Two weeks ago, the members of the Holy Rosary Church "women's committee" began preparing 2,600 calzone for the Villa Rosa Italian Festival in Mitchellville, which has become the largest social and cultural event for the metropolitan area's Italian community over the past 17 years.

Yesterday, an hour after the daylong festival got under way, Christopher DeFrancisci, whose Italian food store provides the makings for rigatoni and the pizza, stood under a shade tree and surveyed the crowd.

"Looks like they'll wipe out everything before the afternoon is over - the sausage, the rigatoni, the pizza, everything," he said.

The festival, sponsored by Holy Rosary Church, the Washington area's main Italian parish, attracts a crowd of about 25,000 each year. It also raises $30,000 to $40,000 for the Villa Rosa Rest Home on Lottsford-Vista Road in Mitchellville.

This year, some of the proceeds will also go toward the Casa Italian, an Italian-American cultural center the Scalabrini Fathers are attempting to construct next to Holy Rosary Church at 595 Third St., NW.

Because there is no central Italian community in the Washington area, the Villa Rosa Festival is the event that brings together Italians from all the local jurisdictions.

Newly arrived Italian immigrants come to the festival, curious whether they'll find others from their home towns in Italy, hoping to find doctors or lawyers or others who can help them settle into their new homeland.

Others come - prepared with portable tables and lawn chairs - just to picnic, fill up on calzone and cannoli and the assorted other Italian delicacies and, of course, drink a little Chianti to wash it all down.

Ernest Raskauskas, a lawyer from Potomac who prefaces his remarks about the festival by saying, "I'm Lithuanian myself," attends each year because the Villa Rosa affair reminds him of the many festivals he attended as a history student at Loyola University in Rome.

"It's organized disorganization - that's exactly what living in Italy is like," reminisced Raskauskas, who was sipping Chianti from a Coca Cola cup and eating porchetta abruzzese (a pork and pepper sandwich).

Raskauskas, whose family began attending Italian affairs because his father, also a lawyer, had many Italian clients, noted that the festival points up the "self-help" tradition among Italians. "They'll rather get help from one another than go to the government."

As Raskauskas spoke, members of the Italian Folklore Group of Washington - the women dressed in long black skirts, white blouses and black vests, the men in black knee britchs, white shirts and red vests - danced the La Vinca and other traditional Italian Folk dances.

It is the music and the dancing which Pino Cicala said is the most important part of the festival.

"The Italians don't come for the food. They can get better rigatoni in their own homes," said Cicala, who came to Washington 22 years ago from Rome.

As with most Italian events, this one was a family affair. Mike DiMisa, 17, carried on a family tradition started by his grandfather 17 years ago and manned one of the food stands. His mother was selling baked goods and his three brothers were working at game stands.

Father Caesar Donanzan, pastor of Holy Rosary, spent the afternoon greeting people with "Come ya?" and thanking God for the beautiful weather. "I could use a cathedral" to hold the number of people who show up for mass on holidays, he said.

According to the 1970 census, 6,199 native Italians and 31,345 first and second generation Italian-Americans live in the Washington metropolitan area.