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Commentary: A new church is erected in Haiti on the ashes of the old one
Published on August 7, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Jean H Charles

The Gingerbread Church of St Louis King of France in Turgeau, Port au Prince, destroyed by the earthquake of January 12, 2010 has been at last rebuilt, seven years after the catastrophe that took the lives of some 300,000 people including seven of them in the very church. St Louis King of France’s church is my home parish whenever I reside in Port au Prince. It is a maker of princes for the Catholic Church. You remember, some four years ago, its former pastor has been promoted bishop. Father Quesnel Alphonse who led St Louis parish is now the Bishop of Fort Liberty in the Northeast part of Haiti.

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Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD, is a regular contributor to the opinion section of Caribbean News Now.  He can be reached at jeanhcharles@aol.com
Father Wismick Jean Charles, who took the helm of the church since, has been called upon this month to become the Assistant General of the Monfortain priests worldwide. As such, last Sunday, July 30, it was a triple event celebration, the blessing of the new church, the send off to mission of Father Wismick and the enthroning of the new pastor of the church Father Laurent Pierre.

The parishioners of the church were afraid when losing Father Quesnel, no one could fill his large shoes, Father Wismick did it so well that his superior in Rome has determined that this parish of St Louis and Haiti in general was too small for the multi-task minded Father Wismick. He has to extend his leadership to some 34 countries in the whole wide world where the Monfortains are exercising their ministry.

My empirical observation is the Monfortain priest represents the modern day Jesuit minister. Very religious, well grounded in the devotion to Mary Mother of God as prescribed by the founder Louis Marie de Montfort and not afraid to speak out to those in power reminding them that leadership is above all servicing those in need.

I knew Father Wismick in my days in New York City when he was the Sunday’s Assistant Priest to the Church of St Martha in Uniondale, New York. Joyful, exuberant, but always a scholar, his sermon was and is a master essay in three parts. And the thesis with theological underpinning was delivered without notes with the precision of a well trained chirurgical specialist or rather the precision of St Augustine. He is expecting and received from each parishioner the three Ts: talent, time and treasure. As such attending the Sunday service and being a St Louis parishioner is indeed a divine experience on earth.

With contribution from Adveniat, the American Council of Bishops and the weekly contributions of the parishioners a magnificent modern church is erected on the site of the old one. Blessed by the auxiliary Bishop Sylvain Ducange, SDB, the service took a whole morning from 8:00 am to 12.00 pm to be completed with all the rituals of medieval blessing of the walls, the washing of the altar, and the procession to the box of the Saint Sacrament.

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At a cost of two million dollars, the new church will hold 800 people. It was built by Blue Steel a Spanish architectural concern run by Ramon Secades Suarez and CHIC a Haitian firm under the aegis of Ronald Michel. The church is already too small for all those vying to get married, bringing their babies for baptism and having their loved ones receive the last rites. Father Laurent will have a big expectation in front of him. He is ready for the task; he was formerly the Haiti Provincial of the Montfortain, in charge of the whole Haiti congregation.

St Louis is the jewel piece of the Monfortain priests who minister mostly in the Northwest part of Haiti. Deep and scholarly yet humble and simple, Father Laurent reflects the characteristics of the man of the north of Haiti reputed for their virility without ostentation.

I have often said the traits that have significant impact on the Haitian ethos are rooted in the Catholic Church, the Haitian army and the voodoo practice. There is now a debate in the country and on the international scene whether Haiti should entertain the idea of reconstructing its army.

The buzz is the United States as well as the so called Friends of Haiti, France, Spain and Canada is inimical to the proposition. Observing the young Haitian male or female parading with his uniform on Haitian Flag Day is enough to give you the good span that indeed Haiti has indeed a military mentality. With a not so proud past, Haiti without its military unit is an emasculated nation with no vision, and no future, its citizens destroying the national edifice and each one taking one of the structural bricks for his own shack.

I learned recently that you need to be a Catholic to be a true voodoo practitioner. I have seen the vista last week at the fiesta of St Jacques the Major in La Plaine du Nord. The church was filled with men and women wearing the blue and red costume attributed to voodoo devotion. They were praying St Jacques aka Papa Ogou to bring them solace and deliverance from modern day slavery. I have expressed my opinion that the Haitian voodoo will be transformed into a Haitian mythology as soon as Haiti became hospitable to its citizens. To arrive to that plateau, the Catholic Church has a special role to play.

Unique amongst several nations, the Catholic Church in Haiti is also a state institution. Built upon a concordat between Rome and the Haitian government, its bishops have rank and protocol of a government minister. Its mandate was and is to educate all the children of the former slaves who shook the world by claiming their own independence from slavery.

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With a critical mass of uneducated Haitians roaming the streets without a job or a profession, and roaming the world for a better sky for their children, the Catholic Church has bread on the plank. The contingent of the Monfortain priests must lead the way to a better Haiti. They represent the Jesuits who were expelled from St Domingue in the 1700s when they were teaching the ABCs to the slaves.

In this modern day Haiti when the state has failed to provide the minimum access to education, health and economic empowerment to the majority of its population, the Catholic Church, that receives a mandate from the Geffrard government in 1864 must step up to the plate, and deliver. Father Wismick, who has the ear and the heart of Father Luis Augusto Stefani, the new general of the Monfortain congregation, will have a special attention for Haiti.

The old church of St Louis king of France built in 1880, restored in 1980 and was a witness to the concordat is revived with the new church rebuilt in 2017. It is a harbinger to the renaissance of Haiti where a Te Deum shall celebrate the feat that the nation is on its way of becoming again the Pearl of the Antilles.
 
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