As the U.S. government urges its citizens to leave Haiti due to spiraling instability, area Catholics are sending a container of badly needed goods to the beleaguered Caribbean nation.
On Nov. 6, some 10 members of the local Haitian Catholic community loaded an array of medical supplies, clothing, non-perishable food, toiletries and basic furniture into a 20-foot sea container for shipment to Port-au-Prince.
The archdiocesan Haitian Apostolate began collecting the items in mid-September as part of a donation drive at two Philadelphia parishes, St. William and St. Barbara, both home to the area’s 3,000 some Haitian Catholic community members.
Also coordinating the initiative were the archdiocesan Office for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees and Catholic Social Services (CSS), with the latter agency covering the estimated $7,000 in ocean shipping costs for the container.
Archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services provided over 5,000 pounds of non-perishable food items such as rice, shelf-stable milk, beans and peanut butter.
CSS also supplied diapers and feminine hygiene products, while the agency’s Casa del Carmen Family Service Center, based in North Philadelphia, contributed more than 100 pairs of flip flops.
Every single contribution is desperately needed, said Haitian Apostolate chaplain Father Eugène Almonor, a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and a native of Haiti.
Now in residence at St. William Parish in Philadelphia, Father Almonor said that conditions in his homeland are extremely dire.
“I am a little bit afraid to talk about Haiti right now, because the situation is too complicated, too difficult,” he admitted. “Every day something is wrong in Haiti.”
Severe fuel shortages and a dramatic rise in gang violence – which prompted the U.S. State Department to issue its Nov. 11 warning – are merely the latest in a relentless series of crises that have recently battered Haiti, the poorest nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, and among the most impoverished in the world.
A magnitude 7.2 earthquake Aug. 14 killed more than 2,200 and injured at least 12,000. Tropical Storm Grace hammered the island nation just days later, hampering rescue and recovery efforts.
The August earthquake occurred just 60 miles from where a January 2010 quake struck, killing an estimated 220,000 died and injuring upwards of 300,000.
In early July, Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was ambushed and shot dead in his home; his wife Martine, survived her injuries in the attack. A former justice ministry official is now suspected of having ordered the assassination.
Kidnapping and gun violence continue to plague Haiti, which has been hard hit by COVID – and has struggled to rebuild over the decade since the 2010 disaster.
Following an Oct. 17-19 visit to that nation, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, called for international aid to Haiti, writing in an op-ed that its “cry for help … cannot go unheeded, especially by Europe, which over the centuries has divided, plundered and finally abandoned this wonderful island.”
Local Catholics refuse to leave Haiti to face its struggles alone, said Father Almonor, whose order, based in southwest Haiti, is set to take delivery of the supply container.
In particular, Father Almonor was moved by the generosity of area faithful and “people of good will,” who sought to contribute items to the effort at all hours.
“I would often get calls while trying to sleep, with people saying, ‘Father, are you at home? I have something for Haiti,’” he said.
Among the most precious donations was a tabernacle from the former Bishop McDevitt High School, which closed last year.
“It’s especially wonderful, sending the tabernacle,” he said.
With the items set to sail, Father Almonor is ready to prepare another shipment.
“One container for me is not enough,” he said. “If I have the possibility to do this again, I will – because it makes sense for me and for the people.”
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