Labor Day may be a time of rest and relaxation in some communities, but not in Brooklyn, where the first Monday of September is set aside for New York City’s largest celebration of Caribbean culture.
More than a million people converged on Crown Heights to enjoy Caribbean music, colorful costumes, ethnic fare and moko jumbies at the 48th annual West Indian American Day Parade, Sept. 7. This year’s theme was “One Caribbean, One People, One Voice.”
And among those who danced, sang and waved flags along the two-mile parade route on Eastern Parkway were dozens of West Indian Catholics led by Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
“Today we recognize the contributions of the West Indian people to the life of our diocese, the works that they do,” he said. “We’re together with the people to show our solidarity.”
Marching along with the bishop was retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, a native of Haiti; Jamaican-born Father Frank Black, pastor of St. Matthew Church, Crown Heights; and several other priests.
Before stepping off, Bishop DiMarzio was the main celebrant of a trilingual Mass in English, Spanish and Creole at St. Matthew Church. More than 20 priests concelebrated, and the homilist was Father Carl Clarke from Montego Bay, Jamaica.
“We start with the Eucharist,” the bishop said. “It helps us understand that the culture of the West Indies is important to the Church. They’re very faithful Catholics so we try to support them.
“We want them to be evangelizers. That’s why we’re with them today,” the bishop said.
Wearing red and white “Diocese of Brooklyn” T-shirts, the diocesan contingent included members of several local parishes as well as newly ordained Fathers Jose Henriquez and Daniel Kingsley.
Olive Pascal from St. Gregory the Great Church, Crown Heights, beamed as she walked with members of the diocese. “I get to show my Catholic pride and my West Indian pride,” she said.
“It’s mostly West Indian, but it’s really a celebration for Brooklyn, for New York, for everybody,” shared Victor Antoine from St. Peter Claver Church, Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“Being Roman Catholic means being universal,” he said. “This is a family and we want everyone to be a part of it.”
Parishioners handed out prayer cards and rosaries to spectators along the stretch from Schenectady Avenue to Grand Army Plaza. Father Black shared that some people even asked him to pray with them.
Prayers and Blessings
“They’re very conscious of the fact that the Church is involved. They ask for prayers and blessings,” Father Black said.
“Christianity and Jesus Christ are very important in the Caribbean,” he explained. “Jesus Christ is part and parcel of the culture there.”
While the Carnival-like parade is secular in nature, he noted that event organizers have been welcoming to diocesan representatives.
“It’s nice for the community to see priests and church-going people in the midst of this. If we weren’t there, something would be sadly lacking.”
Besides the Brooklyn Diocese, the line of march included elected officials, businesses, state and city agencies and unions – a reminder that Labor Day is dedicated to honoring the American workforce.
That point was not lost in Father Clarke’s homily at Mass. He spoke about the value of work, noting how it enhances Christian dignity by allowing laborers to provide for their families and contribute to society.
But he also spoke about the value of rest – setting aside a day for God and family, noting that even the Lord rested after creating the world.
“Let us ask the Lord to give us the grace to grow in our appreciation of rest,” he said, “understanding that when we take time for rest, we make time for worship … for our families, for whom we work.”
He encouraged the faithful to learn to balance their work and home lives, remembering that God and family must always come first.