Archbishop visits Haiti 5 years after quake

Haitian Cardinal Chibly Langlois, center, celebrated Mass with Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, right, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, left, at the Sacre-coeur Church on Jan. 14 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Photo Special to The Record Courtesy of Catholic Relief Services)

Haitian Cardinal Chibly Langlois, center, celebrated Mass with Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, right, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, left, at the Sacre-coeur Church on Jan. 14 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Photo Special to The Record Courtesy of Catholic Relief Services)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz helped bless and dedicate the new St. Francis DeSales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 15 — five years after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake levelled two-thirds of the facility and devastated the country.

Recovery in Haiti is still in process, but there are strides being made around the country thanks to the efforts of the
Haitian people and charitable organizations that committed to help them rebuild, said the archbishop in an interview after his Jan. 13 to 16 pilgrimage to the Island nation.

Among those aid organizations committed to Haiti is Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international humanitarian arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. CRS worked with the Catholic Health Association and local officials from the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince to help Haitians rebuild the hospital.

“This was a hospital built by and for Haitian people,” the archbishop noted. “And it was an example of what can happen when people work together.”

The hospital is larger than before — with 200 beds. It’s equipped with state-of-the-art technology and will be used as a teaching hospital, according to CRS.

Funding for the hospital and other work CRS is doing in Haiti came in large part from the special Sunday collection held in dioceses around the United States shortly after the temblor hit Haiti.

The collection yielded more than $100 million, the archbishop said, noting that Catholics here in the Archdiocese of Louisville are part of the rebuilding effort.

Archbishop Kurtz said he and the bishops of Haiti spent time together touring the recovery efforts and felt a sense of fraternity.

Together, they highlighted three important parts of the recovery effort — health, education and peacebuilding.

The health element was evidenced in the new hospital, which is operated by the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince.

In the area of education, Archbishop Kurtz noted, that Haiti’s 10 dioceses have 2,300 Catholic schools. CRS and the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education are collaborating to rebuild schools and improve them.

“The teachers are receiving support and the schools are more advanced now,” the archbishop said.

Peacebuilding is still very much a work in progress, he said, noting that the Catholic Church in Haiti has been working closely with the government to recover from the earthquake and “bring about lasting peace.”

But, he said, “there is great political unrest in Haiti. I’m told there are 270 political parties. They have not been able to have an election.”

The delegation to Haiti was supposed to have 65 people, but in the end, “because of potential violence, only seven of us went,” the archbishop said.

The bishops of Haiti hope their efforts to rebuild help bring dignity to the people, an opportunity for work and “a stable environment to live in peace,” he sad.

To that end, the bishops are also working to “build back better,” the archbishop added. An organization called PROCHE, part of the Haitian bishops’ conference, is ensuring that when churches are rebuilt, they meet international building codes.

“That’s the phase we are in now,” the archbishop said, noting that about a third of the special collection for Haiti is allocated to rebuilding churches. Other funding has come from Spain and Germany, he said.

Archbishop Kurtz visited one such church in Port-au-Prince, the Sacre-coeur Church, on Jan. 14.

While there’s still much work to be done in Haiti, he said, the people there have high hopes and optimism.

“I was blown away by the spirit of the people,” he said. “Everybody that we talked to was filled with hope. Many people are still living in temporary shelter — dire situations. But there’s a spirit of working together.”

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