A delegation sent by the U.S. Catholic bishops has returned from Haiti after observing relief efforts for the January earthquake. The country is at a “crossroads” and must not lose hope, commented the delegation, which made specific recommendations regarding further recovery work.
Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski and Bishop of Brooklyn Nicholas DiMarzio led a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a visit from July 26 to August 2. According to a USCCB press release, the delegation also traveled to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic to assess problems Haitians face there.
“This is a pivotal moment in Haiti’s history which requires cooperation and patience,” stated Archbishop Wenski. “Haiti is at a crossroads and it is crucial that the international community not lessen its commitment to the rebuilding process.”
“It is clear that efforts to clean up and recover from the earthquake are progressing slowly,” the archbishop also said. “However, the international community must remain steadfast in working with the Haitian government to reconstruct the country and strengthen its institutions. The survival and long-term future of the Haitian people are at stake.”
The delegation met with members of Haiti’s government, community leaders and business leaders to discuss long-term development. Delegation members visited orphanages and refugee camps in Port-au-Prince and other countries.
They also visited a number of emergency, transitional and development programs run by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and its local partners.
“Children, especially those who have lost parents or are separated from them, remain at grave risk,” stated Bishop DiMarzio. “Without a more concerted effort to protect them and find long-term solutions for their care, they will become even more vulnerable to criminal elements, including smugglers and human traffickers.”
The delegation found that in some camps women remain vulnerable to violence and sexual assault even as they try to feed and protect their families.
Delegation member Maria Odom, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), said women need better security against “gender-based violence.”
The delegation recommended providing “humanitarian parole” to the family members of Haitians evacuated to the United States for medical treatment. It advised streamlining the process for those who want to work in the U.S. and send remittances back to Haiti.
It also advocated more focus on vulnerable children in shelters, such as increasing efforts to trace their families.
Discussing cooperation between the U.S. and the Haitian governments, delegation members urged that the U.S. help increase the government’s ability to finish reconstruction efforts and to provide security. The governments should work together to ensure “sustainable agricultural development” and to ensure civil society and business sectors are included in efforts to provide access to jobs, health care and education.
In consultation with the bishops of Haiti, CRS and the USCCB’s Secretariat for the Church in Latin America are helping administer $80 million collected from U.S. Catholics to aid the recovery effort. The funds are being used to meet human needs and to restore infrastructure such as churches, schools and clinics.
“It will take time to make Haiti whole again, but it is important that the Haitian people and the children of Haiti—its future leaders—do not lose hope,” Archbishop Wenski remarked.