Diocesan News

Diocese of Brooklyn Lifts Up Prayers At Mass For Peace In Strife-Torn Haiti

Haiti Mass Caption: Bishop Robert Brennan celebrates a Mass for Peace in Haiti at Holy Innocents Church, Flatbush, March 18, 2024.(Photo by Gregory A. Shemitz)

FLATBUSH — As chaos continues to roil Haiti, the Diocese of Brooklyn came together Monday, March 18, to pray for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Celebrating a Mass for Peace at Holy Innocents Catholic Church, Bishop Robert Brennan and priests of the diocese’s Haitian Apostolate voiced their support for those whose loved ones remain in Haiti, which has been plagued by gang-related kidnappings, killings, and other violent acts.

Michele Guerrier left Haiti when she was 9 years old, and while most of her family no longer lives there, she continues to advocate for peace in the country. She is a member of the apostolate, and felt the Mass was much needed “because we feel so powerless.”

“The Haitian people — they are my family. Like the bishop said, when one part of the body hurts, the entire body hurts. I am crying with all the Haitians,” she said.

Holy Innocents pastor, Father Lucon Rigaud, is stuck in Haiti; he was visiting his home country to attend his father’s funeral when gangs took control of the airport in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

During his homily, Bishop Brennan shared that Father Rigaud and his family were safe, and that he was joining the congregation via livestream. Through Zoom and FaceTime, the priest continues his work at the church even though he can’t leave Haiti.

“I’ve spoken with him a few times, and he tells me that he is safe, his family is safe, but he can’t get to the capital. Even if there were planes taking off, he can’t get to the airport,” Bishop Brennan said of Father Rigaud.

Flights are now operating out of an airport in Cap-Haitien, 100 miles from Port-au-Prince. But getting to that airport requires traveling on a highway patrolled by armed gangs. 

For Jeff Maisonneuve, the service was particularly touching. The Holy Innocents parishioner’s girlfriend and 1-year-old son are currently stranded in Haiti, and as he awaits the moment he gets to see them once more, he prays for their safety. 

He does FaceTime sessions with them every day and plans to propose to his girlfriend when they’re reunited. On the day of the Mass, he learned there was gunfire near where his family is living.

“I want the country to change. I want the country to get back to normal, so the Haitian community can get back to normal and to protect one another. … We are human beings. We are dying,” Maisonneuve said.

The youth group Radakka Jr. performed Haitian hymns during the Mass. The choir, based at Holy Innocents, sings in French, Haitian Creole, and Latin. As they lifted their voices at the end of the Mass, flags of Haiti were waved by participants all around the church, reinforcing the strength of the nation’s culture in Flatbush and the adjacent Little Haiti neighborhood.

“Just about everyone here has a personal connection with people back in Haiti. People here are connected to their families and they are worried about their families,” Bishop Brennan said.

The congregation prayed for Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of the Diocese of Anse-à-Veau and Miragoâne, who is recovering at a Miami hospital from injuries and severe burns sustained in an explosion in Port-au-Prince on Feb. 18. Bishop Dumas, who serves as the vice president of the Haitian Bishops Conference, has been a vocal critic of the violence that has torn the country.

In a press release on March 18, the Haitian Bishops Conference reinforced their call to end to that violence. 

“While we await the establishment of the institutional bodies that will bring the transition to a successful conclusion, we invite all Haitians, without distinction, to refrain from fuelling violence, because violence begets violence, hatred begets more hatred, and death begets more death,” the press release stated.

Six members of the Congregation of Brothers of the Sacred Heart and a priest were kidnapped in Port-au-Prince on Feb. 23, Vatican News reported. Four of those members and the priest have since been released, but two remain hostages.

The attacks come after years of political turmoil in Haiti, currently under a state of emergency, including a presidential assassination in 2021. In early February, protests erupted across Haiti calling for the removal of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. 

On Feb. 29, Haiti’s criminal gangs staged attacks across Port-au-Prince while Henry was out of the country. Henry, who was never formally elected and is widely unpopular, has since announced he will resign as the country’s leader but has given no timeframe for when that will happen. 

The Mass for Peace in Haiti was simultaneously a stop on the Diocesan Lenten Pilgrimage, a program introduced last year that encourages local Catholics to visit a different church each day during Lent. Joseph Guerrier joined his sister at the Mass, a move that marked his 23rd stop along the Lenten Pilgrimage.  

“I understand that was a pilgrimage, but what [the bishop] did today was more than a pilgrimage. He lifts us,” he said.