ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Catholic Minnesotans have been raising funds to provide help for Haiti following its back-to-back natural disasters.
The broad effort was in response to a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that rattled Haiti Aug. 14 and Tropical Storm Grace that brought strong winds and heavy rains two days later. The nation was already reeling from the assassination of its president weeks earlier, long-standing government instability, persistent gang violence and a rising number of COVID-19 cases.
“As soon as one tragedy happens, there’s not much time for recovery and healing and it’s the next tragedy, so they’re still definitely in shock and (have) post-traumatic stress from these things,” said Jimmy Dunn, president of the nonprofit Mission Haiti Inc. and outreach and community life director at Annunciation Parish in Minneapolis.
The work by parishioners throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis stems from the partnerships developed over the years with local communities and religious congregations.
Parishioners told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper, that conditions in Haiti prevent them from traveling to provide hands-on assistance. The U.S. State Department has advised against traveling there.
Father Paul Shovelain traveled to the Haitian city of L’Aisle in 2019 and recently learned about extensive damage in that community, about four miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.
“My heart has been heavy for them,” said Shovelain, pastor of St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, Minnesota, who said the rectory and church in L’Aisle were leveled and he is worried about families who were living in small huts.
In Bouzy, about 15 miles southeast of the quake’s epicenter, residents were injured and homes and the rectory at St. Catherine d’ Alexandre Parish were damaged. The church, still being rebuilt after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the massive 2010 earthquake, also was damaged, said Dave Henke, who with his wife, Lori, serves on the Haiti core team at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Maple Grove, Minnesota.
St. Joseph the Worker instituted a sister parish relationship with the Bouzy church in 2009 and organized a team of volunteers who visited after the 2010 earthquake. Parishioners plan to send assistance following the most recent earthquake.
The injuries in Bouzy were among the thousands of casualties.
More than 2,200 people died and more than 12,000 people were injured in the earthquake, reported The Associated Press. Nearly 53,000 homes were destroyed. Hundreds of people remain missing.
In Marfranc, about 50 miles west of the epicenter, the elder care centers supported by Minnesota-based Reiser Relief did not sustain damage or experience loss of life, but area buildings swayed and the roofs of single-story buildings collapsed, said Joyce Getchell, board vice president of the nonprofit organization founded in 2006 by Father Bernard Reiser to create partnerships to assist Haitians.
Reiser Relief sponsors education, elder and disabled care, a job creation program and agricultural support in Haiti and has sponsored rebuilding after previous disasters.
The group recently appealed on Facebook for disaster relief to be distributed by the Little Sisters of St. Therese of the Child Jesus who run the Marfranc ministries.
At St. Mary of the Lake Church in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, parishioners started. their work in Haiti in 2014, and the next year a parishioner donated funds for a school in Marfranc, said Samantha Hagel, the parish’s mission director. Each year, the parish sponsors the school’s teachers, tuition and meals.
Parishioners have not visited Haiti since 2019, but they maintain contact with the religious sisters there, Hagel said. Parishioners also were pleased to learn that the school they have rebuilt several times after disasters held up during the recent earthquake, she said.
Dunn said another town, Léogâne, 13 miles east of the epicenter, was not hit as hard as it was by the 2010 temblor, which damaged about 90 percent of the town’s buildings. Dunn’s parish, Annunciation, has partnered with the Haitian Sisters of the Companions of Jesus in Léogâne for more than 23 years. In 2006, the partnership led to the establishment of Mission Haiti Inc., with a focus on education, elder care and sustainable farming.
Annunciation Parish and Mission Haiti have helped finance and build two schools and send $120,000 annually to the sisters, Dunn said. Another fundraiser is planned for Oct. 15.
When Catholics recognize a need, they’re called to do something, wherever the need is, Dunn said.
Prayer is also part of that response, Getchell said.
“We do what we can with the resources that are provided,” she explained, “and we leave the rest to God, because no one else can take this one on.”
Klemond writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.