January 27, 2016 // Uncategorized

Reflections from Haiti

By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
For more photos visit the photo gallery.

From left, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, is shown with Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services and Irish Archbishop Eugene Martin Nugent, the apostolic nuncio to Haiti, who hosted a dinner during Bishop Rhoades’ visit.

As a board member of Catholic Relief Services, I participated last week in a five-day visit to Haiti. Accompanied by the CRS directors who work in Haiti, we visited several sites of CRS projects in Port-au-Prince as well as in the northern region of Haiti. Our delegation included the president and CEO of CRS, Dr. Carolyn Woo, who is from our diocese. She and her family are members of Saint Matthew Cathedral parish in South Bend. Dr. Woo is the former dean of the School of Business at Notre Dame. She has been doing an amazing job at CRS the last few years.

I had always wanted to visit Haiti, a beautiful country known as the “Pearl of the Caribbean,” yet one that has been afflicted throughout its history by natural disasters, political instability, and extreme poverty. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with 80% of Haitians living on less than $2 a day. Despite so much adversity, the Haitian people seem to persevere with courage and hope, rooted in a strong and vibrant faith. The people of this traditionally Catholic country have shown tremendous resiliency in the face of so many tragedies and setbacks. It is undoubtedly their faith that sustains them to move forward and not give up.

Catholic Relief Services has served in Haiti since 1954, so the agency is well-known and appreciated. This presence and experience in Haiti over so many years enabled CRS to respond to the 2010 earthquake immediately. CRS grew to over 700 staff after the earthquake to provide emergency assistance and to resettle displaced families with suitable housing, water, and sanitation. With this earthquake recovery program completed, CRS Haiti is now back to its normal staff of about 130. The work of CRS in Haiti continues since there are still many needs for ongoing and sustainable development. During our visit, we saw several projects aimed at addressing these needs in the areas of health care, education, urban renewal, and agriculture.

In the cities of Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien (in the north), we saw so many people living in over-crowded, unsanitary slums and dangerous tenements. Many of the roads and streets were in need of repair. There was terrible traffic congestion. I learned that crowded cities were a result of so many people moving from rural areas to the cities since they were unable to make a living in their traditional farming occupations. Also, many moved to the cities for better access to health care and education.

In Cap Haitien, I was reminded of the words of Pope Francis: The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth (Laudato Si 21). I thought of these words while passing the city’s shoreline by the ocean where there were piles and piles of garbage and waste. I could not understand why people would dump their garbage there, thinking this could be an area of beautiful coastal scenery. I learned that the city did not have adequate waste removal and waste management. The people had no place to deposit their trash. Amid the mounds of garbage were dogs, pigs, and goats rummaging through the refuse. I thought about the likely dangers to health because of all this waste in the streets and on the shore.

The undignified conditions of the cities made me realize the importance of giving priority to urban renewal. CRS is active in this area with its urban programming. In Port-au-Prince we visited a poor slum called Solino. There we met a Spiritan priest who works in the neighborhood and is supported by CRS. CRS helped in building a beautiful soccer field in the neighborhood which is like an oasis in the midst of a desert. Besides providing some green space in the midst of concrete tenements, the soccer field provides a place for recreation. There are not only soccer teams, but also training programs for youth that give hope for a brighter future. CRS helps provide peace-building programs that help young people to turn away from gangs and violence. Urban programming is one of the priorities of CRS in Haiti.

In Port-au-Prince, we also visited the beautiful new San Francois de Sales Hospital, owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince. The previous hospital was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. CRS and the US Catholic Health Association provided most of the funding for the reconstruction of the hospital and the provision of medical equipment. CRS is working with the archdiocese to organize the hospital services in order to serve more patients and improve the quality of care. CRS provides technical and strategic support for the Catholic health network in Haiti. There is still much work to be done as they work on strategic planning and organization so that the hospital will soon be in full operation.

While in Port-au-Prince, we were somewhat affected by the political turmoil of the present time. As you may have seen in the news, Haiti was supposed to have presidential elections on Sunday, January 24th, but the elections have been postponed. This situation led to public demonstrations that sometimes turned violent in the streets of Port-au-Prince. This somewhat affected our movement around the city so as to avoid the areas of the demonstrations. One of the recurring problems and impediments to Haiti’s development has been the political instability there for many decades. The Catholic Church is now the major mediator between various opposing parties in Haiti. Too often political corruption and violence have impeded social development in Haiti. Real change is needed to address Haiti’s problems and to serve the common good of the people. The Church advocates for this change in a way that avoids the violent conflicts that bring even more misery to society.

Another priority of CRS in Haiti is its agricultural programs and projects. This is an area of strong expertise of CRS in Africa and elsewhere. We visited one of these projects in northern Haiti: a cocoa cooperative supported by CRS. We met several of the local farmers who expressed gratitude for the help of CRS in improving production and engaging the market. It was great to see the progress of this cooperative program, the people’s pride in their work and the better quality cocoa product. CRS doesn’t just provide or distribute food in poor countries. It helps the local farmers with their methods, with access to the market, thus making agriculture a more secure and sustainable livelihood. This is especially important in Haiti to prevent more people needing to move to urban slums. It is also important given the environmental deterioration in rural areas caused by deforestation and climate change.

Though we saw poverty and suffering everywhere, I was most impacted by our visit to the border town of Ouanaminthe. There we visited a shelter run by Jesuit Refugee Services and supported by CRS. In recent months, the Dominican Republic has expelled and deported thousands of Haitian migrant workers. These are truly “the poorest of the poor.” The Jesuit shelter provides immediate assistance and support to the migrants. I met and prayed with one of the migrant workers who was rescued at the border. A few months earlier, the Dominican authorities raided the factory where he and fellow Haitian migrants were working. Trying to run away, two of his friends were shot and killed. He was also shot in his thigh, but was able to escape. He found his way to the border. I spoke and prayed with him. He most likely would have died if not for the help of the Jesuit shelter where he is receiving food and medical care. Next week, he is scheduled to have the bullet in his thigh removed in surgery at the local Catholic hospital. I saw in this man’s eyes, which filled with tears from the love he experienced at the shelter, a new sense of his own dignity as a child of God, a dignity that he had probably not felt in a very long time. It is hard for me to put into words the feeling that I had and still have in meeting this man and seeing his suffering. I saw in his face and emaciated body the face and the body of Jesus in His passion. This is why CRS exists and why we must support its mission.

In Ouanaminthe, we also visited a center run by the Sisters of Saint John the Evangelist from Colombia, supported by CRS. They care for migrant women and children while the Jesuits care for the larger number of men. The sisters also run an educational program called “Sowers of Peace” for the local youth. We met with a group of the young people who did a skit for us on the plight of trafficked children. Child labor and human trafficking are also problems in Haiti. I celebrated Mass with the sisters and children in English and Spanish and with translation by the Jesuit priest, in Creole as well. So it was a tri-lingual Mass. Of course, we had Mass every day in Haiti at different locations.

Each evening during our visit, we shared dinner with various groups of CRS partners, including bishops, priests, and local education and health care leaders. I learned a great deal from the dinner discussions and the innovative ideas that were shared. One evening we met with members of the Catholic Episcopal Education Commission which supervises more than 2,300 Catholic schools in Haiti. I am glad that CRS partners with this Commission and our own University of Notre Dame to support teacher training and to improve early grade literacy and other priorities of Haiti’s Catholic schools.

We were hosted for dinner one evening by the Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, Irish Archbishop Eugene Martin Nugent. We were both surprised to discover that we had been classmates 36 years ago at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Another surprise for me was learning while visiting with the Archbishop of Cap Haitien that he was close friends with one of the permanent deacons in the Diocese of Harrisburg whom I knew very well, a Haitian-American doctor and surgeon in Hershey who founded and supports two Catholic schools in Gonaives, Haiti.

I cannot finish this column without sharing the deep admiration I have for the CRS staff in Haiti, most of whom are Haitians. We met with the national office staff in Port-au-Prince on our last day in Haiti. Their great commitment to their people and to the Church was evident. Having completed massive earthquake recovery efforts, CRS in Haiti still has extremely important work to do, given future disaster risk and the huge development needs in Haiti. Much work in the areas of health care, education, agriculture, and urban life remains. There is also the relatively new emergency situation of the plight of the Haitian migrants returning from the Dominican Republic.

I hope and pray that the relationship between the Church in the United States and the Church and people of Haiti will continue to be strong. I am proud of the work of CRS and grateful for the generosity of the people of our diocese in supporting CRS. I am especially happy that so many of our parishes and also our four high schools promote various programs of CRS, including Operation Rice Bowl during the Lenten season.

Please remember in your prayers our CRS staff and all our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ. They are a resilient people, examples of faith and hope in the midst of the difficulties of life. May the Lord give them light and strength! And may Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the patroness of Haiti, intercede for them!

CRS’ history in Haiti 

Catholic Relief Services began working in Haiti in 1954 after Hurricane Hazel devastated the country and killed about 1,000 people. High population density, severe deforestation and decaying infrastructure make Haiti particularly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.

CRS Haiti continues its long-standing commitment to helping the Haitian people in many aspects of their lives, including sustainable development efforts after the 2010 earthquake. In Haiti, CRS responds to emergencies, provides agriculture assistance, supports education and works to enhance the health care system throughout the country.

CRS, Celtic FC, and Solino community welcome new soccer facility

Children play soccer at Celtic Park Haiti, which was facilitated by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Celtic FC Foundation.

PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI — Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Celtic FC Foundation joined the community of Solino in Haiti for the opening of a new soccer facility, Celtic Park Haiti on Sept. 11, 2015.

The park opened with a match of local community youth teams. This community recreational park includes a nearly regulation-size soccer field, basketball and handball courts, a stage for community events, bleachers, lavatories, lighting and new Celtic Park signage.

“Solino is no longer in a red zone, it’s a green and white zone. We are so grateful to be a part of the launch and hope to see a Haitian wearing our Celtic colors in Scotland one day,” said Tony Hamilton, CEO of the Celtic FC Foundation who flew from Glasgow, Scotland, for the event.

In 2010, the Haitian earthquake destroyed the Solino community. The grounds that once served as a community soccer field were turned into a camp to provide temporary housing to 700 families who lost their homes. In the months after the earthquake, CRS helped the Solino community clear drainage canals backed up with debris and garbage from other parts of the city, rebuild their homes and kick start families’ livelihoods.

An American philanthropist, who wishes to remain anonymous, and Celtic FC fan saw firsthand the challenges faced by the people in Solino during a 2012 visit. He was moved to act.

The spirit of the Solino community has touched a football club all the way in Scotland. “This has only been possible by a coming together of local government, the Spiritans and the private sector, to create a magnificent recreational facility for the community,” said Sean Callahan, chief operating officer for CRS.

“The Spiritans have a long history in Solino and this is a dream come true for the community. The whole community is excited about this field,” said Father Serro Michel, of the Spiritan Community in Haiti.

To download a PDF file of this three-page spread click here.

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