After the earthquake
Archbishop Bernadito Auza, Papal Nuncio to Haiti, only a few hours after the catastrophic earthquake, wrote:
‘I have just returned this morning. I found priests and nuns in the streets, without homes. The Rector of the seminary survived, as did the Dean of Studies, but the seminarians are under the rubble. Everywhere, you can hear cries from under the rubble. The CIFOR - Institute of Studies for the Men and Women Religious - has collapsed with the students inside, participating in a conference. The nunciature building has withstood the earthquake, without any injuries, but we are all amazed! So many things are broken, including the Tabernacle, but we are more fortunate than others. Many family members of the staff were killed, their homes destroyed. Everyone is calling for help. We will have problems of water and food before long. We cannot enter or stay inside the house much, as the earth continues to shake, so we are camped in the garden.’‘Port-au-Prince is completely devastated. The Cathedral, the Archbishop's Residence, all the great churches, all the seminaries are reduced to rubble. The pastor of the Cathedral, who survived the earthquake, told me that the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince perished under the rubble, along with hundreds of seminarians and priests who are under the rubble.’
As I write, the Vicar General, Fr Charles Benoit is still missing and nothing has been heard from Missio’s Haitian National Director, Fr Clarck de la Cruz.
Part of the heartbreaking reality of the Haiti earthquake is that many of those who would have offered their support to the shattered lives of the people of the island are themselves victims, an uncounted number also listed amongst the fatalities.
The overwhelming tragedy wrought by the few brief seconds of the earthquake’s duration is poignantly summarised by a photo taken in the rubble of the cathedral in Port-au-Prince: Jesus hangs on the Cross in the midst of his people.
One of the poorest countries on earth, Haiti’s people have experienced a seemingly endless cycle of poverty, political upheavals, crime and natural disasters since it became the world's first black-led republic and the first independent Caribbean State in the early 19th century.
Haiti, last year alone received more than £286,000 in support from Missio, supporting the work of the Church in basic and preventative healthcare, education, pastoral care and building projects, including major reconstruction in Port-au-Prince after massive flooding in May 2009.
‘Last year floods hit; now the earthquake has shocked us with the extent of its devastation,’ said Martin Teulan, Missio’s National Director in Australia. ‘We are saddened by the news of Archbishop Serge-Miot and how many lives have been lost. When the Victorian bushfires devastated people’s lives here a year ago, the greatest response we received for prayer came from the people of Haiti and the Caribbean – people who understand what it means to have little. Their prayers strengthened us. Our prayers will be greatly appreciated and encourage them.’
Another aspect of Haiti’s tragedy was expressed by Isabel Perez, an Ecuadorian who works for Missio in England and Wales and who worked in neighbouring Dominican Republic. ‘We helped many Haitians to set up small projects and schools, assisting them with many other concerns. I’ve been trying since yesterday to contact people to see how they are, but it is so hard. All forms of communication are down. I have heard nothing. All I can do is to watch television and read the news reports... and pray. Just now, all we have is prayer.’
The number of fatalities in the earthquake will probably never be known. One slum alone housed more than 70,000 inhabitants and there were many such slums in Port-au-Prince alone.
Mgr John Dale, National Director of Missio for England and Wales, commented.
Haiti’s loss at the moment is made even more difficult because so many clergy, Religious and seminarians are amongst the dead and so cannot give the pastoral care that is so urgently needed at this time.Donations may be sent to Missio Haiti through the London office at 23 Eccleston Square. This will be used to rebuild the shattered Churches in Haiti. For further information, please phone 020 7963 6829 or e-mail Monsignor John Dale at email@example.com
Missio has always supported the Church in Haiti, helping it to grow and develop in its own distinctive way. We will remain in the country, helping it to rebuild and find hope. Missio is not an emergency aid organisation, but just as we have been present for the Haitians in the past, we will be there for their future as they try to reconstruct their homes and lives. In the present, the people of Haiti are in our thoughts and prayers. We pray for those who died and may those who survived the earthquake be given all the comfort, strength and help that they need.