As if devastating floods two years ago, the scourge of unstable dictatorships for decades and generations of brutal poverty were not enough, last week Haiti suffered another catastrophe when a massive earthquake shook its capital into rubble.
A week later, bodies are still being pulled from the wreckage in the capital; perhaps as many as 200,000 Haitians as of press time. For the more than 1.2 million made homeless by the quake, medical emergencies are giving way to acute shortages of food, water, basic shelter and now, sadly, episodes of looting and violence.
How much can that island nation take? It was already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line and more than half in acute poverty. The already-poor medical, transportation, political and civic infrastructure has been brought even lower by this disaster.
But help is on the way. Cardinal Justin Rigali has asked all 267 parishes of the Archdiocese to take up a collection for the relief effort in Haiti at this weekend’s Masses. This follows last week’s donations to the regularly scheduled collection for Catholic Relief Services. The agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops responded early to the crisis because it was already working there. In fact, CRS has been responding to human needs in Haiti since 1955. CRS warehouses began distributing food and emergency supplies in Port-au-Prince soon after the quake. Obviously those supplies are exhausted, so the need remains great.
American generosity in the face of tragedy anywhere in the world has become legendary. No doubt the response will be commensurate with the need to relieve the immediate suffering of our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Because of the situation, support for recovery must be sustained over the long term.
The Catholic Church will be instrumental in rebuilding Haiti literally from the ground up. Private organizations like CRS, through the support of tens of millions of American Catholics, can maximize generosity by deploying it wisely, through long experience in Haiti.
The Catholic faith held by 80 percent of Haitians remains a precious asset even as the loss of Catholic clergy and seminarians killed in the earthquake will be felt for years to come.
For a people with little to begin with, Haitians’ dependence on God’s providential care every day of their lives has become more acute at this hour. By all accounts the people’s faith appears strong. Hope remains.
By relying on the cardinal virtues of faith, hope and charity and acknowledging the solidarity shared with those of good will around the globe, Haitians may endure the present dire circumstance and start to envision what their country can become. Within this unimaginable disaster lie the seeds of a more prosperous Haiti risen from the rubble, one buttressed by the confident assurance of faith.