When catastrophe strikes, it helps to have people already on the ground who know the territory, can report on what the most pressing needs are and aid in delivering immediate help—often through back roads—to places where people are gathering. This is especially true in a country such as Haiti, where the magnitude of the earthquake coupled with the practically non-existent infrastructure have a multiplying effect on the number of victims, and relief workers have to overcome innumerable hurdles to deliver aid.
As in many places, the bonds of solidarity and communion that are so much part of the Church as body of Christ help us to connect in a real way with our brothers and sisters in desperate need.
The official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church is Catholic Relief Services (CRS). With over 300 people already on the ground when the earthquake struck, they’ve worked night and day to provide relief to Haitians, first from their local warehouses and via the Dominican Republic, and then helping with the effort of unloading a ship containing 1,500 metric tons of supplies from USAID Food for Peace and planning for a secure and orderly distribution. CRS is also assisting the critical distribution of medical supplies and personnel., Getting St. Francois de Sales hospital back and running, for example, which has been 70 percent destroyed, was no small achievement.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike in the United States have been generous. Throughout the week CRS has been able to raise $19 million of the $25 million it has committed for immediate relief and recovery in Haiti, an amount that is likely to grow in the coming weeks as recovery efforts begin taking shape.
In addition to giving generously to Catholic Relief Services, Catholics throughout the country were also asked over past weekend to donate to a special collection both for immediate relief through CRS and for help to the Church in Haiti. At times of such crisis, the ability of the Church to bring spiritual and pastoral help is as important as meeting immediate material and security needs. In a country as poor and as needy as Haiti, where about 80 percent of the population is Catholic, rebuilding the fabric of the Church in the country is probably going to be critical to the recovery effort of Haiti as a whole. Haitians already expect little— if anything—from government institutions and in their times of most desperate need often turn to the churches and religious institutions both for material and spiritual help. Aid to rebuild the Church structures and pastoral programs will go to the USCCB Subcommittee on Latin America, which has been assisting the Church in Latin America over forty years.
CRS President Ken Hackett summarized it well when he told CNN Jan. 13 that the fact that Haiti is a predominantly Catholic country "...gives us a network of effective partners in the Catholic Church in their schools and their missions and their hospitals and their health centers, so that network in Port-au-Prince is what will be activated first."
The importance of these networks of parishes and religious communities should not be underestimated. Given the needs and the dire poverty in Haiti, numerous priests, religious communities and local parish groups over the years have practically turned into small entrepreneurs for human development.
Healing the wounds of the soul in addition to the physical ones in the aftermath of such devastation and loss of lives is also a daunting task. With their chief pastor, Archbishop Serge Miot, dead, almost a whole generation of seminarians wiped out, many priests, religious and catechists among the dead or unaccounted for, and Catholic schools, clinics, hospitals, churches and chapels brought to the ground—including the cathedral—who is going to shepherd the flock? Who is going to provide the sacraments and consolation to so many people in grief? Already, Haitian priests from the Archdiocese of Miami are flying relief teams to care for the sick and the displaced. Catholics around the globe, especially in the United States, are called to assist with the many pastoral needs of the Church in Haiti, a country that is 80 percent Catholic.
The Collection for the Church in Latin America, which includes the Caribbean region in its outreach, will be taken up in most dioceses the upcoming weekend of January 22-23. A large portion of the funds collected will be dedicated to Haiti. The USCCB is also accepting contributions directly for rebuilding the Church in Haiti. For information and updates in on how to donate and USCCB’s efforts to help Haiti, visit http://www.usccb.org/haiti/.