Staff at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had the opportunity today to spend their lunch hour learning more about the human situation on the ground in Haiti and the work the Catholic Church is doing there following the devastating January 12 earthquake.
Msgr. David Malloy, General Secretary of the USCCB, Father Andrew Small, OMI, Director of the National Collection for the Church in Latin America, and Natalie Lummert, Associate Director for Children's Services for the USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), all spoke to staff on the conditions currently facing the country, the Church and the people of Haiti.
Msgr. Malloy, who traveled to Haiti with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, spoke of the excellent work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) -- the humanitarian relief organization of the U.S. bishops -- in Haiti. Archbishop Dolan, who chairs the CRS board, represented the U.S. bishops at the funeral of Haitian Archbishop Joseph Miot and surveyed the work of CRS firsthand.
Helping to rebuild churches, seminaries and Catholic schools in Haiti will be partly the work of the National Collection for the Church in Latin America, and Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, who chairs the collection's subcommittee, also traveled to Haiti for Archbishop Miot's funeral. He was accompanied by the USCCB's Father Andrew Small, who spoke to fellow USCCB staff about how it's even difficult to calculate the extent of the devastation in Haiti because completely accurate counts of schools, parish enrollment, etc. weren't kept even before the earthquake.
Father Small also shared some images of the devastation via Web videos shot as he and Bishop Wenski traveled through Haiti. He noted that conditions in Haiti (poverty, corruption, etc.) were so bad before the earthquake that the eventual goal isn't to rebuild Haiti exactly as it was, but to find a way to rebuild it so that it works.
Natalie Lummert of MRS addressed issues facing children in Haiti, particularly human trafficking, which she noted had been an issue prior to the earthquake, but was now even worse. She shared details about the MRS program for unaccompanied refugee minor program, which has been geared largely toward Haitians. She also mentioned that the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recently granted to Haiti by the Obama Administration is something the U.S. bishops have urged for years.
Other troubling details to emerge regarding Haiti included that gang activity is rampant in some areas, with Haitians being robbed of the food they receive from rescue workers. Additional aftershock tremors are expected for months, maybe even years, meaning the rebuilding process itself could be undone in a matter of minutes.
USCCB staff asked questions about issues including the relationship between Haiti and its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, how hurricane damage from the last decade has further complicated matters for Haitians, and whether or not Haitian seminarians might be able to study in the United States.
It was an informative lunch hour that on one hand made clear just how daunting and tangled so many of the challenges facing Haiti actually are. But it made equally clear the deep concern, and continual dedicated work of the Catholic Church to meet those challenges.