Haitian Catholic youth celebrate ‘God’s Love and Mercy’

DORCHESTER — Young members of Boston’s Catholic Haitian community rallied in celebration of “God’s Love and Mercy” at St. Gregory Church’s elementary school June 10.

The purpose of the day-long rally and retreat was to invigorate the next generation of Haitian Catholics and take advantage of the strength of the community’s leadership team, said Father Gabriel Michel, a parochial vicar at St. Angela Church in Mattapan and the coordinator of the archdiocese’s Haitian Apostolate.

“Just to have them there together was my dream,” he said.

“The key is the youth,” he said. “Since my assignment, I really wanted to start building the community through the youth.”

The organizers received vital support from the two archdiocesan offices, youth ministry and ethnic apostolates, he said.

Father Michel said more than 140 young people from all grade levels participated in the program from six parishes — Christ the King Church, Brockton; St. Mary Church, Lynn; St. Ann, Somerville; Immaculate Conception, Everett; St. Matthew Church, Dorchester and St. Angela, Mattapan.

The rally included segments for everyone as well as breakout sessions — with attendees 13 years old and older gathering upstairs and the younger ones staying in the school’s gym, said Father Michel.

While the younger participants answered questions about God’s love and mercy and played inspirational games, upstairs, members of the youth ministry team led a frank discussion of the perils of pre-marital sex, drugs and alcohol, he said.

Members of the youth group from Bellingham’s St. Brendan Church facilitated the teenage discussions, said Cheryl Duran, who runs the group with her husband, James Duran.

“Our kids gave witness talks of how God has worked in their lives,” she said.

The upstairs session was a very powerful part of the rally, said Rachel Sanon, a youth minister at both St. Ann’s and St. Angela’s. “It really caught their attention, and it takes a lot to get teenagers interested,” she added.

Sanon said that after the rally, many of the teenagers approached her to express their feelings of God’s love working through the five young leaders who shared stories of their faith journey. “They were really touched and it made a major impact on them,” she said.

“The testimonies upstairs were the most powerful moment for me,” said Malida Theodore, who led the contingent from Brockton. Other segments included a witness of faith from the rally’s guest speaker, Vincent Cerasuolo, and a dance by girls from St. Ann’s called “Preparing ourselves to enter the House of the Lord,” she said.

The dancers practiced the routine, which was created by the St. Ann’s youth leaders with input from the girls, on the four Saturdays leading up to the rally, she said.

“I’m very excited to see the kids involved in an experience like this,” said Cerasuolo, the director of the Charismatic Renewal Services in the archdiocese.

Cerasuolo, who after his testimony of faith performed songs of praise with members of the youth ministry team, said the young people at the rally already had a strong spiritual base. “They have a great depth of spirit,” he said.

“I was thrilled to see how the kids came through,” said Sanon. “We wanted to show them God’s love and mercy, and we did.”

“Everything turned out the way we planned it and we want to make it happen every year,” she said.