By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T

DOWNINGTOWN – “This is a first for Bishop Shanahan in that a representative has come to share with us the good things that happen when young people have generous hearts,” said Sister Maureen Lawrence, I.H.M., principal of Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown.

She was introducing Dr. Jude Banatte, the head of programming for Catholic Relief Services in Haiti, who came to Shanahan as part of a CRS “Thank You” tour, in which he is visiting Catholic communities in the United States that reached out and generously helped the small nation after it was devastated by a powerful earthquake Jan. 12, 2010. {{more}}

At 4:53 p.m. that afternoon, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, with an epicenter being approximately 16 miles west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake destroyed many of the capital city’s prominent buildings, including the Presidential Palace and the Cathedrale de Notre Dame. Port-au-Prince Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot died when his office in the cathedral collapsed on him.

More than 230,000 people died and another 300,000 were injured in the natural disaster that left more than 1 million people homeless and caused more than $3.8 billion in damage.

Banatte immediately left his office in southern Haiti and headed to Port-au-Prince to work at St. Francois de Sales Hospital, the city’s primary medical facility. His initial tasks included salvaging medical equipment and supplies, and making the hospital operational again. Then, he focused on food distribution and began to plan the logistics of a long-term strategy to replace the hospital.

Banatte’s presentation at Bishop Shanahan was titled “From Loss to Life” and served to educate the students about how Haiti’s people have coped since the earthquake, through the process of relief, recovery and rebuilding. He thanked the students for their generous response to the relief efforts and explained how their contributions helped.

He shared pictures of Haitian children who were rescued through the financial assistance provided by Catholic communities in the United States. Many were orphaned and have now found foster homes and are back in school. After the January earthquake, many schools were unable to resume classes until April.

“When we donate to help someone, we usually never know where that money goes,” said Lauren Radie, a senior at Bishop Shanahan. “Seeing the kids’ pictures really shows how we’ve helped.”

Her classmate, Rebecca spanas, went a step further. “I never really knew the magnitude of the tragedy until hearing and seeing it in this assembly,” she said.

Bishop Shanahan was the second highest contributing high school in the Archdiocese, raising more than $7,000. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as a whole, raised more than $2 million to aid Catholic Relief Services’ efforts.

“In my work with CRS, Bishop Shanahan has always been a major asset in responding to the suffering of others due to natural disasters and global hunger,” said Anne Ayella, who is the archdiocesan liaison to Catholic Relief Services.

Banatte emphasized that the rebuilding of Haiti is not over, and will take at least another five to 10 years. “What has kept the people of Haiti going is that they have really lived solidarity and resilience, and their hope is still very much alive,” Banatte said. “The Catholic Church has done great work in keeping their spirituality alive as well.” To date, more than 275,000 people have received shelter assistance.

“With the earthquake in Japan in recent headlines,” said freshman Paul Blanchard, “I was interested to hear him compare the different levels of earthquake readiness between Japan and Haiti.”

According to Banatte, while the Haitians are prepared for hurricanes and floods, they are not as prepared as the Japanese for earthquakes.

“We feel for the Japanese people because we know what they are going through,” Banatte added, “and we have a strong sense of solidarity with them.”

George Gregory is a freelance writer and aparishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.