By Arlene Edmonds

Special to The CS&T

Creole culture, conga drums and a trilingual liturgy filled the Chapel of St. Joseph’s University for Mass on the Feast of Christ the King Nov. 23.

This was the annual Haitian Mass held on the university’s campus in which Haitian Catholics from the West Philadelphia area were invited to worship. The result was a provocative experience.

Jesuit Father Patrick Samway, the chaplain for the West Philadelphia Haitian community, celebrated 11 a.m. Mass in English, French and Haitian Creole. Jesuit Father Yvon Elenga, a visiting professor of theology at St. Joseph’s from the Africa, was the concelebrant.

The Mass opened with six young girls delivering a praise dance as they faced the altar. Dressed in white robes and light blue sashes, the youths also brought sanctuary gift baskets filled with bananas, oranges and apples before the offertory gifts were presented to the priests. The girls were Kina Lans, Marginelle Nerre, Jasmine Valentin, Jenna Civil, Irlune Lauroie and Derlune Lauroie.

There were the sounds of a conga drum, standard drum and keyboard as the Haitian choir mainly sang in French and Creole. “Gloria” and “Lamb of God” were the only English selections. The music itself ranged from the solemn, majestic sounds of “Kyrie” to the “Credo” sung with a lighter calypso-style beat in the background.

“Our opening songs will be sung in Creole and French,” said Father Samway, before he explained the trilingual portions of the program. After the first reading in Creole, Father Elenga delivered the second reading in French. Father Samway then preached the homily in English.

In his remarks, Father Samway contrasted the reverence to secular royalty with Christ’s kingship. He shared anecdotes of seeing Queen Elizabeth when he traveled to London and meeting Prince Andrew a few years ago in Pittsburgh. “Jesus Christ preaches a counterculture message of love and that God is love,” Father Samway said.

He explained that the conversion experience is ongoing as Christians follow the example of Jesus’ kingship. He stressed this is why in modern day Catholic churches above the altar there is always a crucifix. He then challenged the multicultural and multigenerational audience to reflect on Christ’s kingship during the season of Advent.

“How do we do this?” asked Father Samway. “We listen to the Spirit’s inspanidual invitation as we enter God’s kingdom forever and ever.”

In the intercessions Father Samway offered prayers for the Jewish, Muslim and Protestant communities, as well as for the victims of the four hurricanes that have ravaged Haiti.

He concluded Mass by extending an invitation to worship with the Haitian congregation at their regular 2 p.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, 63rd and Callowhill Streets in West Philadelphia. Father Samway cautioned, however, that the Haitian Mass is usually only offered in French and Creole. “There will be no English at that Mass,” he said.

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at