Helen Mierez has a word with Archbishop Henry J. Mansell at a picnic on June 24 on the grounds of St. Justin Church in Hartford. The picnic followed the fifth annual Caribbean Mass, which included Caribbean dress, flags, music and dance. The event was sponsored by the Hartford Chapter of Caribbean Catholics of North America, an organization that aims to help Caribbean Catholic people and the wider Church through spiritual development, advocacy and cultural preservation. See photo gallery by Lenora Sumsky at right.
HARTFORD – Caribbean Catholics who live and worship in the greater Hartford area celebrated their rich cultures and heritages at a festive and colorful Mass on June 24 at St. Justin Church.
Archbishop Henry J. Mansell was the principal celebrant of the fifth annual Caribbean Catholic Mass, sponsored by the Hartford Chapter of Caribbean Catholics of North America.
"This is a way for the Caribbean people, from Jamaica, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Guyana, St. Lucia and other islands to share their culture with friends, neighbors and visitors through music and song," said Beverly Plummer, co-president of the Hartford chapter.
Father Kingsley Ihejirika, parochial vicar of the linked parishes of St. Justin and St. Michael, served as homilist for the Mass that, this year, corresponded with the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.
"This is an important day in the Church calendar and an important day in your lives," said Father Kingsley.
"John the Baptist is a wonderful example of an individual who was constantly aware of his identity, Christian mission and destiny," he said. This is especially significant to Caribbean and African-American Catholics who have been "limited by color, race, origin, challenges or circumstances" of their lives, he added.
Father Kinglsey encouraged the approximately 800 people who gathered for the Mass to trust in God and heed the message of John the Baptist.
"The message of John the Baptist is to be prepared" and to always be aware of one’s destiny and mission, he said.
The Mass was a spirited celebration that began with a procession of colorful flags representing nearly 20 Caribbean nations. In addition to altar servers, readers, deacons and celebrants, the procession included honor guards of the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Peter Claver and Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary. Liturgical dancers of the Caribbean American Dance Company were also part of the procession.
Lively calypso-like liturgical music was provided by the St. Justin Choir accompanied by steel pan, bass guitar, soprano saxophone and piano.
Two traditions that are common in many Caribbean countries were incorporated into the liturgical celebration. The offertory gifts of bread and wine were presented with baskets of fruits, including some that are indigenous to the Caribbean. This custom is especially popular at harvest time.
Many Caribbean cultures also bestow Mass celebrants with gifts of appreciation. Archbishop Mansell was given engraved silver wine bottle stoppers from parishioners and event organizers who expressed their gratitude for his support and commitment to Caribbean-American and African-American Catholics in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
The annual St. Justin Parish Picnic followed the Mass. Parishioners cooked and served traditional Caribbean foods, including curried goat, jerk chicken, pork and fish.
Festive music, games and face-painting rounded out the afternoon of fellowship and fun.