Haiti missionaries mourn and mobilize

  • January 21, 2010
{mosimage}Religious communities in the capital of Haiti were devastated by the Jan. 12 earthquake that left some of their members dead and buildings completely destroyed.

Two of five Canadian Brothers of the Christian Instruction in La Prairie, Que., who were permanently stationed in Haiti, were injured but were evacuated home by the Canadian Armed Forces and were treated in hospital, said the Quebec provincial Fr. Gabriel Gélinas, f.i.c.

“They were lightly injured, where one priest is already out of hospital and the other will need surgery on his fractured leg,” said Gélinas, who did not wish to release their names.

It is estimated that 200,000 people may be dead. Thirteen Canadians were confirmed dead in the first week of searching and more than 600 remained missing. So far, no Canadian religious have been reported dead, but the communities are traumatized by the deaths of their fellow Haitian priests, seminarians and students.

Archbishop Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince was the best-known Haitian Catholic leader killed but the losses also included some of the oldest and youngest members of the church community. Salesian Brother Hubert Sanon, 85, the first Haitian to become a Salesian brother, died along with as many as 500 students in a Salesian facility. The Inter-Institute Center for Religious Formation,  known by its French initials CIFOR, also collapsed, killing seminarians and novices from several orders.

“Praise the Lord, the 27 Redemptorists who lived in Port-au-Prince city are well and alive,” Fr. Mario Boies, C.Ss.R., superior provincial of the Redemptorists in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Que. wrote in a letter. “Unfortunately, we have to mention the terrible loss endured by many confreres, following this cataclysm. In brief, the Redemptorists confreres are still under a terrible shock and they live in a total state of anxious fear and distress.”

Lilianne Fournier, Boies’ administrative assistant, said the Redemptorists lost an entire school and 300 students who were inside. Their formation house, student residence and church were also flattened. Only half of the church walls were left standing and the residents in formation were left to sleep in the yard with the other members of the congregation.

“The Haitian people are very religious and the church for them is the heart of their community,” Fournier said in French. “Everyone is mobilizing with the province of St. Anne de Beaupré, trying to help these people.”

Fournier said the Redemptorists had a booming ministry, with plenty of new vocations. For this reason the formation house was an important centre.

“Frankly, it will take years of work to restore.”With the delay in relief to many areas, many were also worried for their safety, as looting and violence escalated.

Fr. Claude Sigouin, smm, provincial of the Montfortains in Montreal, said their community in Haiti have already reported a vehicle stolen by armed bandits.

The Montfortains suffered. Eight Haitian seminarians from Formation Center were crushed when the CIFOR building collapsed onto their minibus. The order also lost one priest, Fr. Jean Baptiste Henri Fils, smm, from France, and seminarians from other congregations and dioceses. They also saw victims among their co-workers with the Daughters of Mary and the Daughters of Wisdom.

As of The Register’s deadline, the Soeurs de Charité de St. Louis had not heard from their sisters in Haiti, but had received reports their College de Bourdon was completely destroyed.

The Holy Spirit Fathers lost several seminarians. The Sisters of St. Joseph de St. Vallier were safe and sound, but Haitian sisters were worried about their family members.

The Jesuits, who have co-ordinated relief efforts, lost the central wing of their novitiate, but two buildings are still standing. Two of the three buildings the community rents for its ministries in Port-au-Prince were also damaged, said Jesuit Fr. Pierre Belanger from Montreal.

Sr. Rosemary Fry, C.S.J., who arrived in Toronto the day before the quake, said her buildings are likely also devastated. She has run programs for about 20 years, helping Haitians with nutrition and health. Fry administered programs from the Sacred Heart Centre delivering food for children and jobs for their mothers. “This is a people who believes in God,” she said. “It buoys up my faith.”

She plans to return to Haiti Jan. 31.

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