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ROXBURY -- Members of the Haitian community in Boston packed in and overfilled the pews as Cardinal Chibly Langlois, the first cardinal from their homeland, celebrated Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, June 22, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, commonly known as the Mission Church, on Tremont Street.
The cardinal celebrated the Mass in Haitian Creole, with Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley present to greet him at the beginning.
"We are so delighted that Cardinal Langlois is here to participate in this annual celebration of our Haitian community at Mission Church, where they are honoring Our Lady of Perpetual Help," Cardinal O'Malley told The Pilot.
As one of the youngest cardinals in the Church, and the first Haitian cardinal, Cardinal Langlois holds great significance to the Haitian community in Boston.
"I think it was an event that reenergized our Haitian Catholic community. I think it lifted them up, made them feel at touch of home, and you could certainly see everywhere that the cardinal went in the midst of the Haitian community there was a great pride that they were welcoming this man, who is now the first cardinal from Haiti," said Father Michael C. Harrington, director of the Office of Outreach and Cultural Diversity.
Pope Francis announced the appointment of Cardinal Langlois on Jan. 12, the anniversary of an earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, killed an estimated 220,000 people, and left 1.5 million homeless.
Father Harrington said the visit demonstrated the potential of the Haitian community as a contributing force in the archdiocese.
"We have a significant Haitian population here in the Archdiocese of Boston. This Haitian community has tremendous potential to be a great strength for our whole archdiocese," Father Harrington said.
After he entered Port-au-Prince's major seminary in 1985, Cardinal Langlois received ordination in 1991. In 2004, Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop of the Diocese of Fort-Liberte, before he became Bishop of Les Cayes and president of the bishops' conference in 2011.
Father Stanley Rousseau, a parochial vicar at St. John's in Cambridge and St. Ann's in Somerville with particular responsibility for the Haitian community, spoke to The Pilot after the Mass about the significance of the visit.
"It means a lot for the Haitian people. Having our first cardinal is a blessing, we want to thank Pope Francis to give us such a gift, to give the Haitians, such a gift in the person of Chibly Cardinal Langlois. His presence here was something that the whole Haitian community, not only Catholics, but people from other religions, all Haitian people, the whole Haitian people in Massachusetts, we were expecting the visit, and it means a lot to us," Father Rousseau said.
Father Rousseau said people from other Christian churches and even people who do not practice any religion came to hear Cardinal Langlois' homily.
"He spoke about Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, who is always there to come to our rescue, to rescue us from all kind of difficulties, and to pray for us, intercede for us. But also, on the second hand, he talked about ourselves. We have to help each other. We have to live in solidarity with unity, and live in solidarity each other. We need to follow Mary's example of life," Father Rousseau said.
Many Haitians credit the help of Our Lady of Perpetual Help with a miracle in 1882, which ended a drought that had exacerbated the spread of a smallpox epidemic. But he said beyond being patroness to the nation, she helps people on an individual level.
"Our Lady of Perpetual Help means a lot for the Haitian people because we know a lot of suffering, a lot of threats in our life, a lot of struggle in our lives, and Mary is our model, role model, in faith and in life because Mary also has experienced a lot of struggle in her life," he said.