annual celebration in New Bedford. Gomes also thanked organizers of the feast for his invitation before finishing his speech in Portuguese.

"It's a great pleasure and honor for me to be invited to this great feast," Gomes said. "As the President of the Parliament of Madeira, I bring to all of you a big heart and love from the island."

President of Madeira Parliament Jose Gomes speaks at the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament. Bristol County Sherriff Hodgson, Mayor Jon Mitchell, Gov. Charlie Baker, Feast President Steve Duarte Vice-President John Alves stand behind. Tim Dunn/TSM

Mayor Jon Mitchell spoke briefly at the event about the pride he takes in hosting the largest ethnic gathering in the northeast, and applauded the work done by the Feast Committee over the years to make it as authentic as possible.

"Its an open question of just where we stand. I think its accepted that we are the largest ethnic festival in New England, but I have yet to have anybody point me to a single ethnic event outside of New England that's bigger," said the mayor. "And Mardi Gras is not an ethnic event anymore" he said jokingly.

The mayor went on to also admit his amazement in the fact that an ethnic celebration of the Feast's size in the United States isn't about one of the major European powers, but instead focuses on a nation smaller than most U.S. states.

"The amazing thing to me though is that you would think that the largest ethnic event in New England, and if we're the largest in the country, certainly so, we'd be one that celebrates an ethnic group from one of the major European powers," Mitchell said. "But, from this little island nation in the middle of the Atlantic we get the largest ethnic feast in America."

The ceremony also included the raising of the Madeira, Portuguese, and American flags. The respective national anthems were sang as the flags rose, with the original Portuguese national anthem performed as the Madeira flag was hoisted up.

The event finished off with the boom of a cannon. Immediately prior to that, a wreath was placed at the memorial honoring all members of the Blessed Sacrament Feast committees by 2017 Feast President Steven Duarte and Vice President John Alves.

Consul of Portugual Pedro Carniero also attended and spoke at the event. Other notable politicians who attended were State Representatives Bob Koczera, Christopher Markey, and Tony Carbal. Multiple New Bedford City Councilors were in attendance as well.