Catholic Haitian community renews faith

The school gymnasium of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School in Delray Beach teamed with life at this year’s 12th annual Haitian Charismatic Renewal Convention, which was held from Sept. 20-22. The gym overflowed with Haitian parishioners bowed reverently in prayer, while those engaging in fellowship in the adjacent lobby enjoyed homecooked Haitian cuisine and spoke warmly in Creole.  

“Over the whole weekend, about 2,000 people came to the convention. It was very powerful to see so many people here,” said Father Yves Geffrard, pastor of Notre Dame Catholic Mission in Fort Pierce.

The three-day convention welcomed the Diocese of Palm Beach’s Catholic Haitian community, which includes many from parishes such as Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission in Delray Beach, St. Ann Catholic Church in West Palm Beach, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake Worth, Notre Dame Catholic Mission in Fort Pierce, and St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church in Belle Glade. Fifteen Haitian priests serve in the diocese, many of whom attended the convention.

Father Geffrard, one of the priests and lay religious leaders who collaborated on the convention, was filled with an enthusiasm shared by all the charismatic speakers. “The Marian praises were my favorite part of the convention. We sang all of them and it was beautiful. The closing Mass was also moving. The children from Notre Dame Catholic Mission sang and danced to the communion hymn.”

The theme of this year’s convention was based on Psalm 118:6—"The Lord is with me; I am not afraid; what can mortals do against me?” This psalm spoke deeply to Father Geffrard, who noted, “In light of the world’s situation today, where there is so much difficulty and tragedy, it is important to be reminded that God is in control, he has the last word no matter what.”

This message was expounded on by guest speakers Father Jules Campion, who serves the greater Saint-Marc region of Haiti; Father Wislet Defranc, of Port-de-Paix in Haiti; and Father Quesnel Delvard, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake Worth.

Father Delvard, especially, lives the message of God’s saving hand in dire times through his parish’s charitable support of a sister parish in Haiti. “We financially support St. Cecile Catholic Church in the Diocese of Jérémie in Haiti. After Hurricane Matthew in 2017, the entire church campus was destroyed. We wanted to do something for our brothers and sisters in Haiti, many of whom have family here in our diocese. We called three different bishops in Haiti to learn how best we could help and decided to serve the poorest parish that needed the most support. We visited St. Cecile Parish and helped them rebuild in their time of greatest need,” said Father Delvard.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church continues to send a yearly stipend to St. Cecile Parish and will be sponsoring a hot lunch program this coming year. “Next year, the pastor of St. Cecile Parish is coming to visit us. We are looking forward to him visiting our faith community,” Father Delvard said.

Sister Claire Gagné, a missionary in Haiti with the congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Saint-Louis, addressed the congregation with a prayer for healing and peace in the world. She has served the Catholic community in Haiti since 1957 through education and missionary work. Now, Sister Gagné travels as a charismatic speaker for Haitian populations all over the world. She encouraged those gathered at the convention to turn to their faith in times of doubt or despair. “The priests here this evening are filled with the Holy Spirit and are speaking through the Lord’s message. It is our duty to listen to it for spiritual guidance,” said Sister Gagné.

The Charismatic Renewal Convention closed with a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Guy Sansaricq, retired auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, New York. “It was a blessing to have Bishop Sansaricq be our celebrant at the closing Mass. He was an inspiring leader of prayer these past three days and I hope he will return next year for our convention,” said Father Geffrard.

The next Haitian Charismatic Renewal Convention will be held Sept. 18, 19 and 20 of 2020 at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach. To learn more about the Haitian ministry in the Diocese of Palm Beach, contact Father Yves Geffrard at 772-466-9617.