By Cardinal Justin Rigali
Archbishop of Philadelphia
January 12 marks the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. We take the ongoing effects of that disaster as our topic this week.
Not all anniversaries are joyful occasions
In his recent Christmas Message Urbi et Orbi, “to the City and to the World,” Pope Benedict XVI made reference to the ongoing sufferings in Haiti. He said: “May the light of Christ shine also for those in Haiti who still suffer in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and the recent cholera.” The Pope takes very literally the scope and purpose of these messages, addressed not only to the people of the city of Rome, but also to the entire world. They have used it for many years as a way of not only sending a message and reflection on the birth of Christ, but also as a means of showing their closeness to those people in various parts of the world who are experiencing a time of great trial.
Because of the attention given to these messages, they can be a great means of keeping the needs of people and countries before the eyes of the world. The Holy Father included Haiti in his message this year not only because of the coming anniversary, but also because of the recent cholera epidemic in that country, which has made a bad situation even worse. As we mark the one year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, we are reminded that not all anniversaries are occasions of joy. We mark this anniversary not in order to rejoice but to reflect on the great accomplishments already made, especially through the generosity of American Catholics, and the great amount of work yet to be done.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, American Catholics responded as never before to the call of Cardinal Francis George, then-President of the Conference of Bishops of the United States, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Episcopal Chair of Catholic Relief Services, to assist our brothers and sisters in Haiti. There was a wonderful response to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Haiti from many sectors of American life.
We know the words of the Scriptures: “Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Likewise: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16). We seek to live out the message of Jesus in many ways “and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
The special collection taken up throughout the United Sates at that time raised approximately 83 million dollars for relief work in Haiti. Most of these funds were collected during the special collection that was taken up at all the Masses in the over 18,000 Catholic parishes throughout the United States immediately after the earthquake. The fact that this generosity was shown in the context of worshiping God as local parish communities, makes the generosity of our American Catholics all the more significant. It means that they were seeing both realities of our relationship with God in proper perspective: they were obeying God’s commandment to keep His Day holy by participating in the Eucharist, and they were showing charity to their neighbors in need in the context of their worship. In doing so they, you, were living out the two great commandments taught to us by Jesus: loving God with all our heart, mind and soul and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
A reminder of the actual devastation that took place one year ago
So many of us are already aware that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Adding to the devastation of the earthquake, was the fact that many of the buildings affected had been poorly built in the first place, and so were especially prone to the effects of this natural disaster. The Catholic Church has had a long presence in Haiti through works of education and charity, and Catholics make up the majority of the population of Haiti. It is fortunate that Haiti is a country where Catholic Relief Services has a permanent presence, and so they were able to offer immediate assistance to the stricken Haitians. You may recall that last year, in writing about this event, I quoted Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who pointed out that although all the buildings around the headquarters of Catholic Relief Services in Haiti were destroyed, CRS headquarters remained standing as a beacon of hope and encouragement offered by the Catholic Church to the people of Haiti. Catholic Relief Services is one of the charitable arms of Catholics in the United States and so it is you, our faithful and charitable people, who make this charity possible.
Administering the charity of Christ’s faithful
We all know that it is not only important for us to respond to those in need, as the Catholics of the United States did so generously last year, it is also important that this charity be administered well. Pope Benedict referenced this in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), when he spoke of the necessity of the works of charity being organized at times for the purpose of more efficient and just distribution.
We were fortunate to already have many of these structures in place, most especially Catholic Relief Services, that were prepared to administer the charity of our people. So true is this that, as I wrote last year on the occasion of the earthquake, the United States government itself turned to Catholic Relief Services immediately after the earthquake and asked them to administer the government’s initial relief efforts.
It might be helpful at this point to give some statistics in order to illustrate the enormity of the tragedy and Haiti and the generous response that has been made and so well organized and distributed. Over the past year, Catholic Relief Services and its partner Caritas Haiti have:
– Provided food to nearly 900,000 people and continue to provide monthly food rations to more than 100,000 children in more than 370 schools, orphanages and child-care centers.
– Provided emergency shelter materials to more than 215,000 people.
– Performed over 974 emergency operations and conducted 64,000 outpatient consultations through on-going support to St. Francois de Sales Hospital.
– Installed over 600 latrines, wash stations, potable water tanks and inflatable water bladders in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas.
– Registered 339 separated or unaccompanied children for family tracing and reunifications.
– Provided 6,000 families with livelihood support through vouchers that allow them to choose the most appropriate types of seeds and fertilizers for their farming needs. This is an approach that also benefits local seeds suppliers and the local economy.
Catholic Relief Services’ Cash-for-Work program is another resource that creates short-term employment, benefitting more than 10,000 people through work projects that provide much-needed income as well as assistance to the local economy. Very often the men and women involved in this program are residents of the tent-camps that have been constructed for the homeless, and this income assists them in returning to society as productive citizens.
As you probably know, the existing critical situation in Haiti had an added trial recently when a cholera epidemic broke out there. Again, our Relief Services provided Haitians with soap, water purification tablets and hygiene guidance to help stem the tide of the cholera outbreak. This has added to the work of the seven existing hospitals and four health care centers supported by Catholic Relief Services throughout the country.
I hope that this week’s topic has helped us to keep our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti before our eyes, as well as giving you a very brief summary of what has been accomplished through the charity of the Catholics of the United States. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a section on their web site devoted exclusively to information about Haiti (http://www.usccb.org/haiti/), and they also make it possible to make additional donations to the ongoing relief work taking place there.
Here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Tuesday, Jan. 11, at 12:05 p.m., we shall gather in the Cathedral Basilica for Mass for the beloved people of Haiti and for all the victims of last year’s disaster.
6 January 2011