Friars, Parishioners Help Restore Hope in Haiti

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

St. Patrick-St. Anthony’s sister parish, St. Genevieve of Zorange in Haiti. (Photo courtesy of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish)

Over the last few months, groups from two Holy Name Province parishes traveled to Haiti – one of several countries in the Caribbean struggling with poverty and the impact of natural disasters. They contributed hope to a place that has suffered from hurricanes and the devastating earthquake of 2010 – and they left their experiences with a feeling of gratitude.

Both HNP communities visited their sister parishes on this island, part of Hispaniola, which has struggled to recover after both Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and last fall’s storms.

Members of St. Patrick-St. Anthony sister parish committee visiting Haiti to celebrate the feast of St Genevieve. (Photo courtesy of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish)

Hartford Community Supports Local Economic Development
“Living with the least fortunate among us is a healthy Lenten practice to remind us of the God-given grace we enjoy,” said one of eight parishioners from St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., who spent six days in the town of Zoranje. The people of Zoranje, which lies in the mountains, generally support their family with subsistence farming.

The group – which included Cidouane Joseph, OFM, who is stationed at St. Patrick-St. Anthony and who grew up in Haiti – traveled there at the end of January to visit St. Patrick-St. Anthony’s sister parish, St. Genevieve, on the occasion of its feast day, which is celebrated locally on the last Sunday of January.

The trip participant, who visited St. Genevieve for the first time, observed how sharing the lives of the “most destitute yet grateful people helped us to feel more appreciative and thankful to God for basic comforts that we take for granted such as running water, sanitation, electrical power, employment, garbage removal, healthcare and access to transportation.”

The trip afforded the group an opportunity to experience first-hand the school to which St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish provides financial and spiritual help as part of the twinning relationship the two parishes have had since 2004.

On the first day of the visit, the delegation met with a group of St. Genevieve parishioners, who recently formed the cooperative IPAO to advance the community’s economy, health, education, land use, and land conservation, said Cidouane. The meeting, held in a circle under and around a large mango tree between the rectory and the church, was aimed at identifying ways for the sister parish committee to support St. Genevieve’s economic development, said Cid.

On the feast day, Jan. 28, the Hartford group attended Mass at St. Genevieve’s, which was “decked out” for the occasion. The church was packed with local residents and an exceptionally large group of dignitaries and elected officials, including former senator Anick Joseph, who is a classmate of pastor Fr. Philippe, said Cid. A newly ordained priest, Fr. Dorange, who had been trained there, presided during the liturgy and delivered a homily that exhorted the local community to take its fate in its own hand and to resist the temptation to go through life “tèt anba”, meaning “upside-down, head -down, and disheartened.”

George Corrigan, right,  and Sacred Heart parishioners during their visit to Haiti. (Photo courtesy of Sacred Heart Parish)

Tampa Group Provides Dental Services
A month before the Hartford group made their trip, a contingent from Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla., also traveled to Haiti, bringing dental services to the people in Beau Séjour, which is 135 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince.

Sacred Heart has an ongoing parish twinning relationship with St. Gabriel’s Parish in Beau Séjour, an area in a remote mountain area located at 3,000 feet above sea level, accessible only by all-terrain vehicles – and only during the dry season. It is an area that is not served by the Haitian government or international aid groups. Beau Séjour is not a village in the classic sense. There is simply no “flat spot” large enough to contain a traditional village center. The heart of the area is the parish.

From Dec. 1 to 8, George Corrigan, OFM, pastor of Sacred Heart, accompanied his parishioners on the week-long mission as spiritual advisor, photographer, videographer, and, as he says, “go-fer, and the occasional fix-it person.” His presence also provided a welcome relief for the pastor of St. Gabriel’s, Fr. Fernand Pierre.

Sacred Heart joined Holy Family Parish, also in the St. Petersburg Diocese, in outreach to this remote parish. Holy Family sponsors a medical mission in the springtime, while Sacred Heart holds a dental mission in December. The missions are held in a newly built clinic that was a joint effort of the St. Petersburg parishes and a parish in Ontario, Canada.

The dentists and hygienists do “an amazing job as they adapt to working apart from the norm of their offices in Tampa. The team brings in all equipment, supplies, field dental chairs, work lights, and portable restorative dental kits that are powered by a small generator. During the five days of the clinic, more than 200 patients receive dental care. Most of the patients walk an average of two to three hours, one way, to visit the clinic,” said George.

Sacred Heart Parish also provides support for the parish elementary school, supplements funds for seed and agriculture, and is undertaking the project to rebuild the parish church, which was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. The temporary replacement lost its roof during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

For George, it felt like a return to mission, because he recognized how much of the place and people were similar to the experience he had in Kenya as a Franciscan Mission Service participant.

“It is always great to spend time with parishioners outside the hustle and bustle of parish ‘what’s next’ life,” said George. “We chose the first week in December as our standard time to go because (a) it is the dry season and (b) it is the first week of Advent. Part of the mission trip is not only daily Mass and prayer, but also Advent reflections about the day we just experienced.”

Among the most satisfying aspects of the trip for George was the chance to renew the connection with the people of Beau Séjour and to feel that “that even if their government is unable to assist, they are not forgotten spiritually or physically. The dental mission is ever a moment when tooth pain is relieved and hope restored. And it is evident in the smile.”

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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