Cultural Experiences: A Haitian Mass

November 6, 2017

This post comes from Mikayla Walters from the University of South Alabama. Mikayla is a Chemical Engineering Major who interned in Santiago, Chile.

Recently, I took part in a very unique cultural experience.  Brianna, the other API intern that lives with my host family, works at the Centro Universitario Ignaciano (CUI), a program of the Universidad Alberto Hurtado.  CUI has a program to help Haitian immigrants in Santiago by teaching them Spanish, providing support and helping them integrate smoothly into the community.  One of Brianna’s primary duties is to take pictures of CUI’s functions.  She was asked by a priest who works with CUI, Ruben, to take pictures of a Haitian mass celebrating the second anniversary of the Haitian pastorate in Santiago.  She invited me to come and I gladly took the opportunity.  I was interested on three accounts – one, to see the mass (I am Protestant), two, to observe a mass in Spanish, and three, to experience the Haitian culture.

When we arrived, there was a choir made up of Haitian singers and a piano player who were singing religious songs in their native language, Creole.  It was very beautiful!  The songs would alternate with people speaking, including Ruben and two other priests and several members of the choir.  The Haitians spoke in Creole, and at first, I couldn’t tell which language the priests were speaking.  It sounded very similar to French (which I have studied for one year) and I understood bits and pieces, and I thought to myself, wow, Creole is so similar to French.  Then the priests explained what they had said again in Spanish, and what surprised me is how familiar it sounded!

Usually Spanish sounds foreign to me, but out of everything I heard at the ceremony, it was what I knew best.  As was explained to me later, the other language was, in fact, French, as the priests do not know Creole well and many educated Haitians know French.  The priests were speaking French for the Haitians to understand and Spanish for the non-Haitians there to understand.  Later in the service, everyone took communion and then everyone began greeting each other with a handshake and a certain greeting word, which I couldn’t make out.  When people came to me I just smiled and shook their hand!  At this point, I thought the mass was over but there followed more singing and speaking.  Finally, the priest said there would be a reception in the side room and all were welcome to join.

The reception was not at all what I was expecting for a religious service.  I pictured there being snacks and fellowship among the people.  Not only were there chips and nuts, there were sandwiches, cake, wine and champagne, and music!  A lot of Protestant churches back home do not allow dancing, and never before have I seen alcohol served in a church.  It was very different and fun; I was glad to see everyone so happy.  It is a great thing that CUI and the Catholic church are doing for the immigrants and I was honored to be able to celebrate with them.

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