On Independence Day, Haitians Have Homeland on Their Minds (with slide show)

by Antonin Zielinska

Continuing their tradition of gathering around the Eucharist to celebrate their nation’s independence, Haitians from throughout the diocese joined Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq for Mass Jan. 1 at St. Teresa of Avila Church, Prospect Heights.

“Today, it’s a great day for all of you,” said Bishop DiMarzio when he addressed the congregation in Creole. “It is the day when you, as a nation, have won your freedom… I take this opportunity to congratulate all of you. You never stop fighting for your freedom.”

With the festive mood also came the remembrance of the upcoming second anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the island nation.

Baudouin Sylvestre, a Haitian native and parishioner of St. Matthew, Crown Heights, said it was the prayer for those killed during the earthquake that touched him most during the service.

“We continue to pray for the Haitian people whose needs are very great,” said Bishop Sansaricq.

He said the diocesan and national Haitian apostolates both have many prayer groups that continually remember their motherland.

“Haiti cannot be rebuilt without the support of Haitians outside of the country,” said John Patrick Alexis, minister of foreign affairs and culture to the Caribbean community C.A.R.I.C.O.M.

He said Haiti needs prayer and financial assistance from its diaspora and he encourages all Haitians to visit at least once a year.

Charles A. Forbin, Consul General of Haiti in New York, said he is thankful to the Brooklyn Diocese for the solidarity it has shown toward Haiti.

“I would like to thank the bishop for the invitation and for the help to our community,” he said.

Bishop DiMarzio reaffirmed his continued support of the Haitian community.

“We stand in solidarity with them,” he said. “The recovery from the earthquake is taking time but we stand behind them.”

Father Donelson Thevenin, the former director of the diocesan Haitian apostolate, said Haitians are inspired by their ancestors, who fought for their freedom from a nation that enslaved them.

“God is our creator,” he said. “He created us equal in His eyes. We give Him glory for inspiring our ancestors to fight for their freedom.”

Father Jean M. Delva, the newly appointed director of the Haitian apostolate, said Mass is an essential part of the Independence Day celebrations.

“We are a people of faith and by praying the Eucharist… we invite Jesus to celebrate with us,” he said.

Father Thevenin took the opportunity to say goodbye to a large portion of the Haitian apostolate, which he has served for the past two-and-a-half years.

He has been assigned to serve as a military chaplain in San Diego, Calif., aboard the USS Boxer. Working with the people of the diocese has helped him become “deeply grounded in his ministry which will help me be an effective chaplain in the military,” he said.

Bishop DiMarzio said he has confidence that Father Delva will be able to continue Father Thevenin’s ministry. The young priest has the benefit of a fresh perspective on the community’s needs, he said.

Having been assigned to the ministry in November, this is one of the first major celebrations Father Delva has attended as the director of the apostolate.

He was able to spend time with the Haitian priests and lay people of the diocese during a social gathering after the Mass.

Once the close to 2,000 members of the congregation made their way into the basement of the church, the social festivities started with the U.S. and Haitian national anthems.

Marie Denise Desir, a Haitian native and parishioner of St. Sylvester, City Line, said seeing Haitians from all around the diocese gather together to sing Haiti’s national anthem on their Independence Day touched her deeply.

She said she could have attended the celebration in her parish but is thankful that she was able to experience the bonds of the greater Haitian community in the diocese.