NEW YORK — A group of nearly 50 French-African immigrants gathered recently at St. Stephen of Hungary Church here for the first in a series of commemorative African Prayer Services.
On Jan. 30, the Carrefour Pastoral de la Francophonie, a ministry for the French-speaking community in New York, founded by Jacques LaPointe, OFM, held the service at the East 82nd Street church. Carrefour means “crossroads,” said Jacques.
Participants gathered to remember deceased family members and friends in their native countries.
The commemorative service included a Mass, praying the rosary, a teaching, witnessing, healing blessings for the bereaved, and inspirational music, said Jacques, who celebrated the Mass.
This is very valuable since many African immigrants cannot attend funeral services for their loved ones in Africa, according to Jacques. The commemorative service allows them to receive prayers, comfort, sympathy and compassion from their African brothers and sisters in New York, he said.
Jacques said, “At St. Stephen, we have integrated special prayers at the St. Jude Shrine, located in the church. The commemorative service is an important part of the grieving process for many immigrants. It gives them hope and expresses the love of God for their loss and grief.”
The prayer service is planned for the last Friday of every month.
Other commemorative services have been organized for grieving New York friends of deceased expatriates from France and Haiti, Jacques said.
Commemorative services have become an integrative experience for immigrants, refugees or expatriates who have lost a loved one during an assignment overseas, he added.
A Multi-Cultural Background
Jacques established Carrefour shortly after moving to New York in 2006. He had a strong interest in helping the French-African community for several reasons.
His childhood roots in northern Maine, near French-speaking Quebec, Canada, familiarized him with the French language. In addition, he had learned a lot about working with immigrant communities through his experiences at HNP parishes, including the multi-cultural St. Camillus in Silver Spring, Md., and Holy Name Church in New York City.
At St. Camillus, he established a community for French immigrants that has grown through the years. He also set up a free French-speaking health clinic in 2002, as well as an immigration program at St. Camillus, which he said, is one of the most multi-cultural parishes in the country.
Jacques joined the Province in 1990, after doing international development work in several foreign countries. “I realized early on that I was in the Province to work with French-speakers, and with immigrants and the poor.”
Since childhood, he had thought about life as a friar. He was exposed in his hometown, just three hours from Quebec City, to religious sisters at school and to grandmothers whom he described as “saintly.”
Assisting French Immigrants
Carrefour provides a variety of services to French-speaking immigrants. With dedicated volunteers, Jacques is pleased to organize the following help for clients:
• Housing assistance, since many in the community need help with settling into their new communities
• Food distribution
• Health issues
• Children’s services including providing families with donated toys and arranging birthday parties
• Occupation help
• Social issues
Jacques has set up a team of French-speaking priests and deacons, as well as a group of volunteers, including several retired nurses. Clients of Carrefour come from New York City’s five boroughs, as well as Connecticut, New Jersey, and Westchester County.
One active volunteer, Clare Lesteven of Brooklyn, said she appreciates the community feeling of Carrefour.
Lesteven, who immigrated to New York from France in 1999, said Carrefour fills a valuable need for many. “It is a good group,” she said. “It is bringing help to a lot of people.” In Africa, she said, people know about Carrefour.
“It is wonderful to have a French-speaking Mass available,” she said. “Carrefour is the beginning of something good. When people worship together, it brings peace.”
In 2007, Lesteven, who is shown in photo with Jacques, established a newsletter about Carrefour. Petit Journal de Carrefour is produced by four volunteers and distributed electronically.
“Our newsletter is an important tool of communications,” Jacques said.
Another active volunteer, Oliver Ngoran of the Bronx, who came to New York from the Ivory Coast eight years ago, offers his services to Carrefour by collecting and distributing donations to people in need. He uses a sport-utility vehicle that was donated to Carrefour last summer.
Ngoran, who said he met Jacques at New York’s St. Vincent De Paul Church on 23rd Street, where programs and Masses for French-speaking immigrants were offered, works as a taxi driver. In his native country, he was a lawyer. The fact that Jacques speaks French is very valuable, he said. So is the opportunity for him to be involved.
Valuable to Both Participants and Parish
“Helping people is important to me,” he said, with a smile. “It makes you feel like you’re living for something. Everybody in Carrefour has a story,” said Ngoran.
Jacques said that the commemorative services offered by Carrefour are valuable both to the community and to St. Stephen of Hungary Church. Our ministry prays at the Shrine of St Jude, and this has energized the shrine, Jacques said. Our pastor, Angelus Gambatese, OFM, seems pleased with the ministry.
On Feb. 14, Carrefour sponsored a concert at Holy Name School on New York’s upper west side. The program included both religious and African music.
“Jacques is doing amazing work here,” Angelus said.
On Feb. 14, Carrefour Pastoral de la Francophonie sponsored a concert at Holy Name School on New York’s Upper West Side. The proram included both religious and African music. (Photos appear “behind” the photo above.)
The second commemorative African prayer service is scheduled for Feb. 27. Jacques and his team are preparing to comfort one of Carrefour’s members who recently lost a parent.
Jacques said he expects participation in Carrefour to continue to grow. Its services are diverse and the community it serves is growing, he said.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.