This Easter, I was asked to go back to the parish in Haiti where I was assigned as an intern (while in seminary) while the pastor, who was also my former field supervisor, went home for his vacation. With hope and joy, I accepted the task, and was especially blessed to be able to preside over the first communion celebrations, which take place during the Easter season each year.
First communion is a much-anticipated event in Haitian parishes every year. After two years in catechetical formation, the children and adults must pass an oral examination to evaluate their knowledge of the Roman Catholic faith. After the evaluation, they then undergo a three day retreat to deepen their appreciation and love for the Mass and the Eucharist. The retreat ends with the celebration of the candidates’ first Reconciliation.
While the first communion candidates are busy in their spiritual preparation, the parents and godparents are also busy preparing for the feast after the Eucharistic celebration. Each household prepares something extravagant for their child since this feast is an extraordinary celebration for the Haitians. Despite the economic difficulty, they give due respect to the Eucharist and pay it with highest honor by preparing a festive atmosphere almost similar to a Parish fiesta. The parents have to go down to the nearest cities in Cap Haitien and Hinche just to purchase the needed provisions for the feast and to buy the best clothing for the candidates.
When the day of the first communion arrives, one will see the Church filled with children wearing their Sunday best. Those who come from the other chapels have to walk for one to two hours just to get to the village center, donning their dresses and suits while being careful not to get them dirty. Most of them have their “mon frère” (my brother) and “ma sœur” (my sister), another first communion candidate whom they consider as their companion during this momentous event. They all have their seats in front while their proud parents stay at the back portion of the Church, nonchalant about the heat they experience in the over-crowded space.
For the first communicants and their families, the Liturgy of the Eucharist is overwhelmingly beautiful. During the first communion celebration this past Easter, the candidates received both species: the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the form of bread and wine. The enthusiasm of receiving our Lord Jesus Christ for the first time was seen on their faces as they patiently waited in line. I reminded them that they should take communion frequently under the state of grace and to always consider it as their “first communion, last communion, and only communion.” I also told them that every time the bread and wine are consecrated, they should remember the disciple Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God.”
After the celebration of the Eucharist, the festive atmosphere from the Church was brought to each home. I went to Mr. Luckner Bien-Aimé’s house. He is one of the employees in the parish and his son, Lobenky, just had his first communion. The rain could not even dampen their joyful spirits. Before the meal, one of the guests poured champagne on the heads of those who had just received their first communion. A three-course meal followed, as well as an offering of bread and wine on the family table. Cake was served, and the ritual of telling stories and riddles began. It was truly a joyous celebration.
The Eucharistic celebration with the joyful atmosphere of the first communion calls to mind the mission that our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned his disciples during the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.” This “ever ancient, ever new” commandment keeps the Haitian faith alive especially when they prepared themselves for the first communion. It is in the Blessed Sacrament that one can put life’s struggles aside for a little while. It is in this enigmatic event that the union of the divine and human natures of Christ is more fully revealed. And this revelation bears fruit in that the candidates come back to the Church the next Sunday wearing their first communion dress, eager to receive Jesus Christ once again.
My experience in Haiti this Easter taught me to have a deeper sense of appreciation to the Eucharist. The Eucharist, being “the summit and source of Christian worship” deserves to be reverenced as the Haitians do. As a priest, I am tasked with leading the people to an even greater communion with God and with one another by preparing my homilies well and by being a good example. It is always my fervent hope that this Eucharistic communion will not only be meaningful during the liturgical celebration but will gush forth to the daily life of the people. I pray that, with your encouragement and support, we can continue inspiring Haitians to live in harmony with one another the same way as they long with enthusiasm for the Eucharist.
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