Solidarity Visit to Haiti: 21 December 2011

Friday, December 23 2011

nonceThe final day of the solidarity visit to Haiti began as usual with the celebration of Mass. The Gospel for the day was Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. During his homily, CCCB President Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton reflected on the Visitation, and how he hoped the visit by the solidarity mission too would be a moment of grace, bringing encouragement, hope and support for Haitians. The visitors were joined for Mass by Mariane, a local woman who comes daily to the Development and Peace offices to clean and cook. Her home had been among the thousands destroyed in the 2 January 2010 earthquake. Since then she, her husband and their daughter have been living in a make-shift shelter in front of the debris of their former house. They dare not seek temporary shelter elsewhere, in case another homeless person tries to take possession of their property.

After Mass, the delegation went to the Apostolic Nunciature, where the Most Reverend Bernardito C. Auza, Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, had invited the Canadian delegation to join him for breakfast. The Apostolic Nuncio has been tireless in his efforts since the earthquake to find funding and support for the Church in Haiti. He hopes over the coming months to announce 40 projects for the reconstruction of churches, schools and pastoral centres throughout the country.

Archbishop Auza gave the visitors more insights into the economic, social and structural challenges that have made reconstruction so difficult. He pointed out that not only is 86 per cent of Haitian food imported (almost 90 percent of the chicken consumed in Haiti is from the United States!), but also cement, concrete building blocks and even sand. Haiti’s mountains are composed principally of limestone, so large quantities of construction sand must be purchased and shipped into the country. These difficulties are compounded by a lack of infrastructure and high costs, as well as problems in money supply and exchange rates. The chargé d’affaires, Father Giuseppe Trentadue, pointed out that the difficulties of reconstruction also include a poor system of land registration and property transfers. He said a reconstruction project is often challenged by someone claiming ownership of the land, and in some cases a would-be buyer is forced to purchase the land twice before the change in ownership can be settled. Father Trentadue said that many non-government organizations and development agencies wanting to bring aid following the 2010 earthquake had to wait up to a year for the necessary Haitian authorizations. The major focus for the Apostolic Nuncio over the coming months, Father Trentadue added, would be the formation and education of Haitians.

The time at the Apostolic Nunciature gave an opportunity for Archbishop Smith and CCCB Vice President Archbishop Paul-André Durocher to be briefed by the Apostolic Nuncio on the reconstruction plans proposed by the Bishops of Haiti and their Episcopal Conference. Much of the assistance for implementing these plans has already been committed by Catholics and their Bishops in Latin America, the United States, Canada, and Europe.

After leaving the Apostolic Nunciature, the Canadian delegation was driven to the Port-au-Prince offices of the Canadian International Development Agency, where the visitors gave interviews to five media, including Radio Tele Antilles and TNH (Télévision Nationale d’Haïti).  During the interviews, Archbishop Smith talked about how moved he was to see the poor and women discover their dignity and importance, thanks to the work of those such as Development and Peace who accompany the Haitian people in their efforts to transform their lives and society. Archbishop Durocher said how much he admired Development and Peace for working in collaboration with the local population and being close to the people. Development and Peace Executive Director Mr. Michael Casey singled out the importance for Haiti of projects such as reforestation, protection from violence, and economic development. 

In the afternoon, the delegation travelled to the Port-au-Prince airport to return to Canada. When the Canadian visitors had arrived a week before, they and several hundred others had been crammed into a small dark space for several hours, searching for luggage. To help the delegation avoid similar problems for departure, the Apostolic Nuncio drove to the airport to accompany the CCCB and CCODP visitors. With the assistance of Archbishop Auza as dean of the diplomatic corps in Haiti, the Canadian delegation was able to avoid the worst of the cramped and chaotic facility. The only international entry point by air into the country, the airport building will be replaced by a new one in 2012. During the wait, Archbishop Auza remained with the Canadian visitors, who were also joined by the Canadian Ambassador to Haiti and his wife as they prepared to fly to Canada for their Christmas holidays.

bidonvilleOne of the first things the solidarity mission had witnessed shortly after arriving in Haiti had been a pair of manacles that slaves had worn years ago. This had been part of the permanent exhibition at the Pantheon National Museum. Earlier on this last day in Haiti, the delegation had seen a slum on a steep mountainside, where many of the shacks are so small that family members take turns every few hours to lie down. On the way to the airport, the visitors were told that during the rainy season, those in downtown slums on lower-lying land stand in mud in their shacks for hours at a time until the rain is over. Their dilapidated roofs and dirt floors offer little real shelter.

Throughout their visit, the Canadians had marvelled at how the readings for Mass each day had brought new insights because of their experiences in Haiti. Archbishop Smith summed this up by saying, “We have discovered how we are in communion with the Haitian people. Reconstruction is needed. But it is not just physical. There is also the reconstruction of the human person, and of society, through hope and love.” The Development and Peace programs officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Normand Comte, added, “We have shared in the Visitation that the Gospel talked about this morning because the Haitian people we met visited us in our hearts and souls.”

crecheThe first day of the trip had shown the historical evidence of the chains of human slavery. The last day gave evidence of the present-day slavery of slums and inhuman living conditions. While at the Nunciature earlier in the morning, the Canadian visitors had gazed at a Christmas crèche. Throughout the day, the mystery of the Incarnation continued to be revealed. The transforming glory of God was once shown in the poverty, chaos and dirt of a stable in Bethlehem. Today, it was being manifested in Port-au-Prince.

Archbishop Smith and Archbishop Durocher were accompanied on their solidarity visit to Haiti, 14-21 December 2011, 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