Hundreds of Haitian Catholics from throughout the Diocese of Trenton filled Holy Spirit Church, part of Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, for a Mass Jan. 1 for the annual New Year’s celebration and this year's marking of the 214th Haitian National Independence Day – Jan. 1, 1804.
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated the Mass in French for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, along with concelebrants: Divine Word Father Miguel Virella, pastor of Mother of Mercy Parish; Father Paul Janvier and Divine Word Father Messan Kodjo Tettekpoe, parochial vicars of Mother of Mercy; Father Jean Felicien, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton; Divine Word Father Pierre Claver Fleury Lunimbu, parochial vicar of Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, Trenton; and Father Albert Gardy Villarson, OMI, a Haitian priest who lives in residence in St. Helena Parish, Philadelphia.
Taking “memories” as the theme for his homily, Bishop O’Connell highlighted a passage about Mary, the Mother of God, from the day’s Gospel of St. Luke: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart (Luke 2: 19).”
The Bishop preached his homily in English, addressing the “things” that Mary remembered about Jesus from his Birth in Bethlehem to his Death on the Cross. He noted that New Year’s Day is also designated “World Day of Peace,” a fitting dual commemoration since Mary, Mother of God, gave birth to the Prince of Peace.
“Jesus, however, is not simply a memory. He is alive ... present among us.”
See text of Bishop's homily here
Referring to the “national memory” of Haiti’s struggle for independence, the Bishop took the occasion to address the “fear and anxiety” currently felt within the Haitian community about the U.S. Department of State’s recent announcement of the 2019 expiration of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) enjoyed by Haitian nationals who sought refuge in the United States following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
“I cannot predict the future,” the Bishop stated. “But we must pray for those responsible for our future ... for wisdom, for compassion, for mercy.”
The Haitian choir and parish musicians provided liturgical music for the Mass, singing beautifully in French, Creole and English. Young Haitian parishioners gave an interpretation to accompany a thanksgiving hymn after Communion with liturgical dance as other members of the parish served as liturgical ministers, proclaiming Scriptures and serving Mass.
The Bishop and concelebrating priests greeted members of the community as they proceeded downstairs to the lower church for a festive Haitian Independence Day celebration. Following the singing of the Haitian National Anthem, traditional pumpkin soup was served. With Father Janvier serving as Master of Ceremonies, young Haitian children performed songs and dances for the audience. Two youngsters presented the Bishop with a gift of $4,075 from the Diocesan Haitian Catholic Community for the “Faith to Move Mountains” diocesan campaign.
“What a wonderful community,” the Bishop commented as he left the parish. “Such love for their Catholic faith and for one another is a beautiful, visible encouragement to all who have the privilege of sharing that faith and love with our Haitian Catholics in the Diocese.”
Photo Gallery: New Year's Day Mass with Bishop, Haitian community