Celebrating independence and fraternity

On the 219th Anniversary of Haiti as the first Independent Republic in the Caribbean, the Diocese of Venice, in conjunction with the Haitian Catholic Community, a Mass was celebrated at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs on Jan. 1, 2023, Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

The faithful from throughout the Diocese of Venice attended the Mass which was celebrated by Most Rev. Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS, Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, with Bishop Frank J. Dewane concelebrating. In addition, there were numerous priests from the Diocese who also concelebrated.

Bishop Fabre was appointed to Charleston in May 2022, having been ordained to the priesthood in 1986 as a Missionary of St. Charles, Scalabrinian. The Mass was a homecoming for Bishop Fabre, as his first priestly assignment upon ordination was as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee from 1986 to 1990. “I remember this area well. It is where I learned to become a priest.”

Bishop Fabre offered a powerful message of community, stressing how each individual is important to the foundation of Holy Mother Church, and should be celebrated each day. During his homily, the Bishop encouraged everyone to greet each other and express this importance to one another.

The Bishop also spoke about the celebration of the independence of Haiti and how it importantly falls upon a major celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the World Day of Peace. He encouraged everyone to remember their roots in Haiti but also accept that they are part of the Universal Church, united in Christ.

Bishop Dewane thanked Bishop Fabre for accepting his invitation to be a guest of the Diocese and for sharing his time, wisdom and faith with the Haitian Catholic Community in their native language. He also said it was an honor and privilege to participate in such an important cultural and religious celebration for the growing Haitian Catholic Community in the Diocese of Venice.

Impressed by Bishop Fabre’s positive message, Bishop Dewane stressed how important the Haitian Catholic Community is to the very fabric of the Diocese of Venice.

“You are important not only because you are here today; but because you come from the Diocese of Venice; you represent the various Parishes; because of the richness you bring from your culture and share with us. We are grateful for that,” Bishop Dewane said. “Our Church here in the Diocese is all the more blessed to have you here as the richness of your Faith is evident to all.”

Crediting the priests who serve the Haitian Catholic Community in the Diocese, many from Haiti, Bishop Dewane thanked them for the dedication to the Church, to the Diocese and to the people of God. “They are a richness for also our larger clergy. Thank you.”

Father Jean-Marie Fritz Ligonde, Diocesan Haitian Ministry Director and Parochial Vicar at St. Columbkille Parish, thanked Bishop Dewane for his unyielding support of the Haitian Catholic Community including for the annual New Year’s Day celebration. At the conclusion of the Mass, and following the lead of Bishop Fabre, Father Ligonde led everyone in singing the Haitian National Anthem.

There are currently Masses celebrated each weekend in Haitian Creole at the following Parishes: St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte; St. Francis Xavier in Fort Myers; St. Michael in Wauchula; Sacred Heart in Bradenton; Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee; and St. Peter the Apostle in Naples. The New Year’s Day celebration is one of the few times the entire community can gather in one place.

For the Haitian community, Jan. 1 is both a spiritual day, and an emotional day commemorating such an important day in their homeland. The Haitians defeated the largest and most powerful army at the time, the army of Napoleon, in Cap-Haitien, and Haiti became the second country in the Americas to declare its Independence on Jan. 1, 1804.

A cultural celebration and dinner took place in the Parish Hall.