The National Center of the Haitian Apostolate
[Priests and Deacons of the Catholic Haitian Diaspora at the annual Haitian Apostolate Pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.
His Eminence Cardinal Chibly Langlois was the principal celebrant]
The National Center of the Haitian Apostolate (NCHA) was founded in the latter part of the 1970s by some Haitian Priests ministering in the USA. Haitians were entering the country in vast numbers. There were then animated public debates about the “boat people” who washed up on the Florida shores. At the same time, Haitian priests were few in numbers. The Haitian priests of Brooklyn felt a twofold challenge: first, create an advocacy network to favorably influence US government policies regarding the legal issues of Haitian immigrants and second to foster a systematic dialogue among all Catholic Clergy and lay leaders to address the pastoral concerns of this new population. The gatherings for pastoral concerns emerged first. After a few years, they began to be called conventions as the number of participants increased.
The Office of Migration and Refugee Services of the US Bishops’ Conference having shortly before opened a new branch of their activities for the specific purpose of fostering the pastoral care of immigrants recognized the efforts of these priests and officially established the National Center of the Haitian Apostolate as one of their own in 1988. Its mission was to serve the spiritual needs of the growing Haitian American Catholic community and ensure their smooth and gradual integration into the American Church. There were an estimated 1,500,000 Haitians in the US, mostly recent immigrants. Over two-thirds of that number were Catholics, a fact that pointed Haitians as the largest group of black Catholic immigrants. As these new Church members settled in many areas of the country, parishes were frequently ill-equipped to provide for their spiritual care. A focused pastoral outreach program became a necessity. There were about 100 parishes throughout the country to provide specialized ministry to this important segment of God’s flock. Fr. Guy Sansaricq was assigned as the first Director of the NCHA.
There was also a need to create an advocacy network that materialized in the formation of a vast coalition of lawyers, Human Rights groups, and Church groups into what was then called: The National Coalition of Haitian Refugees.
The National Center of the Haitian Apostolate began to issue a newsletter four times a year. The Kolej Pastoral was created for the biblical formation of lay leaders. The office sponsored annual youth weekend retreats and organized pilgrimages to religious sites. NCHA initiated an annual Convention now in its 30th year, as well as a weeklong annual priest’s retreat. An office is open every day for constant consultation with the grassroots and for the promotion of the apostolate everywhere in the US and in Canada. Contact is also maintained with the Bahamas.
Over the years, the number of priests in the Haitian Apostolate has greatly increased. Diocesan coordinators for the Haitian Apostolate have been assigned. The National Center developed links with the various diocesan coordinators and regional meetings of priests have been held. The social concerns of the population have evolved yet not disappeared. The concerns linked to the pastoral care of our population still call for constant reflection and aggressive commitment. The National Center wishes nothing more than to be a catalyst and promoter of great pastoral progress in the service of our people.
The NCHA has a permanent Office in the Diocese of Brooklyn that is staffed by Haitian born Sisters of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary, a community founded in Belgium in 1905. The sisters are also assisted by a few volunteers. The staff coordinates and conducts all the programs and also frequently calls the more than 100 priests involved in the apostolate who are scattered all over the country. In turn, many Priests, Deacons, and Lay Leaders routinely call the Central office for advice, information, and encouragement.