Haitian Bishop Chibley Langlois of Les Cayes, president of the Haitian bishops' conference, talks with Catholic News Service at the CNS offices in Washington June 1. He said the church in Haiti was struggling with reconstruction efforts of church propert ies, but the focus has first and foremost been on assisting the Haitian people and rebuilding their lives. He was in Washington for a solidarity conference on Haiti that focused on overall development efforts and recovery since the January 2010 earthquake. CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

Haitian bishops appreciate US church efforts to build solidarity

By  Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service
  • June 5, 2012

WASHINGTON - Knowing that American Catholics stand in solidarity with the Haitian Catholic Church opens new opportunities for people of both countries to learn from each other and begin to shape a unified future together, a group of Haitian bishops said.

In Washington for the One Table, Many Partners National Solidarity Conference June 1-3, the prelates said during a visit to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops they see U.S.-Haiti solidarity strengthening, leading to a more self-sufficient Haitian church as long as there is a mutual exchange of ideas.

Led by Bishop Chibley Langlois of Les Cayes, president of the Haitian bishops' conference, the delegation also expressed hope that development and recovery efforts since the harrowing January 2010 earthquake would begin to move more quickly.

The magnitude 7 earthquake damaged about 20 percent of the country, caused more than 300,000 deaths and left at least 1 million people homeless. Haiti has struggled with rebuilding efforts in part because of a nearly two-year standoff between President Michel Martelly and the Haitian parliament, controlled by an opposition party, in filling the position of prime minister, who functions as the de facto head of government.

Church reconstruction has only recently begun to move forward under the Partnership for Church Reconstruction in Haiti, or PROCHE, which was established under an agreement between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services and the Haitian bishops' conference to administer $33 million donated by U.S. Catholics. The first grants under the program, totaling $3.1 million, were announced in March and will benefit five church-related rebuilding projects.

The PROCHE process requires all proposed construction projects to be vetted before work can begin to assure that they are built to Western standards with the expectation that they will better withstand strong earthquakes and violent hurricanes.

Bishop Langlois said Haitian church officials have begun assessing what has been accomplished by long-standing programs parish twinning programs and other initiatives by faith-based organizations in the 29 months since the earthquake. The bishops' conference, he explained, wants to determine if efforts are being unnecessarily duplicated and to learn where the most serious shortfalls remain.

Despite the slow progress, the bishops expressed gratitude for the relationships created and the work being done through the twinning programs.

"The relationships through the twinning program is a good thing," Bishop Launay Saturne of Jacmel told a small group of USCCB staff.

In an address closing the conference, Bishop Saturne said the work of rebuilding and development must be grounded in the word of God and the Holy Spirit.

"We are the eyes of God, the heart of God, the hands of God, the action to bring life to these people, life for the body, for the spirit and the soul," he said.

He also called for sustained development between the two churches while urging American partners to "be in communion with the ecclesial authorities, who know the local communities and benefit from the trust of the population."

"We will do the best we can to work with you because of your expertise and resources," Bishop Saturne added.

Bishop Pierre-Andre Dumas of Anse-a-Veau and Mirogoane in southern Haiti called for cultural and religious exchanges between the two countries "so that each side can discover the needs and riches of each other." He urged Americans to spend time getting to better know Haitians so they can better "take advantage of the resources here (in Haiti)."

The conversations that took place during the three-day conference can strengthen connections across to widely divergent cultures, said Bishop Joseph Gontrand Decost of Jeremie. Haitians, he said, can learn from Catholics in the U.S. and elsewhere so "that they can assume the challenges of the country."

Other bishops attending the conference were Auxiliary Bishop Marie Erick Toussaint of Port-au-Prince and Bishop Simon Pierre Saint-Hillien of Hinche.

In all, about 60 Haitians attended the conference.

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