Charismatic Catholicism Vibrant In Little Haiti

Oct 15, 2015

The faithful stand with their arms outstretched.

“If God has saved you, scream out, ‘There is a God,’ ” a speaker yells into a microphone.

The crowd of about 2,000 people responds, “There is a God.”

Several women jump up and down in circles. Nearby a man punches his arms into the air in exaltation.

Jericho, an annual spiritual revival held at Notre Dame D’Haiti Catholic Church, draws about 10,000 people over seven days. Locals flock to the church and some people fly in from Haiti and Canada to participate.

During the fervent praise and worship, rosaries sway to distinct Haitian and Caribbean rhythms.

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement is alive at Notre Dame, a predominantly Haitian congregation where masses are exuberant.

Each year the church hosts the Jericho revival, now in its fourteenth year, where this fiery brand of worship is on display.

“What we see at Jericho is nothing else than the thirst of the people for God,” said Father Reginald Jean Mary, who leads the congregation at Notre Dame.

The revival evokes the story of Jericho in the Bible -- how God helped the Israelites capture the city of Jericho by telling them to march around the city's walls for seven days and on the seventh day the walls fell.

During the seven days, people are encouraged to contemplate their own personal barriers and how those too might fall.

“We have walls in our lives,” said Jean Mary. “ The walls of hatred, the walls of grudges, the walls of division”

Mesmin Augustin, a parishioner at Notre Dame, said to feel a deeper connection with God sometimes he has to use more than just plain words.

“They say singing is praying twice,” said Augustin. “When you sing, when you dance, you get to express in a more effective way your communication with God.”

Father Jean Mary said he knows that some people look at the revival and say, “This doesn’t look Catholic.”  The uninhibited prayers, the talking in tongues are more reminiscent of the Pentecostal church.

“The key to us is not what it looks like,” he said. “[It’s] what impact it’s having on the lives of the people.”

More than half of U.S. adults who grew up Catholic leave the church at some point in their lives. About 11 percent return, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Jean Mary said spiritual activities like this are also a way to invite back those who left and to show them a different side of the church.

“That’s what Pope Francis is trying to convey to us today, the need to be open-minded,” Jean Mary said.

Nadia-Lee Jean Baptiste said she attends Jericho to profess her faith and to bear witness in front of thousands that “God is.”

“You put your faith out there,” she said.

Some parishioners come holding pictures of the sick and pray for healing. Those who are unemployed pray for jobs. Others pray to mend broken families.

They cry. They sing. They dance.