Members of the Haitian community from throughout the Mercer County region had an opportunity to express their love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in a special way Dec. 4.
As the more than 100 faithful – including men, women and children – entered the vast nave of St. Anthony Church, a worship site of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, for the 6:30 p.m. Mass, they, along with other parishioners in attendance, were greeted by the presence of a life-sized statue of the Blessed Mother under her title of Notre-Dame-du-Cap (Our Lady of the Cape). The statue was brought to the church by Father Wedner Berard, a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who organizes pilgrimages to the Shrine of Notre-Dame-du-Cap in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada.
Father Berard is currently traveling throughout the United States with the statue, including the Archdioceses of Washington, Philadelphia, Newark and the Diocese of Trenton. In addition to visiting Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, the statue was also scheduled to make a stop at Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, which also serves the sacramental needs of the Haitian Catholic population living in the Monmouth County region of the Diocese.
Father Jean R. Felicien, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, is a native of Haiti. He explained that the statue visited the Hamilton parish through his affiliation with the Quebec shrine and Father Berard. Every year for the Feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15, Father Felicien said the parish’s Haitian Charismatic group organizes a pilgrimage for members of the community to the shrine in Canada. He noted that 2017 will mark the group’s 10th pilgrimage.
“Haitian people come from all over the U.S. and abroad to participate in that feast,” said Father Felicien, adding that he has participated in the pilgrimage three times since he has served in a parish with a Haitian community.
“I have a great affection for the Blessed Mother and the story about how Notre-Dame-Du-Cap became popular and it is very touching.”
In his homily at the Dec. 4 Mass, Father Berard spoke about the history of Notre-Dame-du-Cap, saying that the Blessed Mother did not appear in Canada like she did in Lourdes or Fatima. He told of how in the 18th century in the Quebec region of Cap de La Madeliane (now Trois-Rivieres), the people who lived there during that period spent 100 years without having a priest. When a priest finally arrived in the region, he found that the people had very little knowledge about the Catholic faith. Father Berard went on to tell how each morning for two years the priest rang the church’s bell for Mass but no one from the community showed up. One night the priest heard a noise in the chapel, and when he went to investigate, he saw a pig holding a Rosary in its mouth. The priest took that as a sign from God, Father Berard said, then incorporated the Scripture passage, “If humans refuse to speak my word, the stone will speak for me.”
The next day the priest, Father Berard continued, began what is known today as evangelization by traveling from the area to personally speak with people about the faith.
Little by little, the people started to come to church, said Father Berard, and eventually the church building became too small to accommodate the growing numbers of faithful. In their quest for larger quarters, the faith community decided to pray a novena and ask for the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Two reported miracles happened on the ninth day, Father Berard said, and served as the basis for where the new shrine would be established.
At the conclusion of the Mass, the faithful joined in a candlelit procession that traveled around the interior of the church, while singing the beloved Marian hymn, “Immaculate Mary,” alternating verses in Creole and English.