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TheCatholicSpirit.com - Situation in Haiti still critical, visiting priests say

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Situation in Haiti still critical, visiting priests say
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By Julie Carroll   
Wednesday, 04 August 2010

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Tuesday, Jan. 12, had been a quiet day for Father Wildor Pierre. After a short visit with family, he had been packing that afternoon to return to his parish about 60 miles away.

img_1530.jpg
From left, David Henke, Francois Leul-Seghed and Rich Pierret of St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove join with Fathers Claude-Renel Elysée and Wildor Pierre of Haiti in building the top of a small structure similar to ones that will be built in Haiti to house people displaced by the earthquake. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit
Then, at precisely 4:53 p.m., Father Pierre’s world came crashing down around him.

While he was talking with his cousin on the phone, the room began to shake violently. Giant cracks formed in the walls. “Run!” his cousin shouted.

But it was already too late.

Father Pierre lay trapped under the rubble of his family’s two-story house for three days following the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

As he waited to be rescued, Father Pierre said during a recent visit to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, “I didn’t know how bad it was. I just heard people cry out.”

Nothing could have prepared him for the shock he felt upon seeing the destruction, he said. “It looked like the end of the world.”

“When you walked, you stepped over dead people,” the priest said. Father Pierre counted 80 bodies as he made his way to the collapsed school where his 18-year-old niece had died. His brother and three cousins also lost their lives that day.

Spiritual ties

Father Pierre and Father Claude-Renel Elysée, another priest of the Diocese of Anse-à-Veau et Miragoâne in Haiti, visited several Twin Cities parishes this month to talk about life in Haiti following the earthquake, which claimed 230,000 lives and left 2 million people homeless.

During their three-week stay, the priests were hosted by St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove, sister parish to St. Catherine d’Alexandre in Bouzy, where Father Elysée is pastor.

The relationship between the two parishes began in January 2009, said Bonnie Steele, director of pastoral ministry at St. Joseph the Worker. “We really believe that the Spirit of God led us to Bouzy,” she said. “God brought our two communities together.”

St. Joseph parishioners have given more than $77,000 to help meet the needs of their Haitian brothers and sisters, Steele said. Several parishioners, including a doctor, a nurse and an engineer, have visited the parish in Bouzy.

Future visits will include a medical component, Steele said. Because Bouzy does not have a resident doctor and medications are hard to come by, people often must walk for hours to get medical attention, she explained.

Currently, St. Joseph is working with the relief organization Feed My Starving Children to develop a program they hope will feed 6,000 people in Bouzy, Steele said. The parish also plans to build 40 “dome homes,” igloo-like sandbag and mortar structures designed to withstand earthquakes.

A couple of weeks ago, parishioners built a 5-foot-high model home in St. Joseph’s parking lot to test the design.

Father Pierre, pastor of St. Benoit Dessources parish in Miragoâne, said he came to Minnesota to ask people to open their hearts and their hands to the suffering people of Haiti. “We are brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said. “In our custom, if you help one of us, that means you help all of us.”

Since the earthquake six months ago, people are worse off than ever because of a critical shortage of food, water and medicine, he said.

“First, we need prayer,” Father Pierre said. “And, help us to rebuild our country. Help us to rebuild our church because in Haiti the Catholic Church is the best way to help the people.

“There is no doctor, there is no police, there is nothing. Only the priests,” he said. “We are doctors, we are judges, we are everything in the parish. . . . If the parish doesn’t receive anything, the people don’t receive anything.”

Because aid sometimes does not reach outlying areas such as Bouzy, St. Joseph sends all donations directly to Father Elysée, who attends the needs of the people.

Depending on providence

Father Elsyée’s church, rectory and parish school all sustained extensive damage, he said.

For two months following the earthquake, he slept outside. Now he lives in a part of the rectory that did not collapse. It’s not safe, he said, but he has no choice. He also has taken in 18 young adults and orphans, for whom he provides food and schooling.

Every day is filled with worries, Father Elysée said through an interpreter.

“In the rectory, we get up every day and don’t know what we will eat for the day,” he said. “We are just depending on providence to survive.”

Father Pierre agreed. Despite living in a tent himself, the priest said, he gives whatever he has to those who come to him for help, even if it’s only bread and sugar water.

“Sometimes they can kill themselves because they say, ‘If the priest doesn’t have anything, where am I going to find something?’” Father Pierre said.

If he has nothing else to give, he offers them consolation.

“I always have hope because I believe in God, I believe in his mercy and his compassion,” he said. “I believe one day things are going to change.

The people coming after me are going to live a better life.”

During his visit, Father Pierre expressed appreciation to St. Joseph the Worker parish for its support. “[Parishioners] not only send money or say they’re going to help, they come to see what happened, they visit us,” he said. “When they come, that’s good for us. We see that we are not alone. . . . They suffer with us.”

The relationship has been mutually beneficial, Steele added. “They are gift to us. . . . Their faith and the way that they live and trust God challenges us. We are so grateful.”

“Bouzy and St. Catherine are not a charity but people that we have grown to know and love,” she said. “They are our sisters and our brothers.”

St. Joseph the Worker parish is accepting donations from individuals and parishes to be sent directly to St. Catherine. For more information, contact Bonnie Steele at (763) 425-6505.
 
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