Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
Photography: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC
MIAMI | Imagine 4,000 people coming to church on a single night, spending five hours there, then returning for six more nights, with the number increasing to 8,000 the last night.
It’s every pastor’s dream. And at Notre Dame d’Haiti, it’s been the reality every October for the past 17 years.
The draw is Jericho, seven nights of soul-soothing music, soul-searing preaching and soulful adoration that draw Haitians from as near as Homestead and Pompano to as far as Boston and Canada.
“It’s like a yearly rendezvous for the community,” said Father Reginald Jean-Mary, administrator of Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission. “Everyone wants to take their vacation on the dates of Jericho,” which begins the third Sunday in October and concludes the following Saturday.
The name comes from the Old Testament story of Joshua and the Israelites journeying to the Promised Land. Coming upon Jericho, they brought down its walls by walking once around the city for six days, then seven times on the seventh day while blowing the ram’s horn.
The Haitian Jericho turns the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land into an individual spiritual journey.
“We have to make the same journey, beating down the walls in our life,” said Father Jean-Mary, explaining that those walls can be grudges and resentments that separate people and families; low self-esteem that prevents individuals from reaching their goals; or any barrier that keeps people “from being who God is calling us to be and to become.”
While emphasizing personal conversion, Jericho is also “a catechetical experience,” the priest said.
Over the seven nights, people learn about the sacraments, the cardinal virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every night starts with the rosary at 6 p.m., followed by praise and worship, a homily, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and a walk around the grounds of the church. On the final night, those in attendance walk seven times around the church, as a trumpet blows.
Father Jean-Mary brings in different preachers each night, often priests from his native Haiti. Archbishop Thomas Wenski usually stops by, to celebrate either the opening or the closing Mass, as he did this year.
Every year, Jericho focuses on a different theme. This year, it was “Called to greatness.” But greatness in the eyes of God, not in the eyes of the world.
“Our greatness depends on our humility. You are great when you can serve,” Father Jean-Mary said. “I am great when I can give somebody a hand to stand up.”
Hosting a seven-night experience for thousands of people involves every one of the 37 groups and ministries at Notre Dame d’Haiti. Young adults oversee the parking lot. Youths make sure the bathrooms remain clean. Different choirs take turns leading praise and worship. And every night, Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission turns into Notre Dame d’Haiti Resto – a restaurant featuring meals cooked on the premises by rotating parish groups, who bring their own ingredients and turn over the profits to the church.
“We invite the people not to cook at home,” Father Jean-Mary explained.
Every Jericho also requires a work of charity, funded by people’s prayer donations. “That’s our solidarity,” he said.
Jericho is a way of uniting the parish as well as the Haitian community. Father Jean-Mary started it after being named administrator of the mission and sensing what he describes as “a spiritual dryness.” People coming only for Sunday Mass. Many of the younger Haitians leaving for non-Catholic churches.
A friend who was a bishop in Haiti told Father Jean-Mary about Jericho, how it had helped him build his new diocese. But there’s one big difference between Jericho in the Archdiocese of Miami and Jericho anywhere else.
“This is the only diocese, either in Haiti or the diaspora, where there is only one Jericho,” the priest noted. New York hosts seven; Boston six; Haiti 20.
In Miami, all the priests and faithful in the predominantly Haitian parishes join in. They also take turns throughout the rest of the year hosting stops on a “spiritual caravan.” January is the month of the Holy Family, for example, celebrated at Holy Family in North Miami. September is the month of St. Michael, celebrated at St. Clement in Fort Lauderdale.
“We keep them going for the whole year,” Father Jean-Mary said.
He said he has seen Catholics return to the Church after attending Jericho. He has seen marriages and families healed. He has heard of people finding desperately needed jobs. “Anything that happened they come back to say thank you,” he said.
But the most concrete example of Jericho’s impact is not walls torn down, but walls built up: Notre Dame d’Haiti itself, the first church, indeed the first building, erected by and for South Florida’s Haitian community. It was dedicated in February 2014.
“This church is a testimony to Jericho,” Father Jean-Mary said. “It is the fruit of Jericho.”