|Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana||Acadians|
Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana
Nearly 1500 years ago, the Chitimachans settled in the bayous of South Louisiana. The tribe was thought to have been made extinct by wars in the early 1700s but today, the Chitimacha is the only surviving aboriginal Native American tribe in Louisiana. At one time, the Chitimacha numbered more than 20,000 in 15 villages. As the Millennium approaches, fewer than 1,000 Chitimachans reside in the area of Charenton in St. Mary Parish. The tribe has begun to buy back land lost over the centuries, building from the 260 acres awarded it by the federal government. The Chitimacha tribe is a living reminder of how Acadiana was before the many immigrations that changed forever the face of our diocesan community.
Religious refugees. The first white permanent settlers in the land now called Acadiana were religious refugees. When the British occupied their home area in Nova Scotia in the mid-18th century, these Catholic, French speaking people set out to find a more hospitable place. Many found their way to Louisiana. From these farmers, trappers, and people of lakes and the sea has grown a mighty Cajun culture, known around the world for its distinctiveness, its love of life, and its love of God and Church.
One of the more exciting elements of life in Acadiana is the Creole culture. Perhaps nowhere else in the United States does a people of mixed racial heritage have the prominence, visibility and respect that Creoles possess in southwest Louisiana. Creoles are the result of generations of racial intermarriage, and present almost infinite combinations of African, Caucasian, Native American and Hispanic ancestry. The Creole lifestyle so characteristic of Acadiana is marked by an enjoyment of life and fulfillment in their heritage. The Church, as well as the community, has been blessed by the gifts of many Creole leaders.
Todays African-American community in Acadiana is descended from the slaves brought to the United States from Africa and Haiti. Unlike African-Americans in other parts of the nation, many in the Diocese of Lafayette are active Catholics and have added elements of their very special culture to worship in many churches. The Diocese of Lafayette has established a record for giving heavily of its African-American clergy to serve as bishops and lead other diocesan churches on their pilgrim journey to salvation.
In 1880, Father Peter Leonhard Thevis, a priest in New Orleans and a native of Germany, arranged to bring family and friends from Germany to Louisiana. They, too, were religious refugees, seeking to escape Chancellor Otto von Bismarcks Kulturkampf. These solid German Catholics settled in the area of Roberts Cove where they founded the church of St. Leo IV. To this day, German Catholic traditions and customs flourish in Roberts Cove.
The Italian community has brought the Church in Acadiana several important traditions, most notably the St. Joseph Altars. Brought from Italy by immigrants over many years, this observance is a great source of pride and cultural awareness for the community. Italians immigrated to Acadiana over the past century, and have settled in all parts of the diocese where they support the Church and their community while celebrating their very special heritage.
While many countries in Central and South America are represented in the Diocese of Lafayette, more people of Hispanic origin are from Mexican ancestry than any other nation. Columbia and Venezuela also are well represented. Many of the Hispanic people in the diocese are here temporarily, and will return home when their work is done. After several such trips, some of these workers then apply for permanent, resident status. People of Hispanic origin live in all parts of the diocese and grace many parishes with their distinctive love for God and the Church.
A legacy to the nations military conflict in southeast Asia during the 1960s and the 1970s is a strong and thriving community of Vietnamese people of Acadiana. Many of the original immigrants were refugees, victims of war and oppression. Some had left North Vietnam to reserve the practice of their faith, than became refuges again when the United States withdrew military forces from South Vietnam. The stories they tell of their search for freedom, including the freedom to worship God as they please, often are harrowing and always inspiring. Today, more than 1,000 Vietnamese live in Acadiana, principally in the Abbeville area. They bring a special reverence for God and loyalty to the Church.
Ancient relationships are reborn in the Lebanese, near Ester, a community of Acadiana. Lebanese Maronite Catholics, like their Acadian brothers and sisters, fled their homeland to avoid religious persecution and in search of the freedom to worship God in their own way. An "intellectual migration," merchants and professionals, they settled in all parts of the United States, but a surprisingly large number found their way to French Louisiana. The Amitie Traditionelle (traditional friendship) between France and the Maronite Catholics traces its roots to the Crusades. Saint King Louis IX of France fought for the Maronite Catholics against the Moslems, and established an enduring bond between the people of his nation and the people of Lebanon. When the refugees sought shelter, it was only natural that many should turn to a land where their champion reigned as Patron Saint.