BROCKTON — When Pope Francis announced the appointment of Haiti’s first cardinal a week ago, news that typically travels through official channels arrived in very personal ways to many members of the local Haitian community.
Madeleine Clement got a call from a cousin she had just seen in Haiti telling her the good news about “Chibly.”
Chibly — Bishop Chibly Langlois — the quiet boy she had known during her childhood in La Vallée de Jacmel, had just been named as one of the Roman Catholic Church’s 19 new cardinals, chosen from around the world.
“This is a boy I knew since he was born,” Clement, 66, said, after Mass at Christ the King church in Brockton. As a child, she recalled, he was “so quiet and totally different. You see someone’s mind who is so connected with Jesus. Everyone can see, he’s going to be a priest.”
The Rev. Garcia Breneville usually gives the 12:30 p.m. Mass in Haitian Creole at Christ the King, but was absent on Sunday because he was in Haiti to meet with Langlois. Breneville was thrilled when he heard the news about the appointment, according to another priest at the church. “As soon as he found out, he texted me,” said the Rev. Joe Raeke .
The personal connections between the Catholic Haitian community in Boston and a faraway priest underscore the close ties between Haitians and their home country — and how much pride they have in seeing a man from familiar, humble origins elevated onto the world stage.
The deliberate choice by Pope Francis to appoint Haiti’s first cardinal among such a diverse group of cardinals — half are non-Europeans — is seen by many as a continuation of his emphasis on social justice and broadening the church.
At Christ the King church Sunday, a visiting priest from Haiti celebrated Mass; the Rev. Frantz Joseph Gilles works in the same diocese as Langlois.
Gilles said that after the devastating earthquake four years ago, Langlois was a remarkable leader and administrator, helping to open chapels and churches. He also said that, as a young priest himself, he appreciates Langlois’s focus on integrating youth into the church. Langlois, at 55, is the youngest new cardinal.
“This is the first time to have a cardinal; it’s a new experience for the church in Haiti,” Gilles said through an interpreter. He said that the cardinal will bring new ideas and experiences to the world stage, but that his presence alone among the international group of cardinals is also an important signal.
Many simply feel pride in seeing a Haitian in such a position.
Boniface Soivilien, one of the leaders of the charismatic meeting at Christ the King, said he has met Langlois in Haiti so many times that he cannot remember the first occasion. Soivilien described him as a simple person who is always smiling and always open; he is a man who is quiet but acts as a powerful advocate.
“His background is from poor people and he knows the reality. He’s very close to the people,” Soivilien said. “We have someone who can sit with all the cardinals around the world and they will know Haiti better, and I think that means a lot. Haiti is a poor country; it’s easy to forget this country. This is big.”
Langlois recently visited the Boston area. During the visit late last year, he future cardinal met with some parishioners.
Jouvenance Desir, a nurse attending Mass on Sunday, said Langlois gave a good impression. “I’m so proud,” Desir said. “The way he was talking, for me he seemed like a nice person who will talk for the people.”
Gary Ambroise, a math instructor in Brockton, said that he thought the new cardinal’s focus and approach would resonate with that of Pope Francis.
“This pope is especially focused on the poor and this new cardinal is doing something similar in Haiti,” Ambroise said. “That is something to look forward to.”