MADAWASKA, Maine — Organizers of Friday’s Acadian Day Mass at the 2014 World Acadian Congress hoped for the best but prepared for the worst.
A solid day of rain the previous day forced them to move the service from the planned outdoor venue into the community multipurpose center.
As it turned out, the clouds parted and the sun gleamed outside while inside a crowd of about 4,000 gathered for a bilingual service featuring four bishops and dozens of priests from around Quebec, New Brunswick, Maine and beyond. The two provinces and Maine make up Acadia of the Lands and Forests, which is hosting the World Acadian Congress.
Father Steve Daigle traveled from Duluth, Minnesota, to take part in the service and to retrace some family roots.
“My grandfather Levite Daigle was from here,” Daigle said before the start of the ceremony. “Thirty of us came here for the [Acadian] Congress to celebrate and recapture some of our history,”
Acadian Day coincides with The Assumption of Mary, a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church, and a symbolic time for the area’s Acadians and their descendants.
“Mary was the one who guided us here,” Muriel Pelletier of St. David said. “Today is very, very special.”
The gold star on the Acadian flag represents Mary. Also, the Acadians’ “constant and perennial devotion to the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus marks Acadian people wherever they are found,” Bishop Robert Deeley of the Diocese Portland said in his sermon. “At one time the Acadia people were given up for dead, [and] the joy you feel gathering at this congress and living life to the fullest is a sign to the world that your future is much more than the tragedies of your past.”
Deeley co-celebrated the Mass with Monsignor Claude Champagne of Edmundston, New Brunswick, Monsignor Pierre-Andre Fournier of the Archdiocese of Rimouski, Quebec, and Monsignor Yvon-Joseph Moreau of the Diocese of Ste. Anne-de-la-Pocatiere, Quebec.
For two hours before the Mass began, people streamed into the multipurpose center, some dressed in traditional Acadian costumes, others wearing matching colorful shirts with family crests on them.
Everywhere the blue, white and red, and gold star, of Acadia were visible on banners, signs, hats and posters.
For Father David Raymond, originally from Fort Kent, the Mass was a time for gathering and celebration.
“This is just a unique opportunity for this region,” he said. “I hope people take away from this gathering a feeling of solidarity, sharing and unity with each other.”
For an hour before the start of the service an international choir entertained the crowd.
Dr. Chelsea Ray, associate professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Maine at Augusta, brought 20 students and their families to the Mass, after spending the last year offering classes on the culture.
“I thought it was really important to see this and did not want the students to miss this chance,” Ray said. “The Acadian Congress is so important in terms of cultural preservation and the importance of a community preserving the culture and language.”
Renee Trahan Richard traveled from New Iberia, Louisiana, for the World Acadian Congress and attended Friday’s Mass.
“This was just so inspiring,” she said as she joined the throngs filing out afterward. “It was beautiful to see everyone gathered together [and] it was such a good feeling.”
Janice Lapointe of Van Buren has spent the last year rehearsing with the choir and afterward said all those hours were more than worth it.
“This was just great,” she said. “I feel so proud of what we did here today, and everything we did to get here was worth it.”
For many, the Mass was a highlight of the World Acadian Congress, which continues through Aug. 24, and what it means to be an Acadian.
“It is difficult to separate the story of who we are from our faith,” Raymond said. “The two merge together so tightly.”
No one seemed bothered by the fact that the event was moved indoors, though longtime Acadian historian Don Cyr of Lille might have helped them prevent the change in venue.
“I hung a Rosary on my clothesline three days ago,” he said, referencing the Acadian tradition that doing so ensures sun within three days. “And look at it now.”