Haiti

Haiti celebrates first cardinal

 
 
 <span class="cutline_leadin">CARDINAL LANGLOIS:</span> ‘It’s the entire Catholic Church of Haiti that has been given this honor.’
CARDINAL LANGLOIS: ‘It’s the entire Catholic Church of Haiti that has been given this honor.’
PATRICK FARRELL / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

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Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski will join South Florida’s Haitian community for a 7 p.m. dedication Mass on Saturday to celebrate a new $5 million Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church at 110 NE 62 St.

More than 60 priests and 10 bishops, including delegations from Haiti, New York, Boston and the Bahamas, are expected to attend as well as Archbishop Emeritus John C. Favalora.


jcharles@MiamiHerald.com

For Monsignor Chibly Langlois, the honor of joining the Catholic Church’s elite hierarchy and being among those who may one day choose the next pope — and perhaps be among the top contenders — is unbelievable.

So unbelievable, in fact, that when the emails and voice mails hit his cell phone last month congratulating him on being named Haiti’s first cardinal, Langlois didn’t believe it. So the 55-year-old Bishop did what any tech-savvy priest would do: he Googled himself.

“I never knew they were thinking about naming me,” Langlois told the Miami Herald. “I was surprised. After I confirmed the news, I received it with a lot of emotions. It’s the entire Catholic Church of Haiti that has been given this honor and the entire country.”

Langlois, who currently serves as bishop of Les Cayes in the south, will be officially elevated on Feb. 22 at the Vatican by Pope Francis, who in deciding the historic decision professed his “profound affection” for the country that has suffered so many misfortunes.

“I will give Haiti greater visibility under positive lights. I will honor the Church in Haiti. I will create a Haitian cardinal,” the Apostolic Nuncio Bernardito Auza, the pope’s representative, said Francis told him on Dec. 19 while swearing him to secrecy.

Dozens of relatives along with scores of Haitians from the island, the United States and Europe are planning to attend the event where Pope Francis will present him with a red silk biretta and gold ring, officially designating him one of his closest advisers, and a “prince of the church.”

In that role, Langlois, one of the youngest cardinals in the group and priest who is not an archbishop, will be eligible to be part of the secret conclave that elects the next pope.

“We’re so very happy,” Gertrude Langlois Fabre, 52, said about her big brother, the oldest of four children who was born in La Vallée, a rural village in southeast Haiti.

“It’s an extraordinary miracle. We never dreamed that God would choose him.”

Until Pope Francis named him among 16 new cardinals — a list that included the retired bishop of Castries, Saint Lucia, Monsignor Kelvin Edward Felix, and dominated by the developing world — Langlois was relatively unknown despite being president of the Haitian bishops’ conference.

But it’s precisely this high-profile role and his tireless advocacy on behalf of Haiti’s poor masses that some believe brought him to the attention of the 77-year-old Argentine pontiff, who has been pushing for a more inclusive church that is as much the church of the poor as the privileged.

Langlois, who is pro-poor and creating educational opportunity for Haiti’s dispirited youths, reflects the shifting tone.

“The people at the bottom need to know that God loves them, and to not be afraid,” he said. “And all of us, priests, bishops, we all should find a way to give the church this mark.”

Anite Langlois, who is married to Langlois’ brother Edguert, said this has been his philosophy both as bishop of Les Cayes, the second diocese where he has been posted, and as bishop of Fort Liberte in the north of Haiti.

“When he’s preaching, he’s always thinking of the people who are suffering, telling them, ‘Suffer today but have hope for tomorrow,’ ” Anite Langlois, 46, said. “He’s never lost sight of the people, or his family even as he’s moved from priest to bishop to cardinal.”

Langlois’ appointment comes at a time when not only the Catholic Church is trying to shift its image globally and hold onto its wayward flock, but as the church in Haiti also struggles to rebuild.

After years of steering away from the country’s unforgiving political limelight after one of its own, former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, twice became president and twice was forced from office, the church is trying to regain ground and last year offered to try and steer Haiti away from the political morass, and again be the moral arbiter.

A Christmas message from the bishops’ conference that Langlois heads decried the government corruption and mismanagement, the political polarization and “great suffering and conflict situations” that heavily impact Haitian’s lives.

On Friday, Langlois marked his fifth day as chief mediator among 50 opposition groups — some have been demanding Haitian President Michel Martelly’s resignation — and representatives of the president. The sides disagree about governance of the country, where the parties and government are divided about whether one or two elections should be held this year.

“The fact that he’s been doing that for the past five days, trying to find a solution to the political crisis, doesn’t make him a political bishop. It makes him a spiritual bishop,” said Lionel Delatour, a local political analyst.

The church, Langlois said, has a responsibility to keep politicians in check, reminding them of their responsibility and God’s desire for “people to live well.”

“Every period comes with its own strategy, and the church understands that it has to read the signs of the time,” he said. “That’s why at one period, the church could be more active and in another you could think it’s timid, but it’s working another way.”

Still, he acknowledges that Haiti’s church faces challenges, from rebuilding schools and houses of worships destroyed in the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, to keeping its members in the wake of Evangelism movements that are gaining a foothold post quake.

As cardinal, he sees his role as working to help the church grow and strengthen that base inside the country.

“This is a population with a lot of needs,” he said.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who has worked with Langlois, said he is a good choice because he represents all Haitians.

“He will be an active cardinal — with energy and youth — and by no means a ‘bench warmer,’” Wenski said. “By choosing Chibly, the pope assures that Haiti will have a cardinal for a good number of years.”

Langlois’ appointment also brings welcome attention to Haiti and its difficult situation. The announcement was made on Jan. 12, the day Haiti commemorated the fourth anniversary of its the quake, which nearly flattened the capital.

It was well-received by Haitians, even as they mourned the day, which left more than 300,000 Haitians dead and an equal number injured.

“This is good news,” Elimense Derosiers, 62, said while attending Mass inside an unfinished building across from the destroyed Port-au-Prince Cathedral. “This is a benediction for Haiti, a blessing.”

Wenski said by appointing Langlois, the pope “brings on board a man who because of his talents will serve the Haitian church credibly.

“He represents the new generation of Haitian bishops. He is very capable,” Wenski said of Langlois, who is fluent in Italian as well as French and Creole. He also speaks English and understands Spanish.

Auza, the pope’s representative in Haiti, said Langlois is a hard worker, a quality echoed throughout the country. He’s also viewed as humble and simple.

Auza said Langlois didn’t learn of his appointment until three to four hours after the pope made his announcement at the Vatican.

“Of course he did not tell me who he had in mind, nor did I dare ask who would it be, nor did I make suggestions who should be the one elevated to the rank of cardinal,” Auza said.

Christopher Bellitto, an associate professor of history and church historian at Kean University in New Jersey, isn’t surprised.

“This pope seems to enjoy surprising people and not going according to the rules,” he said. “What Francis is doing is ..to internationalize the church, to make a college of cardinals that truly represents a global church.”

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