Catholic News Agency sent two members of its staff to Port-au-Prince after the January 12 earthquake that took the lives of 150,000, left 200,000 wounded and three million homeless. CNA's Spanish-language editor-in-chief, Walter Sánchez Silva Saldarriaga, recently recounted their experiences in the devastated island-nation.
Sánchez Silva, along with José Castro, director of television services, arrived at Port-au-Prince on January 15. “The residents of Port-au-Prince are in need of everything,” Sánchez Silva said. He explained that when they arrived, it was 7 p.m. and already dark. “You could see groups of people on the streets with candles, cooking the little they had, drinking whatever water was left.”
“We could see homes destroyed, hotels in ruins, and rubble impossible to identify,” he continued. “We saw desolation and extreme poverty.”
Commenting on the interview the two had with the Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Sánchez Silva said, “He met with us and gave us an extensive, long and profound interview that was full of emotion.”
“He told us about how Archbishop Serge Moit of Port-au-Prince died, about the seminary in ruins and about how the Church of the Sacred Heart, the most beautiful in Haiti, was now destroyed.”
Adding that the city's cathedral was also left in ruins, the archbishop lamented the fact that so many people were in need of assistance, but not enough supplies were available to go around. “They will need help for years if not decades,” Archbishop Auza told Sánchez Silva.
Sánchez Silva then recounted the experience of visiting the ruins of the seminary and witnessing the “terror of the seminarians” as an aftershock shook the island. After avoiding a shooting in downtown Port-au-Prince, Silva and Castro went to the city's cathedral.
“At the Cathedral we saw something interesting. Both the Cathedral and the Church of the Sacred Heart have a very similar crucifix outside... In both cases they were still standing, almost completely intact. I felt hope when I saw that.”
The most heart-wrenching leg of the journey was in downtown Port-au-Prince, Sánchez Silva said. “Hundreds, thousands of people walking aimlessly about. People looking for assistance, searching for their deceased loved ones, confronting each other over something to eat using whatever they had—sticks, stones, rubble. If somebody found something, others piled on top of him and whoever was strongest won.
“Chaos everywhere. Nobody was helping anyone else. It was completely the law of the jungle.”
In his account, Sánchez Silva included an urgent call from the Archbishop of Santo Domingo, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, whose words left an impression on the CNA staff members. Referring not only to the disaster in Haiti, but to all the needs of our brothers: “What should we do now?” the cardinal asked. “Solidarity.”