David Williamson and Jamalyn Peigh Williamson, both D’03, are missionaries in Fondwa, Haiti, serving with Family Health Ministries of Chapel Hill, N.C. During a trip to the U.S. in early February, the couple’s planned two-week visit had to be extended when civil unrest erupted in Haiti. They returned safely in March and e-mailed the following account of Holy Week. There’s simply no way to describe the wonderfully unique and Haitian touches we witnessed throughout the Easter services.
FONDWA, HAITI -- Most of our memories of Holy Week center on the church, which is still the center of Easter festivities. The call of liberation was evident in all the church services we attended. Thursday’s mass emphasized that Christ has chosen to be particularly present when we are sharing our riches with one another, symbolized in the sharing of a meal. The emphasis upon social justice continued to Sunday morning, where the message of “resurrection” was indistinguishable from the call to rebuild Haiti and, in particular, the local community of Fondwa.
We quickly realized that St. Antoine Catholic Church offers a Holy Week more recognizable to us than Fondwa’s Protestant Church.
On Palm Sunday, when most U.S. churches begin the service with children parading in waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna,” the Primitive Church passed on this tradition and chose to focus on the meaning of reconciliation.
Some may think they missed the meaning of Palm Sunday, but what better way of proclaiming Christ’s arrival than by sharing His greatest commandment “To love one another,” without which reconciliation is impossible?
The Catholic nuns and novices of Fondwa offer amazing spiritual guidance to the youth. Wednesday was a day of reflection for them, dedicated to improving their relationship with Christ and their community. Even lunch was a quiet affair—not a word was spoken as food was passed out to all the children. It was something to see children of 9 and 10 quietly singing and praying for a period of time that would challenge most adults
It was a beautiful sight to witness the 7-year-old to 10-year-old group sit in prayer and contemplation. Later we asked 10-year-old Fabiola to share what she thought about during the day.
“I asked God to change my life, ” she said. She wanted to learn not to feel the desire “to hit someone” who made her mad or whom she just didn’t like.
As we talked about Fabiola’s response, we wondered if we fail to challenge our children in the church. We forget that such young minds are able to think theologically. The children’s sermons we have been guilty of giving on Sunday mornings have not always honored children’s deep spiritual lives.
Good Friday is THE kite-flying day in Haiti: every child comes out to the bluffs to catch the updraft of the wind, and the skies are filled with homemade kites—white and black plastic scraps stretched taut over sticks skillfully arranged in a hexagonal pattern.
Another tradition, with roots in the colonial days when slaves were given this one week to celebrate, involves the “Ra-Ra bands.” During the Holy Week, people pull out beaten trumpets, tubas, tambourines and drums, and they form small bands that process through the region. They are usually accompanied by four or five dancers dressed as jesters and carrying brightly colored flags. A crowd of dancing people is usually caught up in the call of the rhythmic music.
The band that paused in front of our house was led by a man who directed the players with timely whistle blows and the mighty “thwap” of one of the longest whips I’ve ever seen. It was a sight to see: the procession took off, thronged with dancers and players, over which the whip could always be seen arcing and dancing, accenting the music still hanging in the air. Although that is the only Ra-Ra I saw close up, the music of Ra-Ra groups can be heard at any time of day (and night) somewhere in the valley.
Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross service on Friday was in some ways like any other. At each station, we’d listen to a Scripture reading and a reflection on the reading, followed by a time of silent, and then corporate, prayer. Between the stations, we sang one or two songs, depending on how far we were walking. What made it so special was the setting.
We walked along the only “road” in Fondwa, starting at the bottom of the valley and walking up the mountain. As we rose, the road afforded beautiful views of the area’s poverty and grandeur. It was blazingly hot. We didn’t get started until 9:30 a.m., and the service lasted almost two hours, so toward the end was the hottest part of the day. When we started the walk, there were trees that offered shade every five minutes or so, and we walked from tree to tree to have our stations.
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