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7873: Haitian's patience, prayers will pay off (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Haitian's patience, prayers will pay off

By Marian Dozier
Staff Writer
Posted May 13 2001

When Yves Geffrard becomes a priest Friday, he will be the first Haitian -- 
and the first black -- to be ordained by the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach 
in its 17-year history.

It is a fact that disappoints Bishop Anthony O'Connell, in part because 
Haitian Catholics represent one of the fastest-growing populations of 
Catholics in the five-county diocese, numbering an estimated 40,000 -- or 18 
percent of the diocese's Catholic population.

They receive Creole-language pastoral care from four overworked and "heroic" 
Haitian priests, as O'Connell calls them, all of them ordained elsewhere.

Geffrard, 36, will not be joining his brother Haitian priests just yet, 
though. He has been assigned to largely white Our Lady of Lourdes in Boca 
Raton, where he will assist senior priests for the next three or four years. 
He begins July 1.

Most priests, and the bishop, say the all-important first assignment should 
not be in a mission parish, which serves poorer, immigrant congregations, 
and where priests toil hard and alone.

Geffrard is just gratified to be a priest after his near 20-year quest and 
doesn't much care where he's assigned, as long as he gets to do what he is 
certain God called him for at age 10.

"I hope sometime I will be able to work with the Haitian community," he said 
in heavily accented English, "but I will mainly work with an American 
congregation. Either way, I will be happy."

Geffrard sees nothing but glory days ahead after following a path that took 
nearly twice as long as usual to tread. After 11 years of study in Haiti, 
graduating from both junior and major seminaries, Geffrard was scheduled for 
ordination in 1993. Then the bishop made a shocking announcement: Continuing 
political and social strife meant no ordinations for the foreseeable future. 
Geffrard was crestfallen.

"I was thinking `I'm supposed to be a priest' at that time," he said. "I 
said after that, `It is God's plan.' That's why I didn't feel down too much. 
I know if God called me, I would be a priest."

By 1995, he had left his hometown, Limonade, for the United States and, 
through a series of fortuitous contacts, learned about the Palm Beach 
diocese, considered young, diverse and in need of priests.

A year later, Geffrard was accepted as a seminarian. But before he could 
enroll, then-Bishop Keith Symons canceled his entry because of a paperwork 

So, he got a sales job at Office Depot, worked with at-risk children in 
Miami and became an organizer with a civic coalition in Fort Lauderdale. He 
did volunteer work at a couple of churches and, all the while, remained 
committed to his lifelong dream.

Symons left in 1998, disgraced by a sex scandal, and was replaced by 
O'Connell, who took another look at Geffrard's file and accepted him for 
seminary training. In 1999, Geffrard enrolled in Notre Dame Seminary in New 
Orleans. He graduated with a master's in divinity Thursday.

"I want to bring the people to Jesus and bring Jesus to the people," he 
said. "It could be my people or maybe not; being a priest is universal. Only 
the language is going to change."

The Rev. Irvine Nugent, director of vocations for the diocese, said the 
diocese recognizes the dire need for both Haitian and Hispanic priests. The 
diocese also includes Okeechobee, Martin, Indian River and St. Lucie 

But putting a newly ordained priest in a mission would be disastrous, he 
said. Young priests need to learn first how to be priests, which is 
difficult in a busy, stressful, overcrowded environment.

The Rev. Roland Desormeaux, one of the overworked mission priests, agrees -- 
but for an additional reason. Immigrant congregations are suffering the 
anxieties of blending into a new culture, he said. They need experienced, 
settled priests to help them with problems newcomers face.

"It's very hard to be a priest to immigrants if you don't understand the 
culture where you're working," Desormeaux said. "How can you help them if 
you don't yourself understand? The priest will be frustrated, the people 
will be frustrated, and he'll end up working with a great deal of Haitian 
emotion inside."

While many Haitians have integrated into Anglo services and it is possible 
for non-Haitians to provide pastoral leadership, O'Connell says he sees 
value to having priests serve those who are like their congregants.

"I believe priests should be able to use their gifts," he said, adding that 
he doesn't want ethnic priests to be "designated" to serve only those 

Within the next year, Nugent plans to emphasize vocations among Haitians, as 
his office has done with Hispanics, and is now planning a brainstorming 
session with the diocese's four Haitian priests.

The diocese has six other Haitians in seminary -- including Dumarsais 
Pierre-Louis, who will be ordained in December -- who could all be priests 
within six years. Pierre-Louis and Geffrard are members of the diocese's 
most diverse seminary class ever; the group of five future priests also 
includes a Colombian and a Guatemalan.

The two Haitian priests who will be ordained this year eventually will 
relieve pressure on Haitian-born priests who are leading burgeoning 
Creole-language services or missions in Lake Worth, Fort Pierce and West 
Palm Beach.

At Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the 4,000-member Delray Beach mission with a 
250-seat sanctuary, a third standing-room-only service had to be added, the 
second on Sunday. Both Sunday services attract up to 600 people each, with 
hundreds listening to the service on speakers outside.

In addition, there are nearly 20 community and youth groups who want to meet 
in the church's tiny back rooms but can't, instead gathering in the parking 
lot and sitting on the ground.

A decadelong expansion plan to add a 450-seat sanctuary and allow conversion 
of the current church into a fellowship hall with meeting rooms, is expected 
to start next month and be completed by December, Desormeaux said. Still, he 
acknowledges it will still fall far short of the need.

"The church is everything to the immigrant, that's where they pray, where 
they have social gatherings, political forums, everything," Desormeaux said. 
"Which is good, but they need space."

Deacon Emile Ambroise, a longtime Haitian activist, retired two years ago 
from directing the diocese's Office of Haitian Ministry, which closed with 
his departure after 20 years. He said he is de facto head of the office and 
travels to Belle Glade twice a month to preach to Catholic Haitians there. A 
new Haitian ministry is also starting in Indiantown.

"These guys, they know what they're doing, they meet to coordinate the 
ministry and to discuss problems, and that's good," Ambroise said. "But they 
need help. It's not enough, what we have now."

Marian Dozier can be reached at mdozier@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6643.

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