ST. MARTINVILLE, La. – Catholics in the Diocese of Lafayette are gearing up to celebrate two significant events in the life of the universal church and the local church August 15.
That day is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and it is also a day that marks the 254th anniversary of the arrival of French-Canadian immigrants who brought the Catholic faith to Acadiana “after enduring great trials and suffering.”
The celebration is called Fete-Dieu du Teche, an eucharistic boat procession that will travel 38 miles down the Bayou Teche.
“Having a eucharistic procession by boat on the waters of the Teche rather than by foot in the streets makes a lot of sense,” said Father Michael Champagne, a priest of the Community of Jesus Crucified, who is the organizer of the event. “Fete-Dieu du Teche on the feast of the Assumption recalls our rich Acadian history and, in a way, reenacts the journey made by the Acadians 250 years ago.”
The Acadians were persecuted for their Catholic faith and sent into exile from Nova Scotia. Many ended up settling in Louisiana. Father Champagne explained that having a boat procession with the Blessed Sacrament and a statue of the Assumption involving priests, religious and laity is basically what happened in 1765.
Father Jean-Louis de Civrey became the first resident priest in what is now St. Martinville, which has two Catholic churches, St. Martin de Tours and Notre Dame de Perpetuel Secours.
“In order to serve the Acadian settlers in the Attakapas District, Father Jean-Louis de Civrey accompanied the Acadians on their journey down the Bayou Teche,” Father Champagne explained in announcing the fifth annual event. “In his records, Father Civrey refers to his new home as ‘la Nouvelle Acadie’ and his new parish ‘l’Eglise des Attakapas (Attakapas Church)’ and later, ‘l’Eglise St-Martin de Tours (St. Martin de Tours Church).’“
Hundreds will travel by boat to honor the Blessed Sacrament and Acadian faith and heritage. Last year the event was held on the Vermilion River to help celebrate he centennial of the Diocese of Lafayette. Thousands traveled from throughout Louisiana and beyond to participate in the event, Father Champagne said.
In addition to those who joined in the eucharistic procession by boat, others traveled by car and gathered along the banks of the bayou at various planned stops.
This year the day will begin with a 9 a.m. (local time) Mass celebrated in French at St. Leo the Great Church in Leonville, with Lafayette Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel as the main celebrant.
Following Mass, there will be a procession from St. Leo’s to the Leonville boat landing, where the boat procession will depart at 9:30 a.m. Along the route to St. Martinville, the boats will stop and the passengers will disembark at four different points for rosary and Benediction at makeshift altars: Arnaudville, Cecilia, Breaux Bridge and Parks.
By 4:45 p.m., the flotilla will arrive at St. Martinville. Participants disembark for a procession to Notre Dame de Perpetuel Secours Church for Benediction. Next, the crowd processes to St. Martin de Tours Church for Benediction, and then processes down Main Street to Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel for solemn vespers at final Benediction at 6 p.m.
Father Champagne said that during Fete-Dieu du Teche, “the Blessed Sacrament will be fixed on an altar on the lead boat under a canopy, with a pair of adorers in adoration between the towns visited. Another boat will carry the statue of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
“I have been edified by the devotion and participation of so many priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful,” Bishop Deshotel, a native son of Acadiana, said in a statement. “I think such a public eucharistic celebration is an excellent manifestation of the new evangelization that we so desperately need.”
Bishop Glen J. Provost, a native son of the Lafayette Diocese, who is the bishop Lafayette’s daughter diocese, the Diocese of Lake Charles, offered a reflection on Fete-Dieu du Teche:
“Let us remember that the Acadians and French who first settled in our area were Catholic, and in the case of the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia primarily because they were Catholic. It is our history we remember. It is our faith we celebrate. It is our Lord we adore and worship.”
In his homily at St. Mary Magdalen Church last year, Bishop Provost quoted Lafayette’s second bishop, Bishop Maurice Schexnayder, who predicted: “The waters of the Teche will be drained to the ground before the people of Acadiana lose their Catholic faith.”
Father Champagne said Catholics “need a day that is a true ‘feast day,’ in the old sense of the word – a holiday that’s truly a holy day ... where we can really, all day long, have a feast day. Such is our celebration Fete-Dieu du Teche!”