By Jean H Charles
This Sunday, August 25, 2013, I have the choice to attend the St Louis King of France fiesta in my own parish of St Louis in Turgeau, Port au Prince; travelling far to the southern part of Haiti to Jeremie for its own St Louis fiesta; I could also travel to the northern part of Haiti to St Louis du Nord, the elegant and proud town that bear the name of its namesake. I could also strike two birds with one shot; attend the fiesta of St Louis in the village of Quartier Morin to be close to my hometown of Grande Riviere that will have its fiesta of St Rose on August 30.
I have decided to remain in my parish of St Louis in Turgeau for the high mass with some 60 priests surrounding the bishop, and hop to Mirebalais in the afternoon for the bamboche part of its St Louis Fiesta. St Louis parish of Turgeau is fortunate, after the departure of its former pastor recently named a bishop by the Pope (When the pope chooses my pastor for bishop
) to have an engaging and erudite new pastor, Father Wisnick. He has to be assisted by three other priests because his duties as vice rector of the University Notre Dame in Haiti, might keep him away from its zouialles at St Louis de Turgeau.
Father Wisnick of the Monfortain institution is a gift of God to a parish. His sermon is at the same time rigorous theological instruction while also an uplifting booster for the following week. A returnee from the Diaspora, who was attached to the parish of St Martha in Uniondale, New York, he left there some bruised hearts that depended on him to face the stress of the big city life.
Haiti needs this fresh new pastoral blood to exorcise itself from the demoniac intrusion of the church into the realm of politics that poisoned heart and spirit to the core. Father Wisnick, with his contagious smile and welcoming hospitality, makes the practice of being Christian easy and smooth. As such he conquered the hearts of the parishioners immediately; the church of St Louis in Turgeau, the church without a building constructed after the earthquake of January 12, 2010, is growing strong and firm under the baton of Father Wisnick who replaced Bishop Quesnel.
Upon visiting the church for the first time, since he left the parish, at the ceremony of the St Louis celebration, Bishop Quesnel can only gaze into a community that became stronger and better under the direction of a leader who knows and imitates the saintly practice of St Louis King of France.
Haiti, along with Spain, are maybe the only countries in the world with such a strong tradition of Catholic religious celebration for the named saint of its parish. I remember being in Castries, St Lucia, on the day of the feast of St Lucia on December 11. There was no celebration. It is as if the day was an ordinary one. The feast of St Martha on July 29 in the parish of Uniondale, New York, is an ordinary day that may not have an official mass worthy of the visit of the bishop of the area crowned with 50 priests to mark the solemnity of the day.
Haiti does not leave the feast of a saint in a parish without a full fledged celebration that draws parishioners form near and afar, very often from abroad in the Diaspora. With 150 towns and 560 rural villages, each one competing to hold the biggest celebration for its patron saint, Haiti is a moving festival calendar that awaits Christian and non Christian visitors.
August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, is a big ticket holiday in Haiti. The major cities of the republic such as Port au Prince, Cap Haitian, Cayes, Petit Goave and Ouanaminthe claim that day for their religious fiesta. While the metropolis such as Port au Prince and Cape Haitian are blasé about this religious fiesta with no special event for the day, Cayes, Petit Goave and Ouanamithe outdo themselves to hire the best musical bands and plan the best fiesta to attract as many visitors as possible.
I have settled the timetable for the saints’ fiesta from May 1 to November 1. Of course, the whole year is filled with its own saint being celebrated in one of the towns of the republic. But for one reason or the other, the calendar seems more crowded from May 1 that starts with the fiesta of St Jacques and St Jerome in the picturesque town of Jacmel to November 1 that culminates in an orgasm of All Saint Day where voodoo practice and Catholic fiesta competes with each other to have the upper hand in bringing ecstasy to the devotees.
The peak of these religious extravaganzas occurs around July 16 to August 30. The vagabond tourist who took time off from the meander of the stress of the modern life will be regaled on July 16 with the mantra of our Lady of Mount Carmel in the picturesque village of Ville Bonheur that carries its name because the legend says that Virgin Mary appeared there to a peasant asking him to visit with the pastor of the church to build a sanctuary where she did appear.
From there, as in the Middle Ages, the pilgrims sometimes travel long distances on foot to the northern part of the country to pay homage to St Marguerite on July 20 in Port Margot. The pilgrimage continues on the following days to la Plaine du Nord, where St Jacques the Major for the Catholics or Ogu for the voodoo practitioners, engage in libation, religious or voodoo activities on July 25. Without rest, the rendezvous is on the next day at Limonade for the fiesta of St Anne the mother of Virgin Mary. With few days for rest, the bamboche cum religious pilgrims continue to Marmelade on July 29 for the fiesta of St Martha.
With only a few days for rest with in between St Suzanne in St Suzanne city on August 11 and St Laurent, the mighty provider, in the rustic and rural village of Baconois, we are then ready for the big fiesta time on August 15, which was my starting point.
Haiti, under the disguised cloud of an international embargo, has not been able to profit from this religious manna to transform this unique phenomenon into money making ventures that would enrich the state and its citizens with the affluence of the billion plus Catholics in the world. With only 5% of this segment as its core, visitors Haiti would easily compete with Bali that offers only mythical gods not the real saints and may be God as attraction for its booming tourist industry.
The very energetic Haiti Minister of Tourism, Mrs Stephanie V Balmir, I am certain would entertain propositions to incubate, promote and guide the Haiti religious fiesta season into a unique tourist venture good for the soul, the spirit and certainly the life beyond this one.
Note: Haiti map and pictures with trek for the religious festivals.