Connecticut may seem a long way from Haiti, both geographically and culturally, but five years ago, members of the Haitian community requested permission to form a lodge. After a year under dispensation, during which they had to learn the very different Connecticut workings, they were chartered as Universal Fraternity Lodge No. 149 in 2006.
The following article was originally written by RW Carl Ek for The Connecticut Freemason.
Universal Fraternity Lodge No. 149 – Their Strength is in Prayer
by Carl G. Ek
The sound of singing could be heard in the anteroom as the lodge opened. The brothers again joined in song as a delegation from the Grand Lodge was received – in French, of course, as this is the native language of so many of the brothers of Universal Fraternity Lodge No. 149.
Yet the music lacked the joy usually associated with the brothers of this lodge. The songs were a capella, with the organist away, dealing with personal issues. Pro-tem officers filled the West and the secretary’s chair. And while the room was well filled, the majority of brothers were almost certainly visitors.
Recently installed Worshipful Master Leslie St. Victor welcomed his visitors – RW’s Deputy Grand Master Charles A. Buck, Jr., Grand Senior Warden James T. McWain, and Grand Senior Deacon Simon R. LaPlace, plus a number of past and present District Deputies and Associate Grand Marshals. All were present to bring early support to brothers just beginning to learn the horrors of Haiti’s earthquake. Universal Fraternity Lodge No. 149, Stratford, was chartered at the Grand Lodge of 2006, but nearly all of its charter members were made Masons in their native Haiti. These good brothers bring traditions of their homeland to their new Grand Lodge, making a positive impression on those who have had the pleasure to visit their communications and celebrations.
In Haiti, it was clear there was nothing to celebrate. The poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti has been described as a country lacking food, clean water, medical facilities, infrastructure, or even a working government – and this was before the earthquake. On January 16, less than a week after the quake, even factual information was hard to come by.
WM St. Victor emotionally filled in some of the facts that were known concerning “the inexplicable calamity of the island of Haiti” as it affected members of his lodge. His mom was uninjured, and he was planning to go to Haiti to bring her back to Connecticut. His father-in-law had lived for a half century in Brooklyn, New York before deciding to return to his homeland. His home was flattened; his own 98 year-old mother and an infant survived, but he did not. Bro. Leslie knew of at least six of his relatives who had been taken by the quake and its aftershocks.
The sister of one brother worked for the Archdiocese of Haiti. She died in the collapse of the cathedral, as did the Archbishop. Another brother had seven relatives – including his father and father-in-law – living in the same house. What was left of the structure had been shown several times on television news, but he could get no information about his family. All that he was told was that there were “bad smells” coming from the flattened dwelling.
The Master said that he and his brothers were, as best, coping, “not understanding why, not understanding how, not understanding how much their poor little country would have to suffer.” Against that backdrop, all present took part in a program of hope. “We pray for those who survive,” said WM St. Victor, who asked all present to “learn from the devastation how merciful can be the Almighty.”
Noting that “there is strength in prayer,” the Master led the group in the reading of several psalms, some familiar, others less so. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want… He restoreth my soul… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:1,3 4) “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (Psalm 42:9) “Have mercy upon me, O God…” (Psalm 51) “Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord… But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying.” (Psalm 70:1,5) “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Shew us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.” (Psalm 85:7) The readings were concluded by the singing of the “Haitian Faith Battle Song,” en Francais, certainment.
A number of visiting brothers stepped forward as early responders to MW Arthur H. Carlstrom’s request that Connecticut brothers wishing to help in Haitian relief send checks to he Universal Fraternity Lodge Relief Fund. Worshipful Master Tony Foote of Corinthian Lodge No. 104, Stamford, presented a check for $1,000, and RW Steven Bowen delivered a Temple Lodge No. 65 check for $2,120. Bro. Chris Buck, Senior Warden of Ansantawae Lodge No. 89, Milford, delivered the proceeds of a collection taken the night before at his lodge. He was startled
to find exactly $149 in cash donations.
Several brothers mentioned gifts to other relief agencies, while a number noted that they have not yet met but would be making donations as soon as their lodges opened. In total, over $5,500 had already been donated by lodges and brothers present in the 5 days after the initial earthquake, with promises of far more in the upcoming days.
RW Deputy Grand Master Charles A. Buck, Jr. noted his sorrow that his first visit to Universal Fraternity Lodge was under such circumstances. He noted that Freemasons around the state share these brothers’ pain, and will do all they can to lessen it.
Worshipful Master Leslie St. Victor was eloquent in his sadness. “We are asking for prayer. We will be whole again. Please pray for us.” And, as he said quietly to one of the brothers in the Grand Lodge suite as they met in the East, “We’ll be all right. We’ll be all right.”