I want to report to you on my recent trip to Haiti. I traveled there with our board member Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine, to mark the first anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the capital city of Port-au-Prince and so much of that beautiful country.
The last time I attended an open air mass in front of the ruins of Port-au-Prince’s Notre Dame Cathedral was a few days after the devastation. It was the funeral mass for Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and his vicar general Monsignor Charles Benoit. Both had died in the quake.
Now I was again at a mass in front of that cathedral, at one of many events surrounding the first anniversary. This mass was celebrated by papal envoy Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. It was announced that the church of Port-au-Prince has a new leader, Bishop Guire Poulard of Les Cayes, a city southwest of the capital.
I attended other events with CRS staff as they remembered the trauma of those minutes when the ground shook and then the hours and days and weeks when they wondered what the future would bring.
As you would expect, with over 230,000 killed, these commemorations were sad occasions. The grief was palpable, as if the people of this city and this country had first been so stunned by what happened, then so busy trying to survive and recover, that they had put off their mourning. It poured out at these anniversary events.
It touched my heart and made me even more fervent in my dedication to CRS’ mission in Haiti to not only alleviate as much suffering as we possibly can, but also to build back a better nation that can bring its people the hope for prosperity that they so much deserve.
During my trip, I got a glimpse of how this might be possible. In the Delmas 62 community of Port-au-Prince, a group of residents had approached CRS for help. Frankly we were uncertain if we could help as it was not an area where we were active. But their persistence impressed our staff. At every turn, the residents showed initiative and organization.
Delmas is a tough place to work. The houses—those that remain—are perched on hillsides so steep it is hard to walk among them. Many were destroyed. Rubble is everywhere. But we managed to get two concrete pulverizing machines into that neighborhood, machines that turn rubble into an essential ingredient in concrete. They are hand-cranked by residents and the bags are then sold, bringing much needed income.
Another impressive sight was across the steep valley from where the machines were operating. Some of the young women who had asked CRS for help had taken it upon themselves to clear and prepare a space for a temporary shelter. When CRS staff explained that it would be difficult to get the building materials to this site since the hillside is so steep and there are no roads, the women organized their community. The pieces of the structure were brought in on the backs of residents. With CRS’ help, their new house now stands in Delmas 62 along with dozens of others.
The women say this is only the beginning of their community’s rebuilding. And they say that they are now admired by their neighbors. They have become community organizers. I found these women so inspiring and so important to the future of their country because it is not only houses we have to build in Haiti, we have to build local organizations that will be the foundation of a new kind of Haitian society, one that reflects the kind of resilience that the residents of Delmas 62 have shown.
This is going to be a long journey. We will rebuild Haiti brick by brick, house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood. We appreciate that you will be there with us at each step of the way.
Thank you for your continued support and prayers.
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