On the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti's capital, three committee chairmen at the U.S. bishops' conference have outlined concrete steps to help the troubled island nation's recovery efforts.
The three bishops –Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami– made their proposals as they marked the first anniversary of the earthquake that killed 250,00 Haitians and left much of Port-au-Prince in ruins.
A million residents of Port-au-Prince remain homeless, with many still living in emergency tent housing. Catholic Relief Services told CNA on Jan. 11 that the recovery was proceeding slowly due to a lack of infrastructure in the dangerously overcrowded city, which is still filled with rubble from collapsed buildings.
Bishop Hubbard, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, acknowledged the slow pace of progress in Haiti. He noted that recovery was “particularly challenging” for a country that has long faced “grinding poverty and its effects” in addition to the natural disaster and a subsequent ongoing cholera epidemic.
Foreign aid, he said, needed to target Haiti's long-term needs and help the country to develop its own capacities. To this end, he urged the U.S. Congress to reintroduce legislation similar to last year's “Haiti Empowerment, Assistance, and Rebuilding (HEAR) Act.”
A bill of this kind, he said, “would provide a framework to guide long-term, comprehensive assistance to Haiti.” Although an estimated 3,000 non-governmental organizations are currently working to help Haiti, some critics have noted their lack of coordination with one another, and their focus on immediate relief rather than sustained redevelopment.
Archbishop Gomez, head of the bishops' committee on migration, detailed several policies by which he said the United States could help Haitians. He urged the U.S. government to speed up the process for allowing the 55,000 Haitians it had approved for traveling to the U.S. to be reunited with their families who are already there.
He also asked the government to consider reassigning Haitian immigrants who arrived after the earthquake with the “Temporary Protected Status” that would prevent them from being forced to leave. Many Haitians depend upon money sent back to the country by their relatives abroad.
Archbishop Gomez also urged the Obama administration to reconsider its plans to start deporting criminals from Haiti back to their native country rather than keeping them incarcerated in the U.S. He warned that such deportations could “further de-stabilize” Haiti and its capital city, where gang violence has become epidemic and jail facilities in some places no longer exist.
The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Haiti Advisory Group, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, gave advice to Haiti's own government as well as its international partners, urging them to recognize and facilitate the Catholic Church's central role in the recovery efforts.
“The Church remains the one functioning network in Haiti that is able to get things done,” he observed. “The Haitian government and the international community ignore the Church to the detriment of the overall goal of helping Haitians help themselves.”
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, also wrote to his Haitian counterpart –Archbishop Louis Kebreau of Cap Hatien, president of the Bishops' Conference of Haiti– to express his condolences and support to the Haitian Church on the anniversary of the earthquake.
Archbishop Dolan prayed that God's “unfailing presence” would strengthen the “bonds of communion and solidarity that have bound us together in the wake of this tragedy,” allowing Haitians and others “to work towards a new Haiti where peace and justice and the love of God shall reign.”
The U.S. bishops are also inviting Catholics to pray a special novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the people of Haiti. The novena starts on the evening of the anniversary, January 12, and culminates with the celebration of Mass the weekend of January 22-23.
The novena can be found online at: http://www.usccb.org/haiti/one-year-later.shtml