On earthquake anniversary, Pope appoints archbishop, sends $1.2 million to Haiti

Pope Benedict and Bishop Guire Poulard
Pope Benedict and Bishop Guire Poulard


Exactly one year since a catastrophic earthquake took the life of the Archbishop Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince, Pope Benedict XVI has appointed a new leader to help guide the Haitian Church and nation out of the rubble.

The announcement of a new archbishop came as the Vatican remembered the solemn events of the earthquake last Jan. 12 that killed an estimated 250,000 people, creating a humanitarian nightmare and leaving the country’s fragile economy and political system in shambles.

Archbishop Miot was among those who died in the catastrophe. He perished after the earthquake sent him plummeting from the balcony of his home, as he waited for a ride to a ceremony. Besides the archbishop's home collapsing, the city's cathedral, seminary and nunciature were all razed. In the hours following the disaster, a humanitarian nightmare unfolded in the Caribbean nation.

The Pope announced Jan. 12 that Bishop Guire Poulard of Les Cayes, Haiti would replace Archbishop Miot. He also appointed Father Glandas Marie Erick Toussaint to serve as auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese came at the same time.

The 69-year old Bishop Poulard had been the head of Les Cayes since March 2009; previously he served for 11 years as bishop of Jacmel, Haiti.

His new right-hand man, the 45-year-old Fr. Toussaint, was the parish priest of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, which was devastated in last year's earthquake. Since 2008 Fr. Toussaint has also been director of the Port-au-Prince chapter of Caritas International, a global coalition of Catholic relief organizations.

Pope Benedict sent "a word of hope in circumstances still difficult today," to the people of Haiti. His message was delivered by his on-site delegate Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.”

Cardinal Sarah also delivered $1.2 million in donations for the rebuilding of Haitian churches and schools.

“The time has come to rebuild, not only material structures but also civil, social and religious coexistence," the Pope said. He expressed hope that the rebuilding work in the nation would would involve the Haitian people as the "first protagonist" in the efforts and thanked the international community for their generous assistance.

The most recent statistics show that one million people are still living in tent camps.

The international community has pledged $5.3 billion over two years to rebuild the 60 percent of the nation's infrastructure that was destroyed, but that money has been slow in coming, according to a report from Fides news agency.

Haiti's ambassador to the Holy See, Mr. Carl-Henri Guiteau, told Vatican Radio that foreign aid has been "essential" but that the reconstruction effort is still "miserable."

"It needs to be said that the Haitian people has no other option than that of waiting," he said. "What is important today is that the international community and the Catholic Church feed this hoppe, so that this hope might be an instrument of the change the nation awaits."

In an interview with the Italian bishops’ SIR news agency, the Pope's lead diplomat to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza said the fact that the one million left without homes are being housed in tent camps is a testimony to the vast international aid effort.

What is needed in the immediate future, he said, is the removal of the rubble and more efficient programs to provide housing. About 300,000 houses are needed to shelter them all.

The problems facing them are complex, Archbishop Auza said, and to resolve them "we need a long time."

From Rome, the Vatican's secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major for the earthquake victims on the Jan. 12 anniversary. He was joined by many other members of the Vatican curia.

Cardinal Bertone prayed for the dead, for all Haitians and the international community so that "from the suffering of entire populations precious teaching might be drawn and the solidarity, justice and respect due to each person be brought to the fore."

He also relayed the Pope's exhortation to the world community "to promote and carry forward every useful initiative to contribute, in solidarity and fraternally, to the full rebirth" of the nation.