.- Itâs estimated that more than 200,000 Haitians died in the earthquake that toppled Port-au-Prince last January. The tremor lasted 35 seconds. Itâs going to take many years for this Third World country to rebuild itself, and Catholics in Arizona are pledging their support.
âOne of the huge problems in Haiti is clean water,â explained Deacon Bernie Filzen of All Saints Parish in Mesa. Heâs been involved with outreach to Haiti for more than 30 years.
âItâs a domino effect,â he said. âWithout clean water you have health issues.â
A two-bucket water filtration system costs about $35, the deacon said, and that system will give a family good drinking water.
âYou might not see the result of that, but you do if youâre there,â he added. âBut over time, people drinking good water are less ill, dysentery goes away, their kids go to school instead of being sick. Itâs amazing what you can do. Those are the kinds of things we want to see.â
These are the kinds of inexpensive, long-term solutions Deacon Filzen and Art Brouillard are considering with their recently established non-profit organization, Action By Christians for Haiti, Inc.
âThe few belongings they have are in their huts. Everything else is done outdoors,â Broillard said. âThe kids are outdoors all day long. The schools are poorly lit, concrete buildings, not air-conditioned units.â
Action By Christians will be working directly with a parish of 2,500 Catholics in the Hinche Diocese, which is about an hour and half outside Port-au-Prince. Other than financial contributions, theyâre also considering sending down craftsman to teach parishioners a trade.
âThereâs little or no jobs,â said Deacon Filzen, who, along with three other All Saints parishioners, traveled to Haiti last April. âHowever if you can train young people to be auto mechanics, to be masons, to be plumbers, electricians, you can train people to do that and to do it better.â
This is another long-term plan. The group sees teaching a trade akin to teaching Haitians to fish, as it were. The training also requires personal contact.
âOftentimes thereâs a smile, a touch, a look in a personâs eyes, all those things are so darn important,â Deacon Filzen said. âThat reinforces that faith journey on both sides. Thatâs pretty cool. That tells you weâre in the same boat together.â
Caritas in Veritate Catholic Missionaries
Another effort, based in Tempe, also has its eye on long-term recovery â only their project might cost a bit more money.
Caritas in Veritate Catholic Missionaries, an organization established by Arise International, will build a village for 300 Haitian families on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The village, which will be built around a Catholic parish, will cost around $10 million â a healthy sum considering itâs the groupâs first project.
âCharity and also truth are part of the same thing,â said Henry Cappello, president of Caritas in Veritate Catholic Missionaries, which, like Catholic Relief Services, is part of the Vaticanâs Cor Unum. âWe are the missionaries and these are the works of charity.â
Charity needs to be based on Truth, Cappello wrote in a recent newsletter. Truth is not a concept, nor a philosophy, but a person: Jesus Christ.
Unlike other relief organizations, Caritas in Veritate does not shy away from proclaiming the Gospel while providing other aid. By sharing their faith, Cappello said, Caritas in Veritate Catholic Missionaries will also help heal hopelessness.
âOur intention is to build a people rather than just a home,â he said of the Caritas Village project. âItâs not just hit and run. Weâre not after âan experience.â Weâre after being committed to bringing change to the people of Haiti.â
Bill Marcotte, vice president of Arise International, joined Cappello and several young adult Catholics on a trip to Haiti in July. Marcotte, whoâd been to Haiti in April, didnât see any changes when he returned this summer.
âIf youâre fortunate to be in a tent city, youâre going to get food,â he said. âBut the dignity of the human person â itâs just substandard. Theyâre living like animals, living in tents, not doing anything. Thatâs not to mention the psychological dimension, the hopelessness.â
The missionary group ran into a priest who was trying to set up an orphanage for street kids. But they didnât have a place to sleep, or food to eat.
So Marcotte and the young adults started setting up tents.
âWe went into that situation thinking weâd just sit down and tell these kids Bible stories,â said Sarah Belavega, a parishioner at St. Germaine in Prescott Valley.
âWe planned to spend the summer camp with them and focus on their needs and show them that theyâre loved. We didnât even think about evangelization at all until the last day.â
The charitable work made way for the âteachable moment.â
The Caritas in Veritate missionaries also visited Mother Teresaâs orphanage in Port-au-Prince. While there, Belavega noticed a young child laying in a corner.
Judging by his size, the recent high school graduate guessed he was a year old. Turns out he was five, but lack of nourishment had impeded his development.
She picked him and held him for the two-hour visit. The child was despondent, Belavega said.
âSo eventually we had to leave, so I told him Iâd come back a couple days later,â she said. âHe didnât look at me. He acted like I wasnât even there.â
She put him back down in the corner where she found him and turned toward the door. Then, she heard a childâs voice calling after her.
âHe was running after me, crying, and he wanted me to take him home with me,â she said. The experience changed her whole mindset.
âOftentimes, when weâre so privileged, we go into situations when people are so needy, and we tend to distance them and push them off, and say, âThis is what weâre going to give you today,ââ she said.
âAnd then we go back to the place weâre staying, where we have three square meals and clean bedding,â Belavega said. âThis little boy is a child of God. Weâre on the same level. He needs so much more than I can give him. It was a humbling moment. It was so hard, but it was just so beautiful. He needed everything and yet he had everything. Itâs very hard to put into words.â
Being present makes the difference, said Deacon Filzen of All Saints in Mesa.
âItâs so easy to become despondent. And thatâs not their case,â he said of Catholics in Hinche. âThey look to the Lord to protect them and see thatâs exactly what happening in their lives. And if thatâs not awe inspiring, I donât know what is.â
Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona.