We are completing the final days of the “Fortnight for Freedom” proclaimed by the USCCB that encourages Catholics to be aware of the need to guard our right to be Roman Catholic’s and to make certain that we continue to exercise our faith in the public arena. We here in South Louisiana have a special calling for this from our history; the History of the Acadians; a history that in some ways mirror that of the Hebrew people who suffered restriction concerning religious liberty in the unfolding of their lives both the Acadians and the Hebrew people. Listen to the story of the Acadians and think deeply about who we are and who we must be in the wold in which we are now living to continue the tradition of religious freedom began by those of our Cajun Ancestry. A short history of the Acadians from the writings of the LSU Health and Science Center by Judy LaBorde.
About 400 years ago, a trickle of men and women left their hometowns in France and sailed to Canada where they settled along the eastern coast. They befriended the Indians, devised an ingenious way to drain the salty marshlands, and in time made their tiny settlements into prosperous farms and trading posts. At their peak, they numbered no more than 15,000. They came to the new world speaking a regional dialect, a patois [pa twa], which then evolved into an even more distinct dialect known as Acadian, the name by which the people are known today. These little settlements were not terribly important to the King of France. His priority was the Provence of Quebec. Neither were the settlements important to the British Crown which instead valued the colonies of New England, to the South of Acadia. And, to tell the truth, the peace-loving Acadians didn’t much care for the always-feuding French and British. All they wanted was to be left alone.
So, for about 150 years, the Acadians became very adept at neutrality. They promised not to take sides or engage in warfare. And they kept their word. All that came to brutal end in 1754, when Major Charles Lawrence illegally demanded that the Acadians sign a loyalty oath to the English King and repudiate their Catholic religion.
When the Acaidans refused, the men were forced from their families and arrested. Within days, all the farms, barns, churches, and shops that made up the Acadian colonies were burned to a crisp. So were their crops and livestock. A mass expulsion ensued. Amid total chaos, families were separated and forced onto hastily assembled ships. What followed were years and years of aimless wandering. Some Acadians landed in England and were promptly arrested. Some went to France and were treated as outcasts. Others arrived helter skelter at ports in Maine, Connecticut, and other New England Colonies. In the Carolina Colonies, attempts were made to take children from their parents and force them to work on the plantations. Other were sent to Haiti, Newfoundland, Argentina, and Uruguay. The Acadians were a people without a country, a people who must rely only on each other [and their Catholic Faith] for survival.
In 1764, one of the ships arrived in Louisiana, which at that time was a colony ruled by Spain. The Spanish Governor, Galvez, did not know they were coming, but could see an advantage to their presence as a counter influence to the British settlements nearby.
Over the next 20 years about 3,000 Acadians found their way to Louisiana. They settled the mosquito-infested swamps, bayous, and prairies that nobody wanted. They did the back-breaking jobs that others would not do. With their strange sounding dialect, they were even rejected by other Frenchmen already in Louisiana.
Poor and illiterate, with a language, culture, and customs [and Catholic Faith] that set them apart, the Acadians had only each other. When it was time to marry, they married their own. Otherwise, who knows if they would have made it. This pattern continued until the aftermath of the Civil War, which devastated the economy and social structure of the South. With poverty so widespread, what difference did it make that the Acadians were poor? If anything, they had already proven their capacity to survive a hostile world with close community [Catholic Faith] and family ties. Gradually, Acadians began to marry non-Acadians. The new spouses often learned to speak French and were absorbed into the population that became known as the “Cajuns.”
The irony about he Cajuns in America today is that despite efforts over the last 250 years to destroy their culture, they have indeed survived as a distinct group. [Some of you will recall when Cajun French was forbidden to be spoken in public schools.] While other ethnic groups dissolved into the proverbial melting pot, the Cajun way of life–spicy food, lively music, family traditions [and Catholic Faith] have become a beacon of light fo what is taking place in our country today.
What things you may say are taking place in our country today are we speaking of? Listen to the story from Fr. Edward Richard, Pastor of Our Lady of LaSalatte, who is the coordinator for the Catholic Diocese of Lake Charles, LA’s Fortnight for Freedom.
A practicing Catholic family living in rural Michigan were denied their right to sell their farm produce in the local town. You may ask why would such a thing take place? The reason mirrors the life that our Hebrew ancestors lived thousands of years ago as well as our Acadian ancestors more recently. This farm family were denied the right to sell their produce in the entire stat in which they live, because the father of the family said no to allowing a “same sex” wedding to take place on his farm. The Acadian people, the Cajuns, us, will face similar attempts to restrict religious freedom if we do not pay attention to and participate int he political process. Our long and courageous history says very clearly to us, “Follow the lead of your grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents and so on to be firm in your Catholic Faith as the Hebrew people were in theirs during time of persecution and let nothing deter you from observing and speaking of what is right and moral as taught by our faith.
Our Acadian ancestors were courageous, are we? Amen!
Fr. Charles McMillin, Pastor
Our Lady Help of Christians