With the one-year anniversary looming of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that rocked Haiti, killing some 230,000 people, a bishop from the beleaguered island nation says that while the recovery has been slow, it is definitely moving forward with much help from the church.
“There is new involvement of the church preparing projects for the medium and long term, something the Holy Father has encouraged us to think about,” said Bishop Pierre-Andre Dumas, of Anse-a-Veau and Miragoane, who also serves as president of Caritas Haiti.
“These are integral projects of human development: constructing houses and rebuilding cities,” he said.
Bishop Dumas, 48, who leads the Diocese of Nippes, located about 70 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, on the southern claw of Haiti, commented on the situation in his country during a visit to Providence to attend a board meeting of The Haitian Project.
The organization, which has derived much support from the diocese since it was formed at St. Joseph Parish in Providence 25 years ago, operates the Louverture Cleary School, a free Catholic boarding school for 350 academically talented, but financially underprivileged students in Croix-des-Bouquets, a northern suburb of Port-au-Prince.
Bishop Dumas first became involved with The Haitian Project when he served as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Port-au-Prince—with about 2.5 million Catholics—from 2002-2008.
Following the earthquake, as reported by Rhode Island Catholic during a visit to the Louverture Cleary School last March, The Haitian Project expanded its focus to rebuild not only its school, which sustained some physical damage, but also the surrounding neighborhood.
For the equivalent of U.S. $8,000 each, The Haitian Project has to date financed the rebuilding of eight homes for poor families in the school’s immediate neighborhood and beyond who actually own the land upon which they are living.
Despite the recent cholera outbreak, the school, and the surrounding neighborhood have remained free of the deadly disease in large measure due to the efforts of students. They have worked to instruct neighbors and their own families on how to use Clorox supplied them to sanitize their surroundings, according to Haitian Project President Deacon Patrick Moynihan.
Deacon Moynihan says the preservation and advancement of the faith is crucial in order for a community to truly thrive, and he credits Bishop Dumas for his strong involvement and dedication to the youths the school serves.
“The bishop has been instrumental to helping us in one of our truly important activities, bringing young people back into the faith, and advancing them in their sacraments,” Deacon Moynihan said.
The Haitian Project has also partnered with Catholic Relief Services, the largest provider of aid by any religious organization in Haiti, to help with the social and medical needs of Haitians.
The deacon is frustrated with how the situation in Haiti is being portrayed in the news, however.
“They’re underestimating the tremendous amount of work being done by the Haitian people themselves,” Deacon Moynihan said. “We’ve watched for weeks and weeks the reporting of the terrible situation of the cholera without seeing one major newspaper covering Haitian doctors really treating Haitian people. That’s what our students who’ve become doctors have been engaged in. That makes me sad.”
He feels that portraying Haitians as helpless without the efforts of the international community takes away the possibility of hope and self-reliance being built within the people.
Deacon Moynihan, who read the Gospel this weekend at the Cathedral of SS. Peter & Paul during a Mass presided over by Bishop Dumas, said he feels blessed to have the support of Bishop Tobin, his predecessors, the priests and people of the diocese in helping The Haitian Project to continue its mission.
“It’s the strength they’ve built in us over 25 years that we’ve been able to call upon to be of service to the people at this very critical moment,” Deacon Moynihan said.
The project raised $164,000 in extra funds to do direct relief work, with 90 percent of it already invested in the country. Half of that amount has been dedicated to building permanent housing.
“All of it is making a real progressive difference,” Deacon Moynihan said.
After the earthquake, the church reacted through the efforts of Catholic organizations of charity, including Caritas and Food For the Poor to help rebuild communities from the ground up.
On Jan. 12, the Diocese of Nippes—which serves 500,000 Catholics with only 27 priests— will celebrate the rebuilding of 50 homes, and one new school, built through those efforts for 50 displaced families. Also, micro credit loans have been made available to help build the economy.
It has been such acts of Catholic generosity and Christian service that imbue Bishop Dumas with hope for the future of his country.
“It’s not only rebuilding houses, it is building community spirit, a new spirit and citizenship,” Bishop Dumas said. “It’s about creating a new link between people, and creating communities, not only giving houses to people.”
“The church believes it is possible to help the people to find new hope, to help Haiti rise again and to participate in the spiritual renewal resurrection of our people. Little by little, we’re trying to do that.”
Haiti’s best years, he feels, still lie ahead.
“We want our kids, our boys, our girls, to be part of history,” Bishop Dumas said.
“This is our history, to fight for life. I’m sure we will prevail.”
Printed with permission from Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence.