Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The world at our door

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

Our faith calls us to be in solidarity with human beings all over the world. It is the essence of the universal church to which we belong. We are one family under God.

Does that idea live in our consciousness? Some of us innately have a global awareness; others acquire it through experience. But for many of us, the very real demands of the day, struggles in our personal life and other immediacies give us a full plate of things to think about and pray about.
But then something happens in a near or far corner of the world that places the reality of our global family front and center.

The tragic earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 is such a moment. We witnessed horrifying destruction and death in a country that is already marked by extreme poverty and suffering. The stories and images of the earthquake have been hard to watch, but they have also stirred the spirit in us, connecting us in a meaningful way with our Haitian brothers and sisters.
This has been evident in our private and communal prayers, our faith sharing talks and in our willingness to share our financial resources with the people of Haiti so that they might survive and heal from this catastrophe. As of this writing, Americans have contributed nearly $140 million to the earthquake relief effort.

The earthquake in Haiti is not the only tragedy near our border that has captured our attention recently. The terrible violence in Mexico resulting from the illegal drug trade perhaps hits even closer to home. Some in our diocese have lost family and friends to this violence, others fear for the lives of family or have, themselves, gone into hiding. So much of our history as a diocese is tied to the Catholic Church in Mexico. Now we see this land plagued by bloodshed, and we carry the pain of our Mexican brothers and sisters with us.

Our diocesan ministry of Social Concerns has placed added emphasis on promoting global solidarity in our parishes. Perhaps the compassion that so many are feeling in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti and in response to the drug violence in Mexico can serve as a catalyst for this ministry. For it is an inevitable fact that there is hunger and oppression and violence afflicting members of our human family in places that we don’t see on CNN or the cover of the newspapers. We are no less obligated to pray for them, to seek justice for them and to keep them in our hearts.

As we prepare this month for our Lenten journey let us travel the desert with our brothers and sisters around the world. This is a time for prayer and reflection as we process the meaning of these international tragedies to our own faith life. And as a result we must decide – what are we willing to do about it?

Please join me in prayer for the consolation and healing of the Haitian people and for an end to the violence in Mexico.

El mundo a nuestra puerta
Por Obispo Gerald Barnes
Diocesis de San Bernardino

Nuestra fe nos llama a ser solidarios con los seres humanos en todo el mundo. Es la esencia de la iglesia universal a que pertenecemos. Somos una familia en Dios.
¿Tenemos ese concepto en nuestra conciencia? Algunos de nosotros tenemos una concientización global innata; otros la adquirimos con la experiencia. Pero para muchos de nosotros, las reales demandas del día en sí, dificultades en nuestra vida personal y otras necesidades primordiales nos llenan el plato de cosas en que pensar y por que rezar.
Pero luego sucede algo en un rincón cercano o lejano del mundo que pone la realidad de nuestra familia global enfrente y en el centro.

El trágico terremoto que sacudió a Haití el 12 de enero es ese momento. Vimos la horripilante destrucción y muerte en un país marcado ya por extrema pobreza y sufrimiento. Las historias e imágenes del terremoto han sido difíciles de ver, pero también han despertado el espíritu en nosotros, conectándonos de manera significativa con nuestras hermanas y hermanos haitianos.
Esto se ha hecho evidente en nuestras oraciones privadas y comunales, en nuestras sesiones para compartir la fe y en nuestra disposición de compartir nuestros recursos monetarios con el pueblo de Haití para que puedan sobrevivir y sanar de esta catástrofe. Hasta el momento en que escribí este artículo, los americanos han contribuido caso $140 millones al esfuerzo de asistencia en el terremoto.

El terremoto en Haití no es la única tragedia cerca de nuestra frontera que ha captado nuestra atención recientemente. La terrible violencia en México causada por el comercio ilegal de drogas tal vez nos afecta más de cerca. Algunos en nuestra diócesis han perdido familia y amigos a consecuencia de esta violencia, otros temen por la vida de familiares o ellos mismos han tenido que esconderse. Así que, mucha de nuestra historia como diócesis está ligada a la Iglesia Católica en México. Ahora vemos esta tierra plagada por el derramamiento de sangre y llevamos con nosotros el dolor de nuestras hermanas y hermanos mexicanos.

Nuestro ministerio diocesano de pastoral social ha puesto un énfasis adicional en promover en nuestras parroquias la solidaridad global. Tal vez la compasión que muchos están sintiendo después del terremoto de Haití y en respuesta a la violencia relacionada con las drogas en México puede servir como catalizador para este ministerio. Pues es un hecho inevitable que hay hambre y opresión y violencia que afligen a miembros de nuestra familia humana en lugares que no vemos en CNN o en primera plana en los periódicos. No estamos menos obligados a orar por ellos, procurar justicia para ellos y llevarlos en nuestro corazón.

Mientras nos preparamos este mes para nuestra jornada de Cuaresma, recorramos el desierto con nuestros hermanos y hermanas en todo el mundo. Este es un momento para orar y reflexionar mientras asimilamos lo que estas tragedias internacionales significan en nuestra propia vida de fe. Y como resultado debemos decidir - ¿qué estamos dispuestos a hacer al respecto?

Por favor únanse a mí en oración por el consuelo y sanación del pueblo haitiano y por un fin a la violencia en México.

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?

Monday, February 8, 2010

At the Crossroads: Hail, the Spirit of Solidarity in Haiti

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

This is a great journey of the spirit, a privileged communion of souls! Before I left our parish, I had received lots of expressions of support from children and adults, from persons I’ve learned to know, from familiar people and from faces I vaguely remember. A few expressed their fears and concerns for my security in Haiti; a couple thought a formal and official notice of my Haiti trip was necessary to arouse support; and some just kept their quiet. And there were many more who wished they could come along…the MSC Lay Associates…the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns in the U.S….

My sister’s co-supervisors and staff knew it was she who was capable of volunteering for Haiti, and they asked her to bring them t-shirts that say: “I survived Haiti”. Aboard the plane from Miami to Sto. Domingo were volunteers for Haiti: teenagers, young adults and adults, single and married couples! From the different parts of the US and the world, they happily met for the first time, sharing too their little fears that are now overcome by the fact that they are not alone! Some were attached to non-government organizations, others were sponsored by church- and faith-based institutions. Ah, there was David from Pittsburgh. He quit from his job; raised his own funds; and left his family, friends and loved ones. His mother thought that was neat; his father said he was crazy! And Jackson, a Haitian from Jacmel, now a US citizen in Orlando. Like other Haitians in the plane, he was coming home to help his family rise again. Yes, each one bore the spirit of their families, friends, churches, communities and nations: to be in solidarity with the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

At Port-au-Prince I first made an ocular orientation on damage of the city and its suburbs. Buildings, churches, offices, stores and super markets and houses collapsed. Those that did not fall are uninhabitable. People are in “tent cities” spread in the different pockets of empty spaces and huge parks. Young and old people and children are out in the streets; vendors plying their wares in the streets; others are flocking remittance centers for money from abroad. I see people lining up for drinking water. I am told it could be dangerous out there: prisoners from jails are roaming around, armed; people in their tents, hungry and thirsty, could demand food and water from tourist-looking strangers. Traffic is heavy; streets cracked, littered with rubbles. Bulldozers are cleaning up. People are working on the canals, repairing fallen houses, repainting homes. There is much activity, much noise, much gloom, much idleness, much hope, much despair, much confusion, much uncertainty, much life, much death.

Beneath the ruins of a fallen building is a beloved, and a memory of one who is missing, and will be missed, of one who is neither dead nor alive, but is simply gone! Above the ground are the living, haunted by the terror of the tremors, eking out a living, looking for a home, wanting and needing to rise and be whole, once again!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

At the Crossroads: People of Haiti, Here We Come!

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

On Feb. 1 I landed on the island of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean. The community of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart welcomed my sister and me in the MSC Provincial House, in Santo Domingo.

Here I met an MSC confrere from Haiti, Fr. Joel. Ordained priest last December 2009, Fr. Joel lost his brother in the January earthquake. His father’s face is now deformed, his cranium having been hit by hard objects while he walked in the streets of Port-au-Prince during the earthquake. Fr. Joel, now a missionary in the Dominican Republic, returned home to celebrate with his family a memorial mass for his brother. His brother’s body was found seven days after the earthquake, and, being in the state of decomposition with countless others, was summarily bulldozed and buried in a mass grave. A seminarian, Rev. Eric, is here too for his pastoral year, prior to his ordination late this year or early next year. He hails from Haiti, and he too lost his relatives in the earthquake.

Our MSC confreres here have been to Port-au-Prince several times since the earthquake. They are helping coordinate whatever response could be made to the situation of the people in Port-au-Prince, especially to our MSC parishioners and those living in tents in the grounds of the MSC Formation House.

Their information is worthwhile considering very seriously. There are about 3 million people affected by the earthquake: 2 million without homes from the city of Port-au-Prince and another 1 million who come from around the city. Now, try to imagine 2 to 3 million people living in tents in the open spaces and grounds in the city. This is a city without a cathedral or church (7 churches collapsed), a Christian community without a pastor and without a functioning governmental social services system. There are no stores or malls; no food, no water, no electricity, no means of communications. All supplies are coming from the outside world, but with a defective distribution system. Picture in your mind bodies left dead and dying in the streets or elsewhere, not because of the earthquake anymore but because of hunger! And to top it all: the coming month of May is a season of heavy rain and floods, and the months of June and July a time of strong hurricanes and storms! What will happen to these millions who are now living in tents? Is nature part of the consideration in the rescue and relief operations? And to think, Port-au-Prince continues to lie on the seismic belt of the island.

Today, February 2, my sister and I will proceed on a 6-hour bus trip to Port-au-Prince across the mountains and the long deep fault. I carry with me the spirit of solidarity of our parishioners and of our Diocese, with the leadership and support of our Bishops. That is why I say: People of Haiti, here we come!