Norwich churches help Haiti on Three Kings Day

Norwich — The city's Catholic churches came together Sunday to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, with more than 150 people gathering to mark the occasion. 

Saint Mary’s Church welcomed the other parishes, Saints Peter and Paul Church and St. Joseph Church, as well as the public, to eat, sing, dance, give and receive on the day before the Feast of the Epiphany holiday. Mass was held from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., and the third-annual Three Kings Party that followed lasted until 4 p.m. 

The holiday, celebrated around the world and especially by Christians in Latin America and Spain, honors the story from the Bible of the Three Wise Men, or Three Kings, who brought gifts to the baby Jesus after his birth.

According to the Bible, the kings traveled to Bethlehem with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. By tradition, they are named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.

“This activity is recreated annually to preserve tradition,” Joint Catholic Cluster Formation Director Maria Junco told the crowd. “In addition to preserving tradition, this activity is driven to set our sights on the less fortunate people like those who live in Haiti, for example; they fight every day for a more prosperous year. For this reason, all the money collected today will go to help a small community on the island of La Gonave in Haiti.” 

While the holiday is celebrated at home by children receiving gifts, the focus of Sunday’s party was to give to impoverished children in La Gonave. The Norwich Diocese’s Outreach to Haiti offers education, health care, parish partnership opportunities and community development for Haitians in need and provides hospitality to international volunteers and visitors, according to its website.  

St. Mary’s Parish serves a large number of Spanish-speaking people from throughout Latin America and is home to many Polish and Haitian parishioners. During the event, the church's pastor, Rev. Robert Washabaugh, switched between English and Spanish when addressing the crowd, while Sister Yannick, translated into Haitian Creole. 

Southeastern Connecticut, particularly Norwich, has had close ties with Haiti for decades, attracting Haitian immigrants to work in local agricultural operations, such as the former Franklin mushroom farm, and the region’s two casinos. The Norwich school system has a couple of hundred Haitian students, and churches offer Haitian Creole services.  

Proceeds from Sunday's party will go to the Parish of Sainte Madeleine. Washabaugh said the money will allow the parish to continue providing education and hot daily meals to 100 children. 

“We did this collection for one of the poorest communities in Haiti, and Haiti has incredibly poor communities,” Washabaugh said. “This is a little island that’s in the bay off of Port au Prince, the capital, and there’s nothing there except a lot of people. I met a priest who’s in charge of the church there, he’s trying to keep the school going, but he has no funds. It’s not just for kids to go to school; at the school they give them a hot meal every day, and a lot of kids wouldn’t get a full meal if they didn’t go to school.”

Those who attended Sunday's event were fed a free dinner that included pork, rice and beans, and dessert. Members of the three parishes also handed out hundreds of gifts to children.

“I believe we have over 200 kids receiving gifts today,” Junco said. “We partner with Toys for Tots to get all the gifts for the kids, so it’s a real blessing. The kids get so excited, and it’s a great representation of what the holiday is — the three kings coming to give and celebrate the birth of Jesus. This isn’t a time of receiving, but to give.” 

Latin American music, both live and recorded, echoed through the church before a performance from the younger parishioners re-enacting the scene of the three kings in the manger.

About 2 1/2 hours into the event, dozens of kids sat and waited patiently in front of a stage where parishioners dressed as the three kings and wearing extravagant robes along with fake, long, flowing beards called their names and handed out dolls, stuffed animals and other toys.

One of the organizers of the party, Arcangel Santiago, recalled his native Puerto Rico when discussing how important it is to celebrate this holiday in a communal setting. 

“I’m from Puerto Rico, and this Feast of the Three Kings is something that is done in the community, and it’s a good cause for community engagement where you can meet people,” Santiago said. “Also, it’s our mission as a church; We gather together, we celebrate, but we also help the needy.” 

s.spinella@theday.com

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