In Haiti, new beginnings hard to come by

| January 6, 2011
Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

Most Americans embrace the beginning of a new year with the hope that life will be better in the months ahead. We make annual resolutions to alter what we want changed in our daily routine. Then we set out with determination to see those same promises through. With the new year, we almost naturally look forward to new beginnings.

Unfortunately, new beginnings are hard to come by for our brothers and sisters living in Haiti. The first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit their country will be Jan. 12.

Since then, they have suffered the effects of Hurricane Tomas, a November storm that destroyed another thousand homes. In addition, cholera has raised its ugly head amidst the lack of proper sanitation and remains a persistent enemy.

Signs of hope

But, mercifully, there have been some gains.  Since the earthquake of 2010, we have seen the following flickers of hope:

» 900,000 people have received food assistance.

» 273,205 people have received emergency shelter assistance.

» 1,200 transitional shelters have been built.

» 997 surgeries and 69,710 outpatient consultations have been conducted.

» 767 water and sanitation units have been installed.

» 663 separated children have been registered and are receiving care.

» Soap, aqua tabs and cholera information have been distributed to more than 22,000 families.

» $100,000 of medical supplies have been distributed for cholera response and increased water as well as sanitation services have been provided in 12 settlements.

» 10,000 people have been employed in cash-for-work programs to clear rubble, clean out drainage canals and build temporary shelters.
It must be said that the response on the part of Americans to the needs of the earthquake victims has been remarkable. The Catholic Church in this country alone collected $86 million to assist in the effort to respond to immediate needs as well as to lay a foundation for a lasting recovery.

Catholic Relief Services, the church’s representatives on the scene, are still working with Caritas, local church leaders and the Haitian government to help families and individuals find areas of shelter, to develop community infrastructure, to provide water and sanitation, and to secure the protection of the vulnerable.

In addition, the Haitian bishops together with the U.S. bishops, the Vatican and Catholic leaders throughout the world have created an organization called PROCHE (Proximité Catholique avec Haïti et san Eglise or “Catholic Closeness with Haiti and her Church”).

The purpose of this group is to rebuild the local church’s infrastructure since the national seminary, Catholic schools, hospitals, community centers, clinics, chapels and convents now tragically lie in ruins.

Besides meeting the spiritual needs of the Haitian people, 80 percent of whom are Catholic, these institutions before the quake were centers of community life for the people. A sense of normalcy will not return until those centers are rebuilt. (For more information, go to .)

How to help

Primary school students take a break for a meal provided by Catholic Relief Services last October at a school in Coteaux, Haiti. CNS photo / Barbara Fraser

What can we do here in the archdiocese to help? CRS suggests the following:


» Hold a prayer service at your parish for the continued needs of our Haitian brothers and sisters.

» Use CRS Prayers of the Faithful and homily helps on the one year commemoration, Jan. 12.

» Operation Rice Bowl features Haiti this year with videos, stories and lesson plans for grades K-12.

» Host a Food Fast Retreat for youth.

» Join Catholics Confront Global Poverty and advocate for policies that promote long-term reconstruction and development in Haiti.

» Find resources for U.S./Haiti church partnerships.

» Adopt a project in CRS’ Hope for Haiti gift catalog.

To date, less than 5 percent of the rubble from the earthquake has been cleared. Hundreds of thousands of people still live on the streets in poorly constructed shacks or under plastic tarps. Reconstruction is expected to last five to 10 years. Thus, the need is great.

I urge all of us to make this new year just a little bit brighter for our brothers and sisters in Haiti.

God bless you!

Haiti after the earthquake, CRS videos

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