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Irma cuts deadly path in Caribbean as church officials prepare response

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Hurricane Irma cut a deadly path through the Caribbean, leveling entire islands as it moved toward Florida Sept. 7, while Haiti prepared for a potential disaster. Read more »

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Shipment heads to Haiti from Miami for those affected by hurricane

October 17th, 2016 Posted in Featured, National News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service
MIAMI (CNS) — Exactly one week after citing an “urgent need” for donations, the Archdiocese of Miami loaded 22 pallets of rice, canned goods, hygienic supplies and diapers onto a ship for transport to Haiti’s southwestern peninsula, hardest-hit by Hurricane Matthew in early October.
“And more to come,” said an elated Father Reginald Jean-Mary, administrator of Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission in Miami’s Little Haiti, as he watched an army of volunteers packing, wrapping and loading the donated goods onto pallets. Read more »

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Catholic Charities agencies begin helping Hurricane Matthew victims

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Catholic News Service

Catholic Charities agencies joined emergency response efforts in coastal communities in four Southeastern states as residents and parish staffers began returning to assess the damage Hurricane Matthew left behind.

Civilian rescuers Jeremy Blue and his father, Tommy Blue, ferry a family to safety from their flooded apartment Oct. 9 in Lumberton, N.C., after Hurricane Matthew. The powerful storm killed at least 1,000 people in Haiti and at least 33 in the U.S. (CNS photo/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)

Civilian rescuers Jeremy Blue and his father, Tommy Blue, ferry a family to safety from their flooded apartment Oct. 9 in Lumberton, N.C., after Hurricane Matthew. The powerful storm killed at least 1,000 people in Haiti and at least 33 in the U.S. (CNS photo/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)

Some evacuation orders remained in effect in South Carolina, where the storm came ashore Oct. 7, dumping up to 18 inches of rain in communities near Charleston. High water blocked some roads, preventing people from returning to their homes in South Carolina and North Carolina and others were prevented from leaving their homes as they awaited the delivery of food and water.

In Florida, churches sustained serious damage and the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine in St. Augustine experienced flooding, preventing Mass from being celebrated indoors the weekend of Oct. 8-9.

One Catholic Charities official in North Carolina said that in discussions with some residents he learned that the damage and flooding caused by Matthew exceeded that of the powerful Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Attempts to reach the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, were unsuccessful because telephone and electrical lines were down.

Some South Carolina communities in in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties faced the possibility of flooding, even though the storm’s initial fury bypassed them. Kelly Kaminski, a regional coordinator for Catholic Charities of Charleston, said Oct. 10 that authorities were keeping an eye on rivers that continued to rise from runoff from Matthew’s torrential rains.

Many of the same people affected by the storm or worried about potential flooding continue to recover from the historical floods that swamped the state a year ago, she said.

“We’re working with over 2,000 clients just on the flood stuff. Now in addition we have to handle everything from Hurricane Matthew,” Kaminski told Catholic News Service.

Kaminski had no word on damage to churches and schools because evacuation orders in some communities remained in effect.

New flooding also was a concern in North Carolina, said Daniel Altenau, director of communication and disaster services for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Raleigh.

“The major concern right now is that rivers are increasingly rising. The flooding is not expected to peak in some areas until Friday (Oct. 14) and may not begin to subside until the 15th,” he said.

Catholic Charities planned to begin distributing food cards to families by Oct. 11 as people either returned home or could be reached by some of the 55 to 60 agency staff members working in the affected communities, Altenau said.

“Many of our own staff has been affected, which has limited the ability to be in the community,” he said.

Up and down the North Carolina coast, churches and schools sustained damaged. Altenau said he had reports from “at least a dozen parishes” reporting damage. “The major problem is roofing issues,” he said. “But because of power being out, we aren’t able to communicate with them. We expect more reports in the coming days as well.”

Hurricane Matthew’’s worst punch missed much of the Florida coast. The most serious damage occurred in the Diocese of St. Augustine, where church properties were seriously damaged or flooded and homes were destroyed.

Kathleen Bagg, director of communications for the diocese, said downed trees littered the property of the Mission Nombre de Dios and the Shrine of Our Lady of Le Leche. A tree fell onto the roof of the Our Lady of Le Leche Chapel, she said, but did not cause damage to the interior of the structure.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, which was renovated in time for the 450th anniversary of the city and cathedral parish, sustained enough flooding to render it unusable for Masses Oct. 8 and 9, Bagg said. Mass was celebrated in the west courtyard outside the church, she said.

Another church, St. Anastasia on a barrier island across from the center of St. Augustine, is believed to have sustained serious damaged in the storm. Authorities were not allowing residents, many of whom belong to the parish, to return to St. Anastasia Island Oct. 10.

Bagg said that power remained out for much of the region, making it difficult to contact other parishes to determine how they fared.

In Miami, parishioners at Notre Dame d’Haiti Parish began collecting donations of food for the Caribbean nation, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew. Parishioners prayed Oct. 7 for the estimated 300,000 Haitians affected by the storm.

The number of deaths reached 1,000 on Oct. 9, five days after the storm’s 145-mile-an-hour winds and torrential rains slammed into the country, according to a tally by Reuters based on conversations with local officials.

However, Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency reported that 336 people had died. The agency’s accounting of casualties is lower because of a policy that requires emergency workers visit each village to confirm the number of deaths and injuries.

In the U.S., the death toll stood at 33 as of Oct. 11.

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Miami archdiocese prepares to help hurricane Matthew victims

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Catholic News Service

MIAMI — Like the rest of South Florida, the Archdiocese of Miami was carefully watching the path of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm that began pounding Haiti and Cuba Oct. 4 and was expected to hit Florida’s Atlantic coastal area late Oct. 6.

Residents stand outside their homes Oct. 5 in Cite Soleil, a slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew swept through the island nation. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/courtesy Malteser International)

Residents stand outside their homes Oct. 5 in Cite Soleil, a slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew swept through the island nation. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/courtesy Malteser International)

Chief among the preparations was prayer. Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski asked all South Florida parishes to include prayers for those affected in their daily Masses in the days ahead.

About 1.5 million Floridians were already fleeing the coast to take shelter elsewhere.

The archdiocese also was preparing to provide aid to the Caribbean nations hardest hit by Matthew, especially Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

According to Deacon Richard Turcotte, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, the archdiocese established contact with Catholic Relief Services’ Caribbean representative, who is stationed in Honduras and has responsibility for Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti.

“CRS has prepositioned supplies in the Dominican Republic (tarps, hygiene and cooking kits) that can be moved to Cuba or Jamaica if needed,” Deacon Turcotte told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Miami archdiocese.

Although the island avoided a direct hit, Jamaica experienced serious flooding caused by Matthew’s outer bands. Haiti, meanwhile, felt the full impact of the storm.

It left southwestern Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, in shambles after slamming into the country’s Caribbean coast Oct. 4. The cities of Les Cayes, on the southwest coast, and Jeremie, in the northwest, were said to be particularly hit hard by the strongest storm to strike the Caribbean region in a decade.

Haitian officials said at midday Oct. 6 that at least 108 people had been killed, and more casualties were expected.

In Miami, Father Reginald Jean-Mary, pastor of Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission in Little Haiti, has been in touch with Haiti’s Cardinal Chibly Langlois, who heads the Diocese of Les Cayes.

After striking Haiti and Cuba, the slow-moving storm continued on a northward path to batter the Bahamas. From there it was headed to the Florida coast.

“We have spoken with Archbishop (Patrick) Pinder of Nassau and representatives from the Archdiocese of Kingston, indicating to each that we are on standby to assist with post-storm recovery,” Deacon Turcotte added.

He said Catholic Charities also had communicated with a food supply wholesaler who could have rice, beans and cooking oils put on pallets and be ready to deliver to a freight forwarder by Oct. 7 or 8 to go to the islands.

Regarding Haiti, the immediate need is for cash donations to purchase water and nonperishable food items, as well as to aid in the cleanup.

All Miami archdiocesan aid would be funneled through church organizations such as Caritas Cuba; CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency; and Amor en Accion, a lay missionary group that works with Miami’s sister Diocese of Port-de-Paix in Haiti’s northwest region — the poorest in that nation.

Teresita Gonzalez, executive director of Amor en Accion, noted that because the Catholic Church is already present in every one of the affected nations, its agencies offer the best and most effective way of providing relief.

That is especially true in northwestern Haiti, where “there are no NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), only the church,” Gonzalez said.

As Matthew moved closer to South Florida, the archdiocesan Office of Building and Property also reminded pastors and those in charge of parish plants to review their hurricane preparedness plans.

Archdiocesan schools planned to follow the lead of public schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties on school closures.

The archdiocese also will notify local radio and television stations regarding school closings or relief efforts.

Rodriguez-Soto is editor of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

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Hurricane Matthew tears through Haiti, how to help storm survivors

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Catholic News Service

Wind-whipped rains from Hurricane Matthew shattered Haiti’s southwest peninsula, downing trees, ripping open makeshift wooden homes and causing widespread flooding Oct. 4 as aid workers waited for the storm to subside before mobilizing.

Destroyed homes are seen Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Jeremie, Haiti. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

Destroyed homes are seen Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Jeremie, Haiti. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

The city of Les Cayes and coastal towns and villages in South Department were experiencing the most destruction as the storm made landfall at dawn with 145-mile-an-hour winds.

Forecasters expected Matthew to dump up to 30 inches of rain in most communities, with some locales receiving up to 40 inches.

Les Cayes and surrounding areas were the focus of concern for Catholic Relief Services. Kim Pozniak, communications manager, told Catholic News Service that the potential for landslides was high because of the geography of the region.

She said CRS staff also was troubled over the well-being of residents who decided to stay in their homes despite calls to evacuate.

“I was told by staff in Les Cayes yesterday (Oct. 3) that the government was going around with megaphones to alert people. But many decided to stay put to protect their homes and belongings. We’’ve heard that some people did not think the storm would be as severe as predicted,” Pozniak said.

She said Chris Bessey, CRS country director, had been in contact with CRS staff in Les Cayes, despite disruptions in electrical and internet service.

“Trees were knocked down and also there was some flooding already,” she said. “We’re unable to communicate with the staff in Les Cayes because everything is down.”

The agency had positioned relief supplies, including food, sanitation and kitchen kits and emergency shelter materials in warehouses in the area, and workers were prepared to begin delivering aid once the storm moved north. Engineers were stationed in three locales and were preparing to begin assessing damage to homes and to help people with the shelter materials, Pozniak said.

In the hours before the storm made landfall, CRS staff had assisted Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency by offering vehicles and fuel for use to help with evacuation, she added.

Accepting donations

CRS and at least one other Catholic agency had begun accepting donations for their emergency responses in Haiti:

  • Catholic Relief Services online at donate.crs.org/hurricane-matthew-crs; via mail to P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, Maryland, 21297-0303 and indicate Hurricane Matthew in the memo; or call toll-free 877-435-7277 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time.
  • Catholic Medical Mission Board online at www.cmmb.org/donations/hurricane-matthew/.

Heavy rains also pounded the capital of Port-au-Prince, causing some flooding in low-lying areas, but winds were not as severe, Jacques Liautaud, Haiti manager for the church rebuilding project known as PROCHE, told Catholic News Service Oct. 4.

“We’re seeing mostly rain and a few gusts of high winds. Otherwise, it’s been relatively calm,” said Liautaud, who was in the country monitoring construction projects underway to help the Catholic Church rebuild after the country’s powerful 2010 earthquake.

“The city is pretty shut down today. Everybody is sheltering in place,” he said.

Liautaud added that Haitian media reported that at least three people had died because of the storm. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

The center of Matthew was expected to continue on a northward path through the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. Heavy rains were expected in eastern Cuba, and hurricane warnings were issued for the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. Weather forecasters in the United States were keeping an eye on the storm’s path and expected it to pass just offshore from Florida and the southeast coast. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state Oct. 3.

 

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Haitian bishops call for negotiated solution to political crisis

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Catholic News Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s Catholic bishops urged political leaders to reach a negotiated solution to the country’s looming political crisis as President Michel Martelly’s term ends Feb. 7 and elections to find a successor have been indefinitely delayed.

“It is high time that the people know how we will run the country after that date,” the bishops said in a statement released Feb. 1 after meeting in an extraordinary assembly.

A man crosses a police cordon during a protest against the government and the electoral process Jan. 29 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haiti's Catholic bishops urged political leaders to reach a negotiated solution to the country's looming political crisis as President Michel Martelly's term ends Feb. 7 and elections to find a successor have been indefinitely delayed. (CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters)

A man crosses a police cordon during a protest against the government and the electoral process Jan. 29 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haiti’s Catholic bishops urged political leaders to reach a negotiated solution to the country’s looming political crisis as President Michel Martelly’s term ends Feb. 7 and elections to find a successor have been indefinitely delayed. (CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters)

The church leaders urged that a “mutually acceptable” agreement must be reached quickly “with wisdom, insight, moderation and patriotism.”

“It is imperative to prepare all the Haitian people to manage the coming days as responsible citizens,” the bishops said in calling the country “to come together in order to reach an agreement based on the constitution and Haitian wisdom to ensure the continuity of the state and political stability of country in the respect for life, property and fundamental rights of the human person.”

The bishops pledged to accompany Haitians on “the path to dialogue, peace and development.”

The crisis has grown since the first round of elections in October to determine which candidates would have faced off in December. The vote later was delayed until Jan. 24, then was called off by the country’s electoral commission over safety concerns.

Martelly is constitutionally prohibited from seeking re-election, and his term ends Feb. 7. He has backed little-known candidate Jovenel Moise, who won the first round of voting with about a third of the vote. Moise remains the favorite.

However, opposition candidate Jude Celestin, who finished a close second to Moise, has refused to campaign, charging that the government was working against him.

Haiti’s 213-year history has been marred by discord and conflict. The country suffered one of its most severe setbacks in 2010 when a devastating earthquake claimed tens of thousands of lives and left more than 1.5 million people homeless in Port-au-Prince and its surroundings. Hundreds of people continue to live in tent camps that popped up after the disaster.

Martelly has been criticized by opposition leaders, who cited his inability to live up to campaign promises to remake Haiti’s image in the wake of the earthquake. He also has alienated many former supporters because of his brashness and go-it-alone attitude.

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U.S. bishops discuss upcoming papal letter on ecology, the pope’s visit and church app

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Catholic News Service

ST. LOUIS — The U.S. bishops gathered in St. Louis for their spring general assembly heard presentations on the pope’s upcoming encyclical on the environment, the U.S. church’s ongoing work in promoting traditional marriage and the need to remain vigilant in protecting children from abuse.

On the first day of their meeting June 10, there also were reports on the bishops’ efforts to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and help rebuilding work in Haiti, which is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.

In the second day of the assembly’s public sessions June 11, the bishops heard a report on a draft for priorities and plans for the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishop for 2017-2020. The report, which was up for a vote, started a lively discussion about what the bishops’ top focus should be.

Several bishops spoke up about the need to put concern for poverty at the top of the list to keep in line with the message and ministry of Pope Francis. The bishops voted to rework the draft document, incorporating the feedback given.

In a 165-5 vote, the bishops approved the inclusion of revised canticles for the Liturgy of the Hours for use in U.S. dioceses. It required a two-thirds vote of the Latin Church members of the USCCB. The bishops also voted to permit the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations to seek a renewed recognitio, or approval, from the Vatican for the USCCB’s “Program of Priestly Formation, Fifth Edition” for an additional five-year period without any changes to the norms.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori attends a morning session June 10 during the annual spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori attends a morning session June 10 during the annual spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Other highlights were discussions on the much-anticipated arrival of Pope Francis in September and the World Meeting of Families and on other upcoming gatherings such as next year’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland and a 2017 convocation.

The bishops also were urged to keep pace with technological advances as a means to spread the Gospel message and advised to keep the “digital doors” of the church open.

In the discussion of the pope’s upcoming encyclical on the environment and human ecology, eight days before its scheduled release, the bishops were called on to help Catholics understand its message.

Pope Francis will challenge the assumptions of “both the left and the right” with the document, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

He also said it would have international implications, particularly regarding solidarity with the world’s poor.

Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the document will likely highlight climate change as “a moral issue,” pointing out that the poor suffer the most from consequences of improper care of the environment even though “they have contributed the least to climate change.”

He said the pope would not be speaking as a scientist or a politician but as a shepherd and that the bishops, who “aren’t novices” on care for the environment, can’t “opt out” of this conversation.

Addressing the pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, expected in late June, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said that no matter how the court rules, it “won’t change traditional marriage” and the bishops will continue to defend it as the church teaches.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, praised the “courageous leadership” of Archbishop Cordileone in the effort and the bishops gave him a sustained round of applause.

A major topic of the day was Pope Francis’ September visit to the U.S. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said the Sept. 22-27 World Meeting of Families, the pope will be there for the last two days, is expected to draw the most participants from the United States, Canada, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. He also said an expected crowd of more than 1 million will be in Philadelphia.

A message to the pope from the bishops, which was read to the assembly, stressed how they looked forward to meeting him and would “accompany him in prayer” in his visit.

A few of the bishops told reporters in an afternoon news conference that they hoped the pope would address religious liberty and immigration reform during his U.S. visit.

In their morning session, the bishops did not specifically address the June 10 announcement from the Vatican about a new process for holding bishops accountable for protecting children from abuse, but in response to a reporter’s question about it, it was clear they welcomed and supported the Vatican action.

“We have a long track record of wanting to help the bishops be transparent” in their efforts to protect children, said Archbishop Kurtz.

At the start of the meeting, the USCCB’s president noted that for their spring meeting, the bishops were gathered not far from Ferguson and that the bishops’ November general assembly will be in Baltimore, two places roiled in past months by protests, violence in the streets and looting following the deaths of two young African-Americans after confrontations with white police officers.

Archbishop Kurtz urged the bishops to encourage Catholics to take concrete measures to help end racism, including praying for peace and healing, promoting justice for all people, being “truly welcoming” of families of different racial and religious backgrounds. People also should get to know their community’s law enforcement officers, he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the Committee on Migration, encouraged the bishops to visit immigrant detention centers in their dioceses to better understand the conditions under which immigrants who enter the country without documents are being held.

He said his committee has been advocating for migrants who might be eligible for asylum or other forms of legal status in the U.S., and pushing for a dramatic increase in the number of refugees from Syria, especially, and others who are fleeing their countries due to religious persecution.

He said a pervasive concern is that new interdiction efforts in Mexico to turn back Central American migrants before they can reach the U.S. border mean that many people who would be eligible for asylum in the United States instead are summarily sent back to their home countries.

“This is a violation of international law,” said Bishop Elizondo, adding that the committee and its USCCB staff are raising the issue with the U.S. government.

In a report, for the Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America, Bishop Elizondo said diocesan donations have helped rebuild structures in Haiti and coordinate adult literacy teacher training programs.

The work has been “accomplished with transparency and accountability,” he said, adding that it is something the bishops should be proud of even as they also recognize there is “still so much more to do.”

At times during the meeting, the bishops could be seen checking their tablets or smartphones, scrolling for messages. Such was the case for Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications.

Modern communications are “evolving at a dizzying rate,” the archbishop said in his committee report. He urged the bishops to reach out to Catholics where they are — online. To help them in that effort, he said, the USCCB would be launching a Catholic Church app this summer, something the bishops can make particular use of during the pope’s visit.

The bishops were not only urged to prepare for the papal visit but also to think ahead and plan to attend World Youth Day next year in Krakow and participate in a 2017 convocation on the life and dignity of the human person in Orlando, Florida.

At the conclusion of a full day of reports, the bishops concelebrated Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

In his homily, Archbishop Kurtz reminded the bishops that St. John Paul II led a vesper service in that cathedral during his 1999 visit and he spoke of the cathedral’s striking beauty.

He added that the bishops, in their work to promote human dignity, marriage, human ecology and an end to racism, have the opportunity to communicate and share God’s beauty with the world.

 

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Photo of the week: Five years after earthquake in Haiti

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Catholic News Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — For the past five years, Elouisna Francois has lived where God sent her.

Never mind that it’s far from her old neighborhood in the capital, where she had made a good life until the country’s January 2010 earthquake, and that there are no basic services, like running water, sanitation or electricity.

For now, home is the sprawling community known as Canaan, in the rolling hills northeast of the city.

“God sent us here,” said Francois, 64. “Once God sends you to a place, you have to be there.”

Suzette Jean-Pierre stands with her 9-month-old son, Gevers, at her food stand outside their home in Canaan, a community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 17. Canaan, now with an estimated 250,000 inhabitants, emerged soon after the 2010 earthquake when the government said people could relocate there. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Suzette Jean-Pierre stands with her 9-month-old son, Gevers, at her food stand outside their home in Canaan, a community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 17. Canaan, now with an estimated 250,000 inhabitants, emerged soon after the 2010 earthquake when the government said people could relocate there. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Francois said she came to Canaan with a letter stating that the government “officially handed the land to the people.” She relocated with what little she could salvage from her apartment that collapsed during the earthquake.

While Francois acknowledged the drawbacks in Canaan, she said the peacefulness she experiences is more important. She travels to the city occasionally to pick up food and other items she needs to get by.

“I sleep here alone. I’m not afraid,” she said.

Francois is one of as many as 250,000 people who now reside in Canaan. Makeshift homes are scattered as far as the eye can see. The small structures are made of corrugated steel, plywood and pieces of heavy canvas, cut to shape from the remnants of tents distributed by aid agencies in the aftermath of the earthquake. Some residents have panoramic views of the nearby Gulf of Gonave.

The community emerged soon after the earthquake when the government declared the rocky, dusty land about 12 miles from the Haitian capital the place where people could relocate.

However, Canaan exists in a legal limbo. While residents like Francois told Catholic News Service they believe the government approved their relocation, others said they are waiting to be told they can build a permanent structure.

Others have been forcibly evicted, said Dayrri Fils-Aime, a leader of one of the camp committees representing residents.

He told of an incident in December 2013: More than 30 families scurried to protect their meager possessions when a group of men, backed by a bulldozer, descended on the residents and began “breaking down” the homes. The families moved a few hundred feet up the foothills, with village leaders thinking the move was temporary. Fils-Aime said the community has not heard from anyone since. The land where they once lived remained vacant in mid-February.

“It’s the government not doing its job to get these people somewhere,” he said, shaking his head.

“It’s pretty hectic around here,” Fils-Aime added. “You have to have the courage to survive around here.”

The government has said the sprawling settlement is not mean to be a permanent home for the displaced. It has banned construction of permanent homes and has no plans to introduce electrical, water or sanitation services.

A single police kiosk was the only government presence seen in Canaan Feb. 17 along a half-mile section of Route 1, the main road to Haiti’s coastal cities. Advocates for the residents are concerned that because of the absence of any government entities, Canaan will become a slum like the notorious Cite Soleil, where basic services and schooling are nonexistent and rival groups vie for control.

“They have a right to permanent housing,” said Edouardo Ilema, a community organizer with the Force for Reflection and Action on the Cause of Housing, a network of 27 nongovernmental organizations that helps Canaan residents understand their rights to safe and decent housing under the Haitian Constitution.

Much of Ilema’s work involves documenting living conditions, abuses and evictions. He said he has been attacked once and threatened several times by unidentified men while visiting residents.

Ted Oswald, who with his wife shares the position of policy analyst and policy coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee in Haiti, said a recent conference that brought together leading nongovernmental organizations focused on the housing crisis the country is facing. While no solutions were finalized, some of the organizations involved are pressing the government to make housing a higher priority, especially for displaced people.

Meanwhile, former Port-au-Prince residents such as Charity Dorelian continue to get by as well as possible. Dorelian, 58, lives in a cobbled-together structure that includes two other adults and four grandchildren.

She said she and her family moved to Canaan after living in a tent camp in Port-au-Prince for three years.

“The state gave some money so we got away from the camp,” she said. “But since they gave us the money they don’t care about you.”

Dorelian said it would be nice if the government would provide water and electrical service. But she’s not holding out much hope at present.

Still, Dorelian appreciates that the family now owns a home rather than paying high rent in the capital. She described her two years in Canaan as safer than the time she spent in a camp in Port-au-Prince, where “bandits cut our tent with a knife.”

Down a hill, a bit closer to the shore, 9-month-old Gevens Jean-Pierre was snuggled in his mother’s arms as he watched his sister, Mitchellda, 12, grate a fresh carrot into a bowl on her lap. She was making juice, a mid-morning treat.

His mother, Suzette, stocks a small supply of staples — vegetable oil, beans, tomatoes, onions, soap — that she sells to her neighbors from a rickety table under a black-and-white patterned bed sheet that provides shade from the hot sun.

The money is paltry, but enough to help the family survive, she said.

Jean-Pierre said she and her husband decided to relocate to Canaan because they had no other option. She described conditions for her family of four children as “not easy at all.”

“Only God” provides hope, she said.

 

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Photo of the week: Portrait from Haiti, five years after quake

February 12th, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — If not for the flickering flames under his blackened pot, Jean-Robert Noel might be totally missed.

The man in tattered pants and unzipped vest cooking a midday meal along John Brown Avenue was hard to see from the vehicles whizzing by.

Jean-Robert Noel, who said he was homeless, cooks his meal along a street in in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 9. Five years ago Jan. 12, a devastating earthquake rocked the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Jean-Robert Noel, who said he was homeless, cooks his meal along a street in in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 9. Five years ago Jan. 12, a devastating earthquake rocked the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Noel seemed totally oblivious to the traffic, lighter than usual Feb. 9 because of a general strike organized by transit union leaders and anti-government activists. Then the occupants of one of the vehicles stopped to chat.

“This is the first time somebody come to talk to me,” he said in Creole-accented English, his raspy voice sounding much like a motorcycle zipping by a few feet away.

“I tell you, I have no family,” the squatting, sooty-faced Noel continued, inching closer to his meager possessions: a foam pad, a large backpack and a few plastic bags filled with water bottles. “I don’t know where to sleep. I don’t know where to get money to eat. I have nowhere. I live in the street. I sleep here.”

“Here” is a narrow, dirt-encrusted berm alongside a ruddy stone wall just a few feet from the edge of the roadway.

Stenciled in blue block letters above his head on the wall is a government slogan in Creole: “Kite peyim mache.” (“Let my country move forward.”)

The slogan appears every couple of hundred feet along this stretch of the avenue, perhaps serving as a rallying cry for the beleaguered government of President Michel Martelly. John Brown Avenue is one of the main routes to the middle class suburb of Petionville, where Martelly’s support in the capital region is strongest.

Noel, 41, did not describe himself as homeless, but just without a place to stay. Pedestrians and nearby residents occasionally give him a few Haitian gourdes to buy food, which he uses at a nearby market. On this day, Noel was cooking cornmeal and beans. Other days it’s rice and beans. Meat and fresh vegetables are luxuries he can rarely afford.

Other than those brief interactions, Noel said, he is on his own.

Homelessness in Haiti is not prevalent and social services for homeless people are few. In the city, the occasional homeless person — usually identified by their ragged clothing, dirt-covered bare feet and generally unkempt appearance — is seen silently sitting against a wall with a few coins at his or her feet. Most Haitians manage to find someplace to stay rather than risk life alone on streets.

Noel did not recall how long he has been without a home. Years, he said, without being specific. He recalled that he once painted pictures and made a decent living at it, selling some of his work at a downtown gallery. He signed his name “Jean.”

That was 12 years ago.

“I have no family,” he reminded the visitors. “I got nowhere to sleep. I got nowhere to take a bath. I got nowhere to get some clothes. I don’t have no money. I don’t have no person to get me off the street.

“I’m happy that you talked with me,” he added.

 

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Priest describes being attacked in Haiti

November 18th, 2011 Posted in International News Tags: , ,

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MONTREAL — A Quebec priest, Franciscan Father Raymond Mailhiot, has published a harrowing account of an armed holdup that he survived in Haiti.

In a long letter published on Facebook and sent to Catholic News Service, the Franciscan missionary wrote that the group of four or five heavily armed thieves in the Cite Soleil slum even cried, “Let’s kill the priest!” when they discovered that the Franciscans had no money.

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