In May 1989, the National Convention of the Haitian Apostolate requested that all Haitian pastoral agents do more to help the youth of Haitian descent to remain grounded in their Catholic faith while maintaining their Haitian identity.
On September 3, 1989, 257 young people gathered together from diverse parishes and named youth leaders from their communities. From this meeting, Ms. Maud Percy facilitated another gathering for the youth leaders in Sacred Heart, Cambria Heights on November 12, 1989.
A new committee was formed, Association des Jeunes Haitiens Catholiques (AJHC), for the distinct purpose of working toward a new generation of young Haitian Catholics.
AJHC was given the task to contact youth groups in Brooklyn (Holy Cross, St. Francis, Our Lady of Refuge, St. Matthew, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, Holy Innocents, St. Jerome), St Joachim & Ann (Queens), Holy Name in Manhattan, St Leo and St. Matthew in Massachusetts, and from New Jersey St Patrick where the newly ordained Fr. Fritz Ligonde was assigned and the parish of St. John. Following these contacts another meeting of youth leaders was held in Queens in April 1990 and a decision was made to plan a weekend retreat experience. The first youth Congress was held the weekend of June 29, 1990 at Pawling, NY. Sixty-seven people representing faith communities from Massachusetts, New Jersey, St. Francis, Our Lady of Refuge, St. Ignatius, Sacred Heart (Cambria Heights), and St Mary Star of the Sea (Far Rockaway) attended. Thus started the call to gather Haitian youths from across the nation annually for a Congress.
The second Congress took place in June 1991 at the Inn of the Spirit with 60 young people. The theme was: “Who is Jesus in your life?” Subsequent themes included: “Live like Jesus lived in today’s world”, “Give God a chance, Ayisyen renmen tet tankou Jezi renmen-nou. Ahead with Christ.”
AJHC encouraged the youth to reflect more deeply on the mystery of Christ and over two hundred spent the weekend to “Rediscover Jesus”. During this congress the young people were encouraged to focus on and be open to the sacrament of penance. Over this weekend an incredible number received the “sacrament”. A congress entitled “Fire in the Spirit”, introduced the young people to the “first Pentecost”. They were reminded through talks, workshops, prayer, and praise experiences that each of them had the opportunity to open their hearts more fully to the Holy Spirit’s transforming power. Time was spent encouraging the youth to examine their thoughts and behaviors and for them to ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen them so they can live their “Life in the Spirit.” One felt that by the end of this congress the young people had a better understanding of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Still another congress focused on God the Father and a wonderful poem by Nancye Sims entitled “God Is Never Far Away” to help convey the message.
Young people gave “Glory to the Blessed Trinity” at another congress. Every mass begins with a passage taken from 2 Corinthians 13:13; namely “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the central mysteries of our Christian faith.
A great challenge was to locate space where young people could meet their peers under supervised circumstances and spiritually provocative topics and activities could be offered. Fr. Fritz identified and negotiated with the Archdiocesan Youth Center in Kearny, NJ and all subsequent congresses have been held at that venue. AJHC honored special spiritual mothers who constantly prayed for the leadership and the youth, as well as offered assistance during the congresses, namely: Mrs. Rosette Previl, Mrs. Irma Alexis, and Mrs. Mercie Jeanty.
As Bishop Guy Sansaricq, the founder and Executive Director of the National Center of the Haitian Apostolate eloquently put it the purpose of the AJHC summer congresses was to bring young people to the great outdoors and open their minds and hearts to new experiences. Yes, Jesus can excite a young mind and attract a young heart. Jesus motivates and inspires. The great discovery is that true excitement is rooted inside. The mind and the heart are the bedrock of a successful life. At the weekend congresses, group leaders try to reinforce the power for love and success Jesus gives to those who believe and know that He lives within them.
As Haitian families migrated to new areas in the United States AJHC took to task the visit and assistance to newly formed Haitian Catholic communities. AJHC was an agent to developing catholic faith communities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Florida.
AJHC’s vision was to develop faith grounded leadership in the young people who have been engaged in youth ministry. Through a series of encounters, AJHC maintained contact with old and new Youth ministry programs and offered technical assistance and support to the leadership. One such weekend was entitled “Empowered to lead”. Attendees were exposed to: (1). ELEMENTS OF LEADERSHIP (2). LEADERSHIP ROLES IN THE CHURCH (3). CHALLENGES IN YOUTH MINISTRY (4). VOCATION: ONE’S ANSWER TO GOD’S CALL (5). MINISTRY AND SPIRITUALITY (6). LEADING BY EXAMPLE. Thank you to some of our presenters: Carmelle Durand, Carl Durand, Berthe Leveille Tulce, Darling Previl, Nicole Rosefort, Micheline Cadet, and Sister Marilyn Minter (our and Kearny’s guitar playing nun). Sr. Marilyn went on to minister to our brothers and sisters in Haiti.
AJHC’s commitment to Youth Ministry had expanded to the Haitian Catholic Charismatic Congress, Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Scranton Pennsylvania, Faith Formation events, Life in the Spirit seminars for young people, medical missions to Haiti, and financial support of Haitian students in Senegal.
The leadership team included our beloved sister Karine Previl-Dunel who has since transitioned, Darling Previl, Berthe Leveille-Tulce, Suzette Leveille, Jacky Guilloux, Rodrigue Israel, Reginald Magloire, and Michele Guerrier. These leaders continue to be engaged in ministry roles in their home parishes and dioceses, as well.