PROSPECT HEIGHTS — On New Year’s Day, Bishop Robert Brennan urged Haitian Catholics to keep embracing the Scriptures’ enduring messages of peace and joy.
The afternoon Mass at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, celebrated in Creole, was held on Jan. 1 during the annual observance of Haitian Independence Day and the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The music had a Caribbean flavor that moved congregants — and also Bishop Brennan — to clap their hands and sway to the rhythm.
Bishop Brennan appealed for joy and peace at the end of the Mass but later noted those traits are already indicative of Haitian Catholics, despite constant turmoil in their homeland.
“Haiti suffered in this past year,” he said in remarks in the co-cathedral rectory after the Mass. “But Haiti has suffered for a long time.”
While Haitian Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens dealt with the pandemic, their friends and family back home also faced late arrivals of COVID-19 vaccines.
Their president was assassinated in July, followed by a deadly earthquake in August. Meanwhile, ongoing lawlessness, including kidnappings, continued unchecked.
Bishop Brennan added that the Haitian community lost a longtime shepherd with the passing in August of retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, a native of Haiti.
The new bishop said that when he was an auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, he became friends with Bishop Sansaricq, of the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn.
Even as they endure so much sadness, and upheaval back home, the people of Haiti rejoice, Bishop Brennan said.
“Their faith is so alive, and joyfully expressed,” he noted. “I love the way that they give thanks to God, even though it hasn’t been easy.
“You [saw] that in the people here today at Mass — that deep sense of joy that comes, not because of the superficial things, but from knowing that God is always with us,” Bishop Brennan added.
Father Hilaire Belizaire, director of the Haitian Apostolate, said the annual Mass normally fills the co-cathedral, but concerns about the recent rise in COVID cases kept most people at home.
However, Father Belizaire was happy to see the approximately 100 people who attended this year’s Mass.
The annual observance was pared down to exclude the regular post-Mass reception, which features musical performances and the serving of a traditional soup to mark the observance of Haitian Independence Day, Jan. 1, 1804.
“We want to make sure everybody’s safe,” said Father Belizaire, who is also pastor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Cambria Heights. “But we wouldn’t let this day go. We have a new bishop; he was so looking forward to meeting the people, and the people were so excited about meeting him too. As you can see, his heart is already with the people.”
Although most of the Mass was in Creole, Bishop Brennan spoke his parts in French.
“That’s a wonderful thing!” exclaimed Msgr. Pierre-André Pierre, who is leading the Brooklyn-based National Center for the Haitian Apostolate, which was run by Bishop Sansaricq until his death.
“It was for us a great pride to have him leading that celebration and mostly to speak French with us,” Msgr. Pierre continued. “We appreciate that he understands the problems of Haiti. He is saying that he is with us, which gives us courage.”
Bishop Brennan told the congregation in English, “I have to say it’s been a long time. I’ve said Mass in French. Maybe once or twice a year. … Thank you for your patience. And thanks for forgiving my poor French. “But I have a feeling you may see some improvement as we walk together through this journey.”