Solidarity Visit to Haiti: 18 December 2011

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cathedraleTo celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Canadian delegation went to the ruins of the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, which had been destroyed in the earthquake of 12 January 2010. The Mass would be celebrated on the site of the former archdiocesan offices, which had also been left in ruins, and which are in the shadow of the skeleton of the former cathedral. This is also where the then Archbishop, the Most Reverend Joseph Serge Miot, had died during the earthquake with other members of his clergy and diocesan staff. Facing the outside altar were large tents giving shade from the sun. Metal chairs were arranged in rows around the altar for the gathering congregation of about 400 people. Behind the altar was an opening to a chapel. The first Mass of the day had just concluded, with an even larger crowd of people leaving as the Canadian visitors arrived.

The present Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, the Most Reverend Guire Poulard, who recently finished his term as President of the Conference of Haitian Bishops, warmly greeted the President and Vice President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. He invited Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton to preside at the celebration, and Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau to preach the homily. Archbishop Poulard was the third concelebrant. The Eucharistic celebration was also the occasion for 38 persons to make their First Communion, and the 11th anniversary of a children’s group, the cathedral parish “Enfance missionnaire” (“Missionary Childhood”). A few balloons decorated the worship site. Three guitarists, a drummer with a battery of drums, and another drummer with his young son were practising the music for the celebration.

About 40 children, members of the Enfance missionnaire, dressed in white and blue, began the procession, singing and slowly moving to the music.  The Mass opened with a short reflection by a young girl, inviting the assembly to “welcome Jesus”, to which the Enfance missionnaire led everyone in singing “Bonjour Seigneur, bonjour Sauveur; mama nous Marí” (“Good morning, Lord, good morning, Saviour; hello, mother Mary”).” “I bring you the support and love of the Canadian people,” Archbishop Smith told the assembly. “Although we have different cultures, we all share the same faith in Jesus.” Each reading was by a different member of the Enfance missionnaire, carefully articulated and clearly presented. The theme of the Sunday celebration was God’s promise to David: “Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? … the Lord will make you a house” (2 Samuel 7.5b,11b). This had special meaning in a setting where hundreds of thousands of people had lost their homes and now live in tents.

“We are happy to be with you, and to see with our eyes and hear with our own ears the good work that Development and Peace is doing,” Archbishop Durocher pointed out as he began his homily. “But if Development and Peace is able to walk with you, it is because the people of Canada have been challenged (interpellé) by the Word of God.”  The CCCB Vice President went on to say that the Executive Director and Assistant Executive Director of Caritas Haiti had expressed concern that the people of Haiti might become used to living in their present conditions. But this “is also a risk for  the people of Canada – to lose hope and the courage to change situations.” Together, we are called to be the house of hope, love and faith that God is building, he reminded the congregation, even as we do need housing and shelter.

messeAfter Communion, Archbishop Poulard thanked the Canadian visitors for their presence, and expressed his deep gratitude to Development and Peace “for all it is doing among us.” Many of our people are still living in tents, he pointed out. “When I visit them, I have tears in my eyes. The tents are deteriorating, and cannot withstand much more sun, wind and rain,” he said. Pointing out the needs that Haitians also have for education and skills training, he said “the great challenge is unemployment, which leads to insecurity and crime.” For these reasons, the concerns of the Bishops of Canada and the assistance of Development and Peace are so much appreciated, he said. “With the Church in Canada and with Development and Peace,” he concluded, “we can be strong and build a new Haiti.”

rosaceAcross the street, the sun shone through a stained glass window that remained intact in the ruins of the former cathedral. On top of the high ruins, small bushes were already growing. Tomorrow at evening praise, in preparation for Christmas, the O antiphon will sing about the root of Jesse: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11.1). In his blog Archbishop Smith would later write, “The building is in ruins, but the Church is alive.”

Following Mass, Archbishop Smith and Archbishop Durocher met with Archbishop Poulard, after which the Canadian delegation began a two-and-a-half hour drive southwest to Jacmel.

Archbishop Smith and Archbishop Durocher are accompanied on their solidarity visit to Haiti by Development and Peace Executive Director Mr. Michael Casey, its Latin America and Caribbean Programs Officer Mr. Normand Comte, and its communications officer Mr. François Gloutnay, as well as CCCB Assistant General Secretary Mr. Bede Hubbard.

By Bede Hubbard
Assistant General Secretary
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Last Updated on Thursday, January 05 2012  
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On January 13th 2010, Most Reverend Vincent Nguyen became Canada’s first Catholic Bishop of East Asian descent. He is the great-grandson of a Vietnamese Martyr.