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17632: Lemieux: Boston Globe: Bishop Reaches Out to Haitians (fwd)

From: JD Lemieux <lxhaiti@yahoo.com>

Reaching out to Haitians
O'Malley becomes first Catholic leader in Boston to offer
Mass in Creole
By Corey Dade, Globe Staff, 1/2/2004

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley became the first leader of the
Catholic Church in Boston to conduct Mass in Haitian Creole
yesterday, devoting the New Year's Day service to a
celebration of the 200th anniversary of Haiti's
independence and bolstering the church's effort to reach
out to burgeoning immigrant populations. O'Malley, who had
been learning the language since taking over the
archdiocese last year, received a standing ovation from the
congregation of about 1,000, most of them Haitian nationals
who lived through the struggles of black Catholics in
Boston to gain stronger roles in the church. O'Malley
earned plaudits for speaking passable Haitian Creole and
also for a homily that at once praised Haiti's history --
as the first black republic in the world and the first
nation in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery -- and
called on Haitians in Boston to help revive their country's
crumbled economy and stablize its politics.

"The presence of Haitians enriches the Catholic community
of Boston," O'Malley said, adding later that "poverty and
oppression has forged a strong people" who must strive for
a solidarity that can rebuild Haiti.

Some were impressed that O'Malley, who speaks Portuguese
and Spanish, among other languages, referred to a Haitian
custom of eating Soup Joumou, or squash soup, on
Independence Day. While under French rule, slaves were
forbidden from eating the soup, which became a status
symbol among the colonial leaders; Haitians now dine on the
soup to commemorate their liberation from France in 1804.

But O'Malley did not shy away from the country's current
problems of poverty, illiteracy, and political unrest.

"So many Haitian immigrants have come to these shores to
work -- hard work and often for little recompense,"
O'Malley said. "We do not want to come together for a few
hours and have our Soup Joumou and return to business as

Following the service, which ended with the congregation
waving miniature Haitian flags and singing the Haitian
national athem, O'Malley plunged through the crowds,
pumping hands and posing for group photographs.

Grading O'Malley's language skills, state Representative
Marie St. Fleur, the first Haitian in Boston to win a state
office, said, "When they told me he insisted on having the
whole service in Creole, I thought `Oh Lord.' But, listen,
he speaks it better than my sisters."

Striking an early rapport with immigrant communities is
critical for O'Malley, who is operating under intense
scrutiny as he tries to soothe a distressed archdiocese in
the wake of the priest sexual abuse scandal that left many
of the faithful disillusioned. As groups of Catholics
launched reform movements in response to the scandal, many
immigrant communities remained resolute supporters of
Cardinal Bernard F. Law until his resignation.

Church officials have said that immigrants from Portuguese-
and Spanish-speaking countries account for more than
350,000 of the 2 million Catholics in the Archdiocese and
make up the highest proportion of new membership.

In Greater Boston, Haitians and Haitian Americans number
more than 44,000, according to census reports. They settle
in Dorchester and Mattapan in Boston, and in Cambridge,
Somerville, Lynn, Everett, Malden, and Brockton. In
parishes with heavy Haitian populations, bilingual church
services have become commonplace.

"The church has always been part of the Haitian experience
in Boston, as the first place to give sanctuary to some of
the refugees coming in," St. Fleur said. "But the church
could do more. The church is its own worst enemy on some
issues. With the people they put out front, you don't get
to see the diversity of people doing the work. The bodies
filling the churches are people of color."

Many Haitians in Boston believed they turned a corner in
their relationship with the church in 2002, when Cardinal
Law attended the annual fund-raising dinner of the Haitian
Multi-Service Center, the Dorchester organization
considered the linchpin of the region's Haitian community.
The Mass yesterday was welcomed widely as a next step, as
Haitian activisits spread word of the service to draw
attendees from throughout Eastern Massachusetts.

"The archbishop's message clearly showed that we as
Haitians belong to the church here in Boston," said Pierre
Imbert, executive director of the Multi-Service Center.
"The church as a whole understands the challenges we face
as a community of immigrants. Together we're not alone in
facing the challenge and the church will be with us, either
the challenges that directly affect our lives here or the
challenges in Haiti that affect our lives here."

Corey Dade can be reached at dade@globe.com.

 Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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