By Tanya Connor
Much is being accomplished in the Diocese of Les Cayes, Haiti, because of its twinning with the Worcester Diocese, Bishop McManus said Wednesday, upon returning from a visit there. He said he has a list of 16 more parishes needing the financial support of a twin parish here.
“It was like being on a retreat – it was very spiritually uplifting,” Bishop McManus said of his trip to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the dioceses’ twinning.
He left Friday with Sister Marie-Judith Dupuy, a Sister of St. Anne who directs Worcester’s Haitian Apostolate, and a few other people.
He’d celebrated a 25th anniversary Mass for people here Oct. 3 at St. Paul Cathedral. Cardinal Chibly Langlois, bishop of Les Cayes, wanted celebrations there too, so his people celebrated with the Worcester contingent last weekend.
“The hospitality that the cardinal showed us was extraordinary,” Bishop McManus said. “He’s a real gentleman and a great bishop.” He said the group was received “very, very graciously.”
“We didn’t go through customs; we went to a diplomatic room in the airport,” an arrangement Cardinal Langlois made, he said. The cardinal met them when they arrived in Les Cayes at 10:30 p.m., and they had supper, he said. He stayed with the cardinal, and the others stayed at the Worcester Diocese’s mission house.
For Saturday’s anniversary celebration Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral in Les Cayes was “jammed with many, many young people,” and twinning pastors came, Bishop McManus said.
“I preached in French,” he said; he talked about how twinning is spiritually beneficial to both dioceses and about the hope of continuing it. Les Cayes faces economic difficulties, but there is a simplicity of life, and joy and faith, he said.
Sunday some of the twinning pastors came to a Mass in Chardonnieres, where Cardinal Langlois preached, Bishop McManus said.
“The poverty is desperate,” he said. “And to make matters worse, they had not had rain in nine months. … But again, the church was filled.” Lights and fans were not on and Mass lasted two-and-a-half hours.
“I was really moved by the celebration,” Bishop McManus said.
After Mass about 20 people ate at the Sisters of St. Anne convent, then they visited children who have nothing but were immaculate, clad in beautiful uniforms, he said. Girls did a dance and he told them he’s proud to be bishop of the Worcester Diocese that is helping educate these children.
One girl walks four hours to school each day, he said.
He marveled at what the parents will have the children do to get an education.
Sunday afternoon they visited Immaculate Conception Parish in Les Anglais, twin of Christ the King Parish in Worcester. Bishop McManus said the rectory is very austere, the school needs much work and people in the area have no work. If they catch a fish, they eat that day.
“If we bishops in the United States have some economic challenges, they fade” in comparison to what Haitian clerics face, he said.
Immaculate Conception’s priest serves 10 chapels, one that takes hours to walk to, Bishop McManus said. He said some adults have never been baptized because they haven’t seen a priest.
“They consider themselves Catholics because that’s all they know,” he said, but they have many spiritual needs.
“But I’ll tell you, these people have the faith,” he said. “They’re joyful.” He said they dress up for Mass and “shame our people,” who come to church as if going to the beach.
“The liturgies were wonderful,” he said. “The children sing. The servers at the cathedral were the best trained servers I’ve seen, very reverent.”
Monday Cardinal Langlois took him to the University of Notre Dame, which has different programs in different dioceses – nursing and agriculture in Les Cayes – Bishop McManus said.
The cardinal, twinning pastors and the Worcester contingent had a very helpful meeting discussing the twinning, Bishop McManus said. He said the cardinal asked that if more Worcester Diocesan parishes want to twin, they begin with about 16 Les Cayes parishes that especially need help.
Bishop McManus said he had asked to visit the children at the Be Like Brit orphanage in Grande Goave, erected by Leonard and Cherlyann Gengel of St. John Parish in Worcester. He went there in 2013.
Cardinal Langlois gave them his car and driver for the trip, Bishop McManus said. Monday he and Sister Judith and Regina O’Connor, director of the Sisters of St. Anne ministry called Vacations That Give, went there.
“Sister and I played basketball with the kids,” who “got a big kick out of it,” he said. (He and Sister Judith played basketball in their youth.)
Asked what hopes came from the experience he said, “Recommitment to my ministry as a bishop. The cardinal has thrown himself completely into this very difficult situation.”
Speaking of Pope Francis’ themes Bishop McManus said, “The Church in Haiti is about the work of evangelization. … You just have to step out of the cathedral in Les Cayes and you’re in the peripheries,” which have much material and spiritual need.
But he saw spirituality when people were silent and men removed their hats as a procession passed in the street before and after Mass.
Pope Francis talks about the Church being perpetually in mission, and Haitian priests serve “24-7,” Bishop McManus said.
Asked what people here should do, Bishop McManus replied, “Recommit themselves to the practice of their faith.” He said he would like more parishes to twin.
“It’s making a big difference” in the Les Cayes Diocese, he said. And he would like the education program to continue and flourish.