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Haiti: Church is keeper of 'soul and hope of the nation'
"These young men represent hope. Their enthusiasm and their love for the Church are a light in the darkness."
Marco Mencaglia heads the Haiti desk for international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). He recently returned from a fact-finding mission to the impoverished country, where the Church provides both vital spiritual and humanitarian support to a suffering population. Outside of Africa, Haiti is the poorest nation in the world. In October 2016, Hurricane Mathew caused enormous damage, including the destruction of more than 200 rural chapels. ACN has committed to help with their repair.
By Maria Lozano
Please summarize the situation in Haiti
Haiti is a country of extreme poverty. Most people live hand-to-mouth along the main roads, where they engage in black market trade, while having to cope with atrocious hygienic and humanitarian conditions inconceivable to Europeans. What’s more, the Haitian state is very weak. Governance is quite limited, especially in rural areas. In many places, and especially in the remote mountain villages, the Catholic Church is the only institution that consistently reaches out to help the inhabitants, despite all of the difficulties.
What has been the focus of ACN’s support for the Haitian Church?
Our support for the training of seminarians is essential. Currently, 315 candidates for the priesthood are living in the provisional housing on the grounds of the former national seminary of Port-au-Prince, which was destroyed by the earthquake in 2010. Our help has become decisive for one of the few riches, for one of the few hopes of the country: vocations to the priesthood.
We have also provided solar energy for remote parishes. Oftentimes, the local church or rectory are the only buildings in a six to 15 mile radius with a stable supply of energy. Hundreds of people come to rural rectories in the mornings to charge their mobile phones. In the evenings, the entire village gathers around the rectory so as not to be plunged into total darkness. Light plays a decisive role in making it possible for these communities to have hope.
How does the clergy cope with the enormous challenges?
Their lives are, without a doubt, very difficult and they have a great deal of responsibility. I was impressed by the dedication of many young priests, 25 to 30-years-old, on their first parish assignments. The conditions they live in can often be called dramatic and are beyond their abilities and strength. But they try not to lose their enthusiasm. Haiti has many troubles; misery can be seen everywhere. These young men represent hope. Their enthusiasm and their love for the Church are a light in the darkness.
The establishment of a new parish is a moment of great hope, not only for Catholics, but for the entire population. A real, but positive, competition has developed among chapels to be elevated to parish status—the arrival of a priest also means access to basic provisions in places forgotten by the government; a school that is run in the church building during the week; a vehicle for emergencies and to transport the sick to the hospital; a connection to the world outside. For thousands of communities in Haiti, the priest and the Church represent the soul and hope of the nation.
Haitian school children; ACN photo