All delegates were asked to bring water from their regions. As I sat back in my chair, I thought, "There is no way I can take along water from the tap"! I instantly felt compelled to go to the shore to obtain some ocean water. There was no doubt in my mind that I needed and wanted to do this.
A few days later, I went to the Hampton Beach area of New Hampshire as a pilgrimage. It occurred to me how the Atlantic Ocean had always connected Acadians to our homeland: Our first Acadian Ancestors left France and sailed across the Atlantic to "Acadie.” They then conducted commerce with the British in Boston by sailing on the Atlantic. They were set back to sea when they were deported from their beloved land to the Bay Colonies in exile. Those from Virginia were not accepted, and therefore once again deported - this time across the Atlantic, to prisons in England.
I also thought about the hundreds of Acadians deported from Ile St-Jean in 1758 on the Duke William, the Ruby and the Violet and how those ships went down at sea losing all of that precious human cargo. Entire families were lost and thus never heard from again.
In this year of CMA 2004, I thought of how these waters of the Atlantic still connect Acadians. They connect New England Acadians to our Cajun Cousins of Louisiana through the Gulf of Mexico; to all of our cousins in the Maritimes; to our cousins in France; and so on.
If this moment of "pilgrimage" had been my whole experience, it would have been well worthwhile! I emailed the Protocol Officer and told her so.
Throughout CMA, I freely shared the story of my pilgrimage with all the "cousins" I met. They were moved. When I shared this with the person responsible for the water bearers before the Mass she was both moved and excited, promising she would not forget my experience. The Protocol Officer said my message about this "pilgrimage" was the sort that made her job worthwhile.
August 15th was a sunny and warm day. In fact, it was the warmest day since we had arrived. Showers and rain had been a great possibility as the remnants of hurricane Frances moved through the area, but Our Lady would not be outdone. She took care of everything. There had been a shower during the night, and that was it. We arose to a bright sunshiny morning.
The Water Bearers were the first to participate in the Mass. A large urn had been placed to the right of the altar where each water bearer would empty a container containing water from his or her region. The Water Bearers were represented by Keptin Frank Nevin, District Chief of the Mi'kmaq Nation; Bernard Oswald, France; Michel Cyr, Acadie; The Honorable Benoit Pelletier, Québec; Representative Clara Baudoin, Louisiana; and myself, as an Acadian historian and researcher.
When I went to pour the water from my region into the large urn, I first raised it in honor of all of our Ancestors - greeted by the large applause of the roughly 10,000 people assembled for this Mass.
When I looked up and saw the throng and thought of our Ancestors, I was overwhelmed. As I lead the group of Water Bearers back to our seats, I could not help but think how proud my Acadian father must be that his daughter worked so diligently so that all New England Acadians would be recognized at this most august moment. And here she was remembering him and sharing this moment with him.
My father - who had never known his Acadian roots - had come home.