MIAMI — When Archbishop Thomas Wenski walked through the doors of Notre Dame d’ Haiti Mission Church to begin the dedication Mass, the sounds of church members speaking Creole to crying babies lowered, and then came to complete silence.
Wenski, who speaks fluent Creole and spoke it at the dedication, has been involved in the Haitian ministry since 1979. He was associate director and then director of the Pierre Toussaint Haitian Catholic Center in Miami, which provided social, educational and legal services as well as pastoral services to the Haitian community.
He also served concurrently as pastor of three Haitian mission parishes in the Archdiocese-Notre-Dame d’Haiti in Miami, Divine Mercy in Fort Lauderdale and St. Joseph in Pompano Beach.
“For 18 years, I served as a parish priest for the Haitian community,” said Archbishop Wenski of the church he helped to create. “Like I said, this was a dream come true for me. For the Haitian community here in Miami, it’s a symbol of hope for them.”
Parishioners started fund-raising for the new $5 million church eight years ago. About $3.2 million of the cost was donated by Haitian parishioners and community members. The Archdiocese of Miami provided a loan of $1.5 million, which will be paid back by parishioners and donors, according to a statement.
The church, located at 110 NE 62nd St., in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, is known as “home as this is where much of the Haitian community comes to convene, worship, celebrate life, mourn deaths and find comfort during difficult moments,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson in a statement.
Notre Dame d’Haiti’s old worship space, which is called a mission, seated 700 people. “The new facility is connected to the mission and will seat 1,200 people in the church,” said Juan A. Di Prado, media coordinator of the event.
About 3,000 parishioners came out for the celebrations, spilling out of the new space. Members had to gather in the old worship space to watch the dedication on television and others peeked through windows to get a glance of the proceedings.
“It’s so packed that my sister and I have to move around to each window to get a glimpse of it,” said Diane Saint Louis, 20. “I been on my feet for the entire event but it’s worth it when you think about how long we waited for this.”
Joining many local religious leaders were the Prime Minister of Haiti Laurent Lamothe, delegations of 60 priests and 10 bishops from Haiti and Haitians from New York, Boston and the Bahamas. There were a few visitors who came from different cities in Florida.
“I live in Boca Raton but heard the announcement over the radio,” said Joseph Cherizard, 48. “I’m a nonmember but I wanted to be a part of it and see this celebration for my people.”
Congresswomen Frederica Wilson attended to show her support for the Haitian community, wearing one of her signature headpieces, a peach-colored cowboy hat with white pearl flowers around it.
“I came out tonight to celebrate with our community; the church has been a ‘lifeline community center’ and we watched them struggle to come to this pinnacle,” said Wilson, who represents Florida’s 24th District.
Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary, Notre Dame d’ Haiti’s pastor, spoke briefly saying, “The church is a testimony of our faith and it is a symbol of our unity as a nation.”
Notre Dame d’ Haiti finally has its new and improve place to worship.
“We have made sacrifices building the church and today is the day when all our hard work pays off,” said parishioner Seintilia Ameleus, 60.