One year after Haiti quake, rebuilding is slow but faith strong

| Susan Klemond For The Catholic Spirit | January 6, 2011 | 0 Comments

A Haitian resident holds his relative who is suffering from cholera at St. Catherine hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in this photo from last November. Visitors to Haiti said the nation continues to deal with the effects of the cholera epidemic as the one-year anniversary of the earthquake approaches. CNS photo / St-Felix Evens, Reuters

Nearly a year after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti took the lives of as many as 300,000 people and left more than a million injured or homeless, growth is best measured by the Haitians’ hope for their country rather than the country’s infrastructure, even as they continue to suffer from a cholera outbreak, according to local Catholics who have visited the small island nation since the disaster.

“It’s easy if you’ve never been to Haiti or you’ve just seen it through the eyes of the media to think that nothing has happened there,” said Sue Klappa, a St. Joseph in Hopkins parishioner and assistant professor in St. Catherine Univer­sity’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program who traveled to Haiti on three medical missions in 2010.

“There’s been a lot happening, it’s just not happening as fast as America would like to see with our vision of productivity.”

As the Jan. 12 disaster anniversary approaches, Klappa and several parishes that have sister parish relationships in Haiti re­flected on recent trips to the impoverished country, and a Twin Cities group is encouraging churches and other organizations to commemorate the anni­versary.

Generous local response

Last January, in what may have been the largest single archdiocesan collection for a relief effort, local Catholics donated more than $1,224,000 to Catholic Relief Services for aid to Haiti, according to Mike Haasl, global solidarity coordinator for the archdiocesan Center for Mission. CRS has received more than $190 million for Haiti relief and reconstruction, and so far has spent funds on food, emergency response, shelter and other needs.

Haiti’s close location may be one reason archdiocesan Catholics responded generously, Haasl said.

“There have been earthquakes in Chile and earthquakes in China and all over but to have that amount of catastrophe and that number of people who have died in [Haiti is] so close to us,” he said. “Our country is not only in close proximity, I would say our country has also been connected with Haiti in a lot of ways.”

Hoping to encourage that connection and continued support for Haiti, a group representing organizations with an interest in Haiti is requesting that churches and other organizations ring their bells or otherwise commemorate the disaster for 35 seconds at 3:53 p.m. CST on Jan. 12, the time the earthquake hit, said Basilica of St. Mary parishioner Dick Bernard, a co-convener of the group.

At least 24 Twin Cities churches and organizations plan to participate, along with the City of Minneapolis and churches in other parts of the country. Archbishop  John Nienstedt supports the effort, said Deacon Mickey Friesen, Center for Mission director.

One thing Klappa didn’t expect when she traveled to the Hanger Clinic in Deschapelles, Haiti, in October was that she would be assisting cholera patients. A physical therapist, she made the trip through Physicians for Peace to help patients being fit with prosthetic limbs. Through it all, she said, she was struck by Haitians’ sense of community and desire to help their own people.

“That community and coming together to support each other I think is one of the biggest lessons that comes from this,” she said. “And it’s about rebuilding the human spirit — which I think if you don’t do that, you can do all the infrastructure rebuilding and that will mean nothing.”

Blessing for all involved

Bob Schilmoeller traveled to Haiti in August with a group from his parish, Risen Savior in Burnsville, which has had a sister parish relationship with Gris-Gris in western Haiti since 1999. Risen Savior has helped construct wells and a school, among other projects.

While damage in Gris-Gris wasn’t as extensive as elsewhere, the town had to accommodate residents’ friends and relatives, and food was in short supply after the disaster, he said.

The relationship blesses both parishes, Schilmoeller added.

“What’s interesting is they knew about the whole economic downturn up here,” he said. “They prayed about it, they talked about it. It’s nothing up here compared to down there, but yet they’re sensitive to what we were going through and what hardships people up here were going through.”

Residents in Bouzy, where St. Joseph the Worker’s sister parish is located southwest of Port Au Prince, were in survivor mode when David and Lori Henke visited in November, and the couple didn’t see many repairs or new construction. St. Joseph began its relationship with the Bouzy parish about two years ago and has done medical and other missions, David Henke said.

Like Gris-Gris, Bouzy was inundated with refugees after the earthquake. “Because it’s a small farming community, it’s really a fragile economy and when you bring new people in . . . you put a lot of pressure on a system that’s really fragile,” Henke said.

Even so, the couple was inspired by residents’ faith and resiliency. “They really have a strong faith there,” Lori Henke said. “They do believe that everything comes from God, that God is going to care for them. You can feel that.”


Bells for Haiti

For information about the Bells for Haiti initiative to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, contact Jenna Myrland at (612) 607-6495 or JennaM@archq.org .


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