Tuesday, February 16, 2010

At the Crossroads: The Church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Today

By Father Benjamin Alforque, M.S.C., V.F.
Parochial Vicar, St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

Bishop Joseph Lafontant is now taking care of the church of Port-au-Prince. There are 125 diocesan priests who survived the earthquake; 8 were confirmed dead, including Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot; but the exact number of deaths among the clergy is not yet known. 5 priests are known to be injured. 15 seminarians of religious congregations died; 2 religious priests and some 35 sisters were confirmed dead. It will probably take some time to really determine the number of deaths among the clergy, sisters and seminarians, even after the assembly of the diocesan clergy last February 3, and of the religious congregations last February 6. Many parishioners and parish leaders perished in the earthquake; close estimates will probably come only after the memorial celebrations to be held in all parishes of the Dioceses of Port-au-Prince and Jacmel from February 12-17.

From the diocesan seminarians that survived, only 28 seminarians in their final year of priestly formation will continue. A place will be found for their continued formation.

75 churches collapsed, including the cathedrals of Port-au-Prince and of Jacmel. 12 churches were destroyed in the city of Port-au-Prince alone. The pastoral centers are also gone. Sacraments are being celebrated in creative ways, in patios and open spaces, without the church buildings. The pastoral care of the people has not stopped. Accompaniment by the priests and the religious continues in the midst of destruction, in the “tent cities and among the injured and the hungry”. The diocesan radio is back on the air. It also serves to accompany the people.

The need to save church archives or whatever is left has become paramount. This means finding a new suitable place for the archives. Then there is a need too to rebuild the libraries for the continuing formation of the 28 seminarians. Finally, an inventory of the things needed to celebrate the sacraments in the destroyed parishes and to replenish what is lacking have to be done.

From the reports of 52 priests, it is clear that thousands of the parishioners are living in the tent cities. The estimates are some 1.2 million people, in the city of Port-au-Prince alone and another 1 million may be found in the surrounding cities outside of the capital. People by the thousands have been encouraged to go to the provinces. And many have done so. Though the exact number of those who have gone to the provinces have yet to be determined, at the present there are problems arising from this movement from the city to the countryside, like land availability and tools for economic productivity. Concluding almost every report was a persistent question: Where is the promised aid?

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