July 29, 2010 // Uncategorized

Patience of Haitians six months after earthquake impresses US bishops

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) — With cleanup following the Jan. 12 earthquake moving at a snail’s pace and life in makeshift shelters the new normal, Haitians are facing their predicament with a spirit of patience that has impressed two American bishops.

“The people are hopeful,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview July 28 from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. “There’s not a mass depression.

“But at the same time they need some concrete signs of a plan. That’s not been developed yet,” he said.

Bishop DiMarzio was part of an eight-member delegation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that arrived in the devastated capital July 25 for a week of meetings with Haitian government officials, Haitian church leaders and Catholic agencies working on migration issues.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami described those with whom he spoke after celebrating Mass at one of the hundreds of tent camps that remain in Port-au-Prince as patient, but anxious.

“I asked them how they were doing. They said, ‘We’re here. We’re surviving.’ People are certainly anxious in having a sense of where they are going. But they also had a sense of understanding of what could be done under the circumstances,” he told CNS between meetings July 28.

Bishop DiMarzio said that based on what he heard during his visit it appears that many people will remain in substandard housing in the camps for at least another six months.

“There’s a lot to be done,” he said. “We wish it could be done more quickly. I think the weakness of not having a major central government to force things to happen is a problem.”

That weakness also has limited progress on recovery and reconstruction efforts. Debris removal is moving at a snail’s pace because of a shortage of heavy equipment, the country’s poor road system and lack of landfill space to dump material.

Although mountains of debris remain in the earthquake region, Archbishop Wenski said he has found that much of what has been accomplished has gone unnoticed.

“It’s certainly a daunting task,” he said. “Six months is not a long time in many ways. When you consider … the amount of debris and rubble here is 10 or 12 times as that generated by the World Trade Center (in 2001). It took several months for that debris to be cleared.”

The archbishop also said that cash-for-work programs coordinated by various aid agencies, including Catholic Relief Services, are bolstering the Haitian economy.

The archbishop discussed the recovery process and other needs with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and Eduardo Marques Almeida, representative of the Inter-American Development Bank in Haiti, July 28. A July 26 meeting with Haitian church officials further clarified priorities for rebuilding local parishes, schools and community centers. The earthquake destroyed 70 parishes.

The delegation also had a humanitarian focus to its mission. Bishop DiMarzio was accompanied by staff members of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services in an effort to determine how best to meet the needs of children in the aftermath of the quake. Specifically, the delegation was concerned about children who remain separated from their families or orphaned.

The delegation also gathered information about Haitians seeking to immigrate to the United States to reunite with children or family members sent northward for treatment of serious injuries sustained in the disaster.

MRS staff also planned to visit officials in the Bahamas, one of the stopover points for Haitians trying to make their way to the United States.

Archbishop Wenski planned to visit the Haiti-Dominican Republic border before his return to Miami Aug. 1. The area has long been the source of tension between the two countries as Haitians attempt to flee their economically depressed homeland in search of jobs and better opportunities in the Dominican Republic. The delegation planned to meet with Jesuit Refugee Service representatives to discuss how to ease the tensions and better serve the economic refugees.

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