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Commemorating the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence, nearly 1,000 Haitian Catholics in the archdiocese gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for a celebratory Mass with Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley Jan. 1.
The archbishop, who speaks a number of different languages, celebrated the Mass in Haitan Creole — a language he has only recently begun to learn. Those in attendance were pleased with the linguistic effort Archbishop O’Malley demonstrated.
"It meant a great deal to the Haitian community to have a Mass with the archbishop in their own native language and on their bicentennial day," said Father William P. Joy, who concelebrated the Mass. "Everybody understood it and they were all thrilled that he did it."
Father Joy is pastor of St. Angela Parish in Mattapan, which serves as the center of the Haitian ministry in the archdiocese.
In his homily, Archbishop O’Malley spoke of Haiti’s rich history, recognizing it as the second country in North American to gain independence. In 1804, Haiti, a former French colony, won complete independence from France.
The annual celebration of Haitian Independence Day, said Father Joy, is a “traditional family day” where Haitians attend Mass and then hold a large family dinner.
Archbishop O’Malley also mentioned that Haiti, which endured years of French occupation and enslavement, was the first country in the New World to outlaw slavery. He commended Haitian immigrants for their contributions to American society, especially in Boston. He praised their industrious work ethic and their desire for better lives for themselves and their children.
According to Father Joy, Boston has the third largest Haitian population outside of Haiti behind Miami and New York City.
Those in attendance were impressed by the archbishop’s awareness of the Haitian tradition of eating a special squash soup on their Independence Day. While under French occupation, the Haitian slaves were not allowed to eat Soup Joumo because they were of a low social class. When they received their independence, all Haitians began to eat the soup to demonstrate their freedom and equality.
Archbishop O’Malley also touched upon the problems those still living in Haiti are currently facing — severe poverty, illiteracy and political unrest. He encouraged Haitians to persevere and to help one another.
The Mass ended with Dorchester’s St. Matthew Parish choir’s rendition of ‘‘Te Deum,’’ a Latin hymn that is traditionally sung on Haitian feast days and celebrations, said Father Joy. Mass-goers applauded Archbishop O’Malley and shook his hand as he processed out of the cathedral at the close of Mass.
The archbishop reached out to the Haitian community weeks before the Jan. 1 Mass by attending a fundraising dinner for the Haitian Multi-Service Center located in Dorchester. It was there that the Haitian community asked him to celebrate the upcoming Independence Day Mass, said Father Joy.