FLATBUSH — Joyful praise with Caribbean essence reverberated in St. Jerome Parish Sunday, Jan. 1, for the annual Mass in observance of Haitian Independence Day.
An estimated 600 Catholics of Haitian heritage from across the diocese filled the church for the Mass celebrated in French by Bishop Robert Brennan — a tremendous rebound from the past couple of years when the pandemic throttled attendance.
The annual Mass also celebrates the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Father Jean-Miguel Auguste, pastor of St. Pius X in Rosedale, Queens, delivered the homily. He made reference to Haiti’s recent travails.
The nation has suffered a sluggish recovery from earthquakes in 2010 and 2021, plus political upheaval marked by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, also in 2021.
Such instability has given rise to lawlessness perpetrated by rival gangs that hijack relief supplies and building materials destined for the quake-ravaged countryside. The gangs also profit from kidnapping for ransom.
Still, Father Auguste said the turmoil does not give the full picture of Haiti. The congregation applauded when he declared, “We know that Haiti is a wonderful and beautiful country!”
He praised Haiti’s unique heritage of achieving independence from France in 1804.
“We did something at a time when everything was about slavery,” Father Auguste said. “All of the countries, from England to France and Portugal to Spain, and the United States — all these countries had slaves when we decided we don’t want to be slaves anymore!
“We wanted to be free because we were created in the image of God. We are all children of the almighty God our father.”
Father Auguste urged Bishop Brennan and all of the bishops in the U.S. to lead the nation in prayer for Haiti.
“Even though we are all going through all that, we are not discouraged,” Father Auguste said. “We know that with the help of God, Haiti will pick itself up and be the country that God has created that country to be.”
Father Hilaire Belizaire, coordinator of the ministry to Haitian immigrants, said that despite the turmoil, the people still had reasons to give thanks. For example, on Dec. 5, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security extended Temporary Protected Status for Haitian immigrants.
TPS allows people to stay in the U.S. for 18-month periods — which they can apply to have renewed — if their countries struggle from natural disasters or other strife, such as warfare. The extension allows Haitian nationals living in the U.S. as of Nov. 6, 2022, to apply for TPS through Aug. 3, 2024, as long as they meet all eligibility requirements.
“This is a good thing,” Father Belizaire said, “because it shields people from danger in their homeland while giving them a chance to provide for themselves and their families until it is safe to return.”
Bishop Brennan said that one of the many blessings of the diocese “is to share in the heritage of so many of our communities, and on Jan. 1, we celebrate Haitian Flag Day and Haitian independence.”
“The Haitian community brings richness and joy to the proclamation of the Gospel,” he said. “I am thrilled to begin the New Year by celebrating with them.”
Bishop Brennan added that on this first day of a new year, Catholics also observe the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, as a special day of prayer for world peace and justice.
“We stand together in prayer for peace in Haiti,” he said, “asking Christ, the Prince of Peace, to instill in the hearts of all people a deep desire for peace, the wisdom to chart the course for peace, and the fortitude necessary to bring it about.”