Festive Faith – Diocesan Contingent Participates in West Indian Festival in Crown Heights (with slideshow)

by Antonina Zielinska

Labor Day may be an opportunity for workers to rest, but the West Indian community of the Diocese of Brooklyn did not take a rest from glorifying God last Monday.

With a song of praise for God on their lips, the diocesan contingent was hard to miss in this year’s West Indian Day Parade, the annual cultural celebration running down Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights.

“We profess our faith to the widest exposure possible,” said Patsy Davis, a Granada native from St. Teresa of Avila parish, Prospect Heights. “We don’t want to keep the light to ourselves.”

In order to bring faith into the event that attracted an estimated crowd of three million people to New York City’s largest Labor Day celebration, West Indian Catholics from throughout the diocese gathered for 9 a.m. Mass at St. Matthew’s Church, Crown Heights, in matching T-shirts.

Father Frank Black, St. Matthew’s pastor, praised the congregation for being a living light in the world during his homily.

“Everybody wants to know where Jesus is and what He does,” the pastor said. “If you believe in your faith — just like you wouldn’t shut off a flashlight in the dark room — you have to let people see your faith.”

During the Mass, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who was the main celebrant, congratulated the congregation on four newly ordained deacons from its community who are on the way to becoming priests next spring. However, he asked the congregation to continually pray for leadership in their midst.

“We ask that you pray for vocations to come out of your community,” he told the congregation.

He said the energy of the deacons who were ordained two days prior “is a real witness to the missionary church.”

Newly ordained Deacon Dwayne Davis, a Jamaican native, said being part of this holiday celebration is a testament to the presence of God in people’s lives. He said he was most moved when the spectators joined in the devotional songs that the diocesan group led along the parade route.

“Nowhere in the Caribbean is God left out,” he said. “God is always at the forefront of the Caribbean community.”

Theresa Whiteman, from St. Teresa of Avila, Prospect Heights, said expressing her faith brings her closer to her home country.

“Our faith in Granada is very strong,” she said. “Even though we are far from our island, we are still keeping our faith — and we are proud to celebrate it.”

Whiteman said that although the parade gets a reputation for being violent and disorderly, the reality is that the people who cause trouble are few. Several stabbings and shooting incidents were reported to have happened following the parade.

“It’s not the parade that is the problem, but the crime,” she said, explaining that crime continues to occur regardless of the parade. “We will not let the few negative ones chase us away. We believe in the protection of Christ.”

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, who was born in Haiti, said the negative reputation of the parade is all the more reason for the church to be involved.

“We are in the world,” he said. “Even though we are not of the world, we have to be present. We have to be amidst the dough to provide a revival of goodness.”

“I am very happy that the diocese decided to participate,” said Norma Felix, a Haitian native, who carried the Vatican flag in the parade. “We can evangelize everywhere we are — not only in the parish but in the street. And I can’t think of an opportunity for a bigger local public.”

Chevon Chance, a Haitian native from St. Martin de Porres parish, Bedford-Stuyvesant, said she was drawn to be with the diocesan group after seeing it march in past years as she participated in the parade both as a spectator and as part of the parade.

“I wanted to participate in a different way this year,” she said. “And I figured coming with the church is a positive way to participate… It’s an active way to show your faith and that you like being Catholic.”

Father Andrew L. Struzzieri, former pastor of St. Mathew’s, said bringing people close to the church is what the diocesan participation is all about. He said the parade can help people in different stages of their relationship with the church. For those already active in the church, it can act as an energy booster.

“People come back with more enthusiasm, and they want to share their faith with other people,” he said. “They want to share their joy with people who don’t know Jesus.”

For those who are less familiar with the church, Father Struzzieri arranged for a car to rotate advertising posters of services the diocese provides for the community: parishes, schools, Catholic Charities and Catholic Migration Services. Harold Witty volunteered his time and truck to help spread the message.

Father Patrick Keating, director of Catholic Migration Services, came to the parade to help spread the message about the office he leads. However, he said, the parade also helps fulfill the Migration Services mandate of pastoral services “by bringing the community together to the larger community which is the Roman Catholic Church.”

Among the public officials at the pre-parade Mass was Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.