In an exclusive email to CNA, the Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, has revealed the details surrounding the death of the Archbishop of Haiti, the condition of the buildings at the nunciature, the archdiocese and the major seminary, as well as an updated body count of priests, religious, and seminarians in Port-au-Prince, which was hit by a massive earthquake on Tuesday.
“Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has a great presence here,” said the nuncio. But due to the difficult situation, the lack of clean water, and the fact that all the gas stations are closed, they are contemplating moving their headquarters to the nearby town of Gonaives. Today, leaders from CRS and Caritas will meet with the nuncio and his staff at the nunciature.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza reports that the “good and smiling archbishop of Port-au-Prince,” was waiting on his balcony for a ride to a ceremony when the earthquake hit.
“The intensity of the earthquake pushed him down off the balcony headfirst and he died immediately on impact,” the nuncio told CNA. Since there is no electricity, his body has been moved to Gonaives. Archbishop Auza suggested an immediate burial, but the suggestion was not adopted since it would conflict with local tradition and would be taken as an insult.
The vicar general of Port-au-Prince, Monsignor Charles Benoit, and the Chancellor, Don Cherie, are still under the pile of rubble from the four-story building that housed the archdiocesan offices.
Archbishop Auza said “the chancellor seems to be dead, but we still have hope for Monsignor Benoit.” “We don’t have the numbers, but there are several dead priests and male and female religious whose bodies haven’t been recovered from the rubble,” he added.
On Wednesday evening the nuncio said he visited the major seminary, where he found only one building left standing. Only one priest from the formation team is unaccounted for as of yet. Nine seminarians are confirmed dead, and four more are still missing. Archbishop Auza also visited various religious communities and expressed the Holy Father’s “concern and solidarity.”
The nunciature, where Archbishop Auza lived, has been destroyed as well, even though it is in a part of the city that was not damaged as heavily. The nuncio explained that he and the personnel are sleeping in the garden. Despite the demise of the nunciature, the archbishop and his staff are hosting many meetings, with bishops from around the country flocking to the nunciature as a place to “coordinate and make decisions.”
Fearing a tsunami, many people have also left the city for the hills, Archbishop Auza said. Though a tsunami is unlikely, he is of the opinion that it is better for people to leave the capital, as there is nothing there for them. In the city itself, people walk around aimlessly. Many are also sleeping in the streets, he related.
Archbishop Auza also relayed an assessment of the airport in Port au Prince, saying it is incapacitated. As of yesterday, not one airplane bearing aid had arrived. Due to the earthquake, the control tower collapsed and is completely destroyed. Today, the first arrival, an American military plane, is expected.