Haitians in Elmhurst celebrated their patroness and queen under the title of Notre Dame du Perpetuel Secours (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) last Saturday, June 25.
Two days before the actual feast, retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq offered a special noontime Mass in the chapel of St. Bartholomew parish. A golden-framed image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help stood on the altar.
The Mass was celebrated in French-Creole with hymns sung in English for younger generations as well as Massgoers of other ethnic backgrounds.
“It is beautiful to see so many faces here that might not be of Haitian origin,” Bishop Sansaricq said, looking upon the congregation.
“All of us belong to Christ Jesus regardless of race, language, origin or nationality,” the bishop said. “We are one in Christ Jesus and we have one Mother – Mary, Mother of the Church.”
Half an hour before Mass began, dozens of women met in the chapel to pray the rosary in front of the Marian icon with the Haitian-born bishop.
“She’s (Mary) everything to me,” said longtime parishioner Madeline Torchon, who was the lector at Mass.
Also present among the congregation was Emma Celestin and members of the Haitian American Community Organization, a group of Haitian-born residents who come together for annual feasts and occasions, such as this one, in order to preserve their native culture and faith.
A Mother’s Healing
Haitian devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help dates back to 1881 when a smallpox epidemic afflicted the capital of Port-au-Prince. On Feb. 5, 1882, the local archbishop carried an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help through the streets to heal and bless the city. After that day, the epidemic waned.
Sixty years later, the nation was officially consecrated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 1942.
Many Haitian people keep an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in their homes, and turn to her for her unfailing assistance. After the devastating earthquake in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI entrusted the people of Haiti to her care and invoked her protection upon them.
Parishioner Enine Theronier attended Mass to honor the Blessed Virgin and pray for her homeland.
“It’s worse than it was in 2010,” she said of the current living conditions in Haiti. “All of our hope is in Mary. The whole country is under the protection of the Blessed Mother. She is always there to help.”
In his homily, the bishop shared some history of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Created in Byzantine-style, it can be traced back as far as 1499, and the original is permanently enshrined in Rome.
Rich in symbolism, the icon depicts the Blessed Mother gesturing toward and holding her Infant Jesus. Archangels hover at Mary’s shoulders bearing instruments of Jesus’ Passion as a foreshadowing of Calvary. Jesus appears to have run into His Mother’s arms and holds her with both hands while a sandal dangles from His foot.
After the final blessing, attendees sang a traditional hymn in French, asking for prayers and for the Blessed Mother to “veillez sur vos enfants” (“watch over your children”).
Usher Ernest Ligonde then carried the image of his nation’s patroness downstairs to Heafey Hall for a reception with Haitian patties, sandwiches and cake.
Longtime St. Bartholomew parishioners Jenny Estrada, who is Ecuadorian-born, and her husband, Alfredo, enjoyed sharing faith and fellowship with their Haitian neighbors.
“We came because we love the Virgin Mary, and we have great friends who are Haitian,” said Jenny, who attends this Mass every year. “We always try to be together in the church with everybody.”