The Holy Week is a focal event in the NPH calendar, celebrated in each of the nine homes in Latin America and the Caribbean to help children learn about the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, and also enjoy the Easter Season.
Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos is a large family. In 2020 alone, almost 6,000 children and young people were supported through our homes and schools in 9 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. The NPH family was founded in 1954 by Fr. William Wasson in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and stays close to its Catholic roots, with Holy Week being an important part of the year. Below you can see we celebrated Easter in the 9 countries where we work.
In the past 14 months, the lockdowns caused by COVID-19 have disrupted the lives of the young ones living in the homes and communities. While the pandemic continues to cause problems in the countries which NPH serves, its staff, children, and youths did their best to come together and celebrate Holy Week with a range of festivities and activities.
On Maundy Thursday, the high school students from Casa Buen Señor traveled to Casa San Salvador, where they spent the Holy Days with the younger children. The Thursday Mass was celebrated in the chapel, where children represented the apostles and Father Philip washed their feet. At the end of the Mass, children and adolescents were treated to a special meal of “carnitas” (Mexico’s version of pulled pork) with rice and tortillas.
On Good Friday, children attended Mass at noon, then enjoyed some recreational activities. The Easter Sunday Mass was observed at dawn, commemorating the resurrection of Christ. After this came the week’s most anticipated activity: the Easter egg hunt, which had children searching all over the home. They also received chocolate eggs and donuts as gifts.
During the past 12 months, NPH Haiti has had to overcome many challenges resulting from political and civil unrest, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the children and staff were determined to celebrate Holy Week despite the current problems.
The main religious event was “Pâques des Jeunes” (“Easter for Youths”), held at the Kenscoff home. Over 200 children took part in this Easter story reenactment organized by the Salesian Sisters and young NPH leaders. The kids then went back to their homes and watched a film about Jesus’ life.
Easter Sunday was extra special because Father Rick Frechette (the Founder of NPH Haiti) came to say mass. Myriame, one of the youth leaders, played a vital role in preparing everyone for the service, while also teaching the NPH Haiti family a new dance.
Traditional meals also played a big part in Holy Week celebrations. On Good Friday, children had a special meal of fish with rice, navy beans, and a salad. The children were treated to another feast on Easter Sunday, a turkey meal that everyone enjoyed.
This year there were two Easter egg hunts: one for children and another for staff, which created much excitement. Gena Heraty, Director of our Special Needs Program says, “We usually hide the eggs in the house; you can imagine the chaos when they searched for those! This year we hid the eggs in the backyard. It is always wonderful to see people laughing and having fun. A little Easter treat is given for finding each egg. It’s a small way to make the burden of life a little bit easier on this day.”
Gena says, “God is good. We are “Easter people” at our special needs home, Kay Christine. We live through many Good Fridays when our children suffer and we are like Mary, helpless at the foot of the cross. But in prayer, song, and love, we always keep the Easter flame alive in our home and our heart. We enjoy many resurrections.”
On Palm Sunday, more than 200 children gathered to welcome the most important week of the year. On Maundy Thursday, the children went to a mass where the priest and important people in our home washed the feet of some of the children.
Then on Good Friday morning, the children reenacted the Stations of the Cross around the Ranch, many playing the role of biblical characters. In the afternoon, they attended a special ritual which involves the worshipping of the cross at the San José church, where children say their prayers. On Easter Sunday, the children woke up before dawn and celebrated mass, holding candles. Once the morning light came through 20 children were baptised.
The children enjoyed the rest of the day with a special breakfast, fun games and ice cream in the afternoon.
NPH Peru had to cancel many of its Easter festivities this year, as the country went back into a strict lockdown. However, children were able to celebrate Palm Sunday thanks to Yuliza Peralta, a catechist volunteer. They reenacted the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, with the young kids playing Jesus and the apostles. Then there was a celebration where the caregivers and children read excerpts from the Gospel of Saint Matthew to deepen their understanding of Palm Sunday’s meaning.
Sherlin*, a 17-year-old who helped Yuliza and is currently completing his year of service at NPH Peru, says that “Palm Sunday is a time to proclaim Jesus as the fundamental pillar in our lives, just as Jerusalem did when they received him and hailed him the Son of God”.
“It is a day when Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts and we receive him with infinite joy and faith. I especially enjoyed this day because I helped Yuliza in planning the whole program for the other boys and girls,” adds Sherlin.
The Easter week at NPH Guatemala got off to a colourful start with the children preparing the traditional “alfombras” – vibrant carpets made of coloured sawdust and sand, lining the paths around Casa San Andres. The alfombras depict religious figures and symbols, which are then walked upon during the Stations of the Cross later in the week.
As well as the religious activities, the children were able to enjoy a volleyball tournament, a reptile show, a storyteller, and an interactive children’s music group.
After Easter Sunday mass the children enjoyed a special meal and a fun Easter egg hunt.
Father Raymond Webb traveled from Chicago, USA, to NPH El Salvador to celebrate Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday. It was an active week, where youths enjoyed a pool party, while also taking part in religious activities, such as the Stations of the Cross.
Easter Mass took place on the soccer field at dawn. It was a beautiful sight to watch sunrise together.
Dora Serrano, National Director of NPH El Salvador, says, “This has been a very difficult time for the whole world; the future has been uncertain. However, despite the situation, I am glad that we are all well and able to celebrate this special time. As Father Wasson always taught us, “We need to see and practice love, and the great proof of love is the Resurrection of Jesus.”
Every year, there is a great build-up to Holy Week at Casa Padre Wasson. Although NPH Nicaragua has had to adjust from providing residential programs to focusing on community programmes, National Director Marlon Velasquez ensured that the home maintained its Easter traditions.
During the 40 days of Lent, the school students participated in spiritual retreats and Stations of the Cross to help them develop their faith. On 21st of March, a group of children, staff, and parents from the community went on a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Jesús del Rescate in Popoyuapa to thank Jesus for granting their personal requests.
During Holy Week, NPH Dominican Republic held activities with help from the five nuns from the Hijas de la Madre de Dios (Daughters of the Mother of God) community, who have worked with our young people at Casa Santa Ana for the past 15 years. The children took part in religious activities throughout Holy Week.
Renée*, a 12-year old girl who has lived at NPH Dominican Republic since she was three, says, “For me, Easter is a time of reflection and asking forgiveness from our Lord Jesus Christ. During these days, the passage from death to life is celebrated, a life that Jesus offers to his faithful by opening the doors of heaven. It is the best time to repent of our sins, ask for forgiveness, and cleanse our hearts.”
During Holy Week, the children and staff of NPH Bolivia reflected on the recent difficulties faced by nearby communities after some damaging storms. The children and their NPH family still celebrated with shared meals and Easter songs.
The Easter festivities began on Palm Sunday, with Father Bolo celebrating Mass. On Good Friday, the youths re-enacted the Stations of the Cross in a pilgrimage around the extensive property of Casa Padre Wasson. Saturday was a time for reflection and prayer at the chapel, followed by recreational activities. On Easter Sunday, the home celebrated the resurrection of Jesus, and the younger children had fun with a giant Easter egg hunt.
*Children’s names have been changed to protect the privacy of the youth.