Haiti's church in need

  • January 29, 2010
{mosimage}The self-described Friends of Haiti took a commendable first step on Jan. 25 when this coalition of wealthy nations, in Montreal for a conference chaired by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, committed to a multi-billion-dollar, multi-year plan to rebuild Haiti.

But there was at least one major reconstruction project overlooked in Montreal even though it is urgent to the Catholic population of the impoverished people of Haiti: Who will help rebuild their church?

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Pope Benedict XVI praised the relief efforts of the international community and pledged that the Vatican would do its utmost to give Haitians hope for the future. There are several governments and international agencies contributing hope in the form of life-saving food, shelter, water and health care. But delivering spiritual hope is not their job. That must come from church leaders, including the Vatican.

The Haitian church has been decimated. Reports have focussed on the destruction in Port-au-Prince of  Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral and the deaths of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and Vicar General Msgr. Charles Benoit. But it is estimated that more than 100 of Haiti’s 800 priests are dead or missing. Untold numbers of seminarians, nuns and lay workers also died, many buried in the main cathedral, but also in the cathedral in Jacmel and several other churches in Port-au-Prince and beyond, as well as in seminaries, convents, schools and in Haiti’s Catholic radio station.

Haitians, 80 per cent of whom are Catholic, rely on the church for more than spiritual needs. In the absence of adequate government services, the church is a community hub for education, food and health care, and also a focal point for social programs and a sturdy shelter amid ramshackle homes during hurricane season. The church has been delivering aid honestly to the needy for decades.

The priority of those world leaders committed to Haiti is to address the obvious physical needs of a desperate population. The huge task of delivering spiritual hope to Haiti will require a similar collaboration among church leaders, starting in the Vatican and spreading around the world.  

The Vatican responded promptly to the Haiti earthquake with a promise to support relief efforts through its international charity organization Caritas. But there has been no specific mention of the long and costly process of church reconstruction. We hope a plan is in the works.

Meantime, as Pope Benedict said, Haitians need hope. They need it now. One symbol of a hopeful future would be resurrecting Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral from the rubble and launching a program to rebuild as quickly as possible Haiti’s other churches and religious buildings.

That project is unlikely to be on the agenda of the largely non-Catholic community of world leaders and charity organizations within the Friends of Haiti. It would be a miscalculation in any event to leave rebuilding the Catholic Church to them. That job belongs to international Catholic Church leaders under Vatican direction. We pray it is a task they attack with vigour.

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