Living Hope Newsletter – April 2010

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Hope for Haiti

The Claretian Mission in Haiti
amid the quake’s devastation

Just one day after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, a Claretian convoy assembled to head into the destruction and stand in solidarity with the Claretians and their community in Haiti. The group, from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, was led by Fr. Hector Cuadrado, C.M.F., Major Superior of the Claretians Antilles Province, which includes Haiti.

The Claretian convoy was welcomed to the Claretian mission house in Jimani, the border town between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Originally set up as a shelter for the needy, the Claretian mission house is now a makeshift medical clinic. Workers there are busy doing everything possible to treat the thousands of injured being brought from Haiti.

The Claretians saw for themselves the suffering of their brothers, and lent support to the Dominican doctors and nurses. They witnessed the heartbreaking scene of a Haitian boy, eleven years old, wailing not only from his injuries but because his mother was gone and he had no idea where she was. They also visited the St. Anthony Mary Claret Multipurpose Center in Jimani, where the injured were being treated.

Anxious to witness the magnitude of the catastrophe with their own eyes, the Claretians then traveled to Port-Au-Prince.

Knowing that the smallest bit of help was extremely important at this critical time, border officials allowed everyone to cross the border without the usual formalities. The Claretian convoy was traveling to visit Fr. Anistus Chima Onuoha, C.M.F., pastor of St. Antoine Marie Claret Church in the Nazon district of Port-Au-Prince, where he has ministered to the people there for several years. The Nazon district, a neighborhood northeast of downtown Port-au-Prince, is one of the poorest areas of the city.

It took three hours for the convoy to travel by car from the border to Port-au-Prince, a trip that usually takes an hour and a half. Traffic was terrible and congestion all the worse as they approached downtown. Once they arrived, they saw for themselves the devastation the news had reported.

“The vast majority of concrete structures had collapsed completely,” explains Fr. Cuadrado. “We finally got to the house. I knocked on the large green iron door. Within moments, a little Haitian girl with drooping eyes opened the door. Greeting her as best I could, I went in and saw Fr. Anistus on the patio. Hearing us, he got up, absolutely overjoyed, and then began crying, letting everyone see his mixed feelings of sorrow, frustration, confusion, happiness— and seeing us, gratitude.”

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After a warm embrace, the Claretians toured the Claretian mission house. Huge cracks which would hardly stand another aftershock marred the house structure. In fear of the house’s instability, people were sleeping outside on the patio, along with a few acquaintances and neighbors who had lost everything.

“It is unbelievable what we experienced and that we are still living. Please pray for us. We are in deep trouble, many deaths, bodies scattered everywhere, houses crumbled with people still inside,” explains a weary Fr. Anistus. “It is a total disaster. The capital cannot be recognized, and we are living and sleeping on the streets because the houses that are still standing are in bad shape. May God help us!”

The Claretians toured the Nazon district of Port-au-Prince to see what remained of the buildings of the St. Antoine Marie Claret Parish. The ten-year-old church and the public elementary school that the Claretians helped to build were destroyed. Ten years of work was thrown to the ground by the force of nature. The four Claretians who served the parish survived and were out on the streets along with everyone else.

“The spiritual edifice which we and the people of Nazon have built over the years continues to produce the best of fruit at this critical moment,” says Fr. Cuadrado.

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Forty-eight hours after the quake, chaos reigned all across the city and international assistance had yet to arrive. People aimlessly wandered the streets, hunkering down in parks, fields, and gasoline stations. Thousands of refugees had no roof over their heads. Decomposing corpses were on every street corner and groups of people looked for survivors in the debris.

“Every time I go out and see the city I ask myself: Am I dreaming or is what I see true? Is this the Port-au-Prince that I have known?” asks Fr. Anistus.

“The archbishop with other priests, sisters, seminarians, and lay persons all died and many churches in Port-au-Prince collapsed,” explains Fr. Anistus. “We continue to sleep in the courtyard of our house. We cannot sleep inside because it is too dangerous.”

After touring Port-au-Prince and assisting in the relief efforts, the Claretian convoy traveled back to Santo Domingo where ten Haitian seminarians still had not heard any news about their families. The Claretians decided to send the young men in search of their loved ones. Although their level of fear and anxiety was considerable, the mutual support of the Claretian community has helped them to maintain their faith and fortitude in these moments.

Before the seminarians departed, the Claretians in Santo Domingo held a community meeting in an atmosphere of prayer, in which they sang psalms, listened and shared the Word, and helped the seminarians prepare for the trip to meet with their dramatic reality.

“Among the ideas that I shared with them were these: that we are men of faith and hope, because we bring Jesus Christ in our heart. The hard and difficult situation they are going to confront will certainly impress them and the uncertainty of not knowing what they are going to find there,” says Fr. Cuadrado. “I cannot describe my feelings in sending our sons to confront face to face with what they have only seen on television.”

A few days later, the seminarians located their families and were in the process of returning to the Claretian seminary in Santo Domingo. They were pained and saddened at the death of the mother of one of the seminarians, several of his small cousins and nephews and a baptismal godmother.

“The Haitian people have always been in the heart of our Mother Congregation,” explains Fr. Cuadrado. “Many ask themselves why God permitted all this. However, we want to ask them, are they not seeing Him acting in the love and solidarity of so many?”

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The long-term challenge now facing Haiti is the rebuilding of the infrastructure and government institutions. While millions of dollars have been raised to support the island nation, Fr. Rosendo Urrabazo, C.M.F., former Claretian General Vicar in Rome who visited Haiti, is concerned about potential for decreasing support for Haiti as time passes. “The outpouring of the international community has been remarkable,” says Fr. Urrabazo. “It shows the people of Haiti and the rest of the world that humanity is alive. But rebuilding will be a long term process.”

“The challenge is not just to restore the lives of the Haitian people, but to rebuild their institutions,” says Fr. Urrabazo. “It’s going to take generations, and the vision of the Church is certainly long term.

“There were many social and political problems that needed to be sorted out even before this tragedy,” he explains. “But the only institution that seems to work in Haiti is the Catholic Church. After all the aid organizations are gone, the Church will still remain, and the people’s faith is what is going to get them through this.”