A pastoral visit to Haiti

By Father William Kaliyadan, M.S.
Special to The Anchor

Editor’s note: This is a report recently sent to the parishioners of Our Lady of the Cape Parish in Brewster, outlining their long-standing support of the poor in Haiti and the ongoing needs of the poorest of the poor.

I recently returned from a visit to our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ whom we at Our Lady of the Cape Parish in Brewster — staffed as we are by the La Salette Missionaries ­— have been committed to serving for the past 23 years. I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to share with you my thoughts and impressions from my time there, and update you regarding the progress being made.

First of all, in order to understand the setting for our ministry in Haiti, author Scott Hortop has written that:

“Haiti is a country steeped in centuries of cultural fear and mistrust. Although an independent republic since 1806, Haitians have yet to experience the trust that enables productivity through cooperation. A study of Haitian society reveals a difficulty with management, a difficulty with administration, a difficulty to work in any situation that requires cooperation, a difficulty in trusting: a difficulty but not an inability.” 

Establishing A Model of Collaboration

Our parish of Our Lady of the Cape has always approached these cultural challenges in Haiti, using a cooperative model based on faith and charity. Over time and with great patience, prayer and fraternity, this model has been fruitful. Through consistency, sincerity and transparency, we have experienced genuine care for each other, as well as accountability. Through our collaborative Christian relationship, we have become even more aware that we are the “keepers” of our brothers and sisters. During my recent week in Haiti, I grew in appreciation of this relationship in a very genuine way.

St. Claire Parish in Dessalines

Father Robinson Alexis, pastor, and his parishioners extended a warm welcome to Father Joe Gosselin M.S. (a retired, enthusiastic La Salette who spends three months a year in Haiti doing missionary work), Father Thomas Vellappillil, director of the La Salette North American Mission Office in St. Louis, and myself. 

Parishioners thanked us for our recent help with a new sound system, new electric fans for the parish church and the replacement of a damaged part of the rectory roof. They were also grateful for our financial support to the four seminarians from their parish who are now pursuing their studies for the priesthood. 

Hatte Granmont

The people of St. Claire Parish come from a number of villages. Hatte Granmont is a village with its own chapel. This year, a well has been drilled on the chapel grounds, and the equipment for a hand pump for the new well has been purchased. The pump will be installed within the next two weeks and will then be ready for use. 

In the last two years, Our Lady of the Cape has funded wells in Poste Pierrot and Niel. Accessibility to water continues to be a critical need in St. Claire’s Parish, with many people having to walk large distances for water. Some of the villages continue to be without a well. Unfortunately, many young students miss school in order to collect water for their families. Each well with a hand pump costs approximately $10,000.

St. Claire Lumière School

In addition to our support for scholarships for students, and the painting of the school building, we also funded the purchase of a new generator for the school this year. Currently, there are 670 students there, ranging from elementary to high school grades. 

The school community is now seeking our financial support for the purchase of new textbooks for the coming school year of approximately $15,000. They are also asking our help in securing a used school bus that might be available from a generous school district on Cape Cod or from individual donor(s).

Fabias School

The poor and remote village of Fabias has its own chapel and school. Presently, there are 260 students in the school. Because the last hurricane had destroyed part of the old school building, we have been helping to build four new classrooms upon a stronger foundation that can withstand earthquakes and hurricanes. The total cost of this project will be $40,000. We hope to complete it within next two months.

St. Claire School

This school is run by Salesian Sisters. There are 1,020 students at this school, as well as a dispensary where they treat more than 50 patients daily. Most of the patients who seek treatment are infected with HIV or tuberculosis. The dispensary was built with the support of parishioners from Our Lady of the Cape. In 2016, we funded a new computer lab at the school, and the project is close to its completion. The estimated cost has increased to $9,000. 

Per their initial estimate, we had funded only $4,000 towards this project. The computer lab still needs finishing work, painting, electrical work and new computers. Both students and Sisters expressed their gratitude through songs and speeches for our annual support for their lunch program, scholarships for the students and the supplementary fund for teachers’ salaries.

St. Ann’s Church and Maria Goretti School

These are located in Haute Feuille and were built with the support of our parish. In 2016, we helped build five more classrooms on the second floor and added a middle school program. Presently, this school has 657 students who also benefit from our lunch program five days a week. The new classrooms are in need of more finishing work and painting in 2017.

The La Salette Chapel, part of the St. Ann’s Parish, was built with the help of our parish. Two years ago, we did some repairs for the upkeep of the building. There is ongoing concern for the maintenance of this chapel. Salt water occasionally rises from the surrounding marshland and corrodes the foundation of the building. The chapel will need some more repairs in the near future.

Immaculate Conception Chapel and School

These are located in Hatte Chevreau, and are also part of St. Ann’s Parish. Currently the school has 154 students from grades one-four. Due to a shortage of classrooms, two classes are held in the chapel. There is an immediate need to have a new building for the preschool, and additional second floor classrooms for grades five and six. This school and chapel were built with funds from our parish, and we continue to provide funds for their lunch program.

Bayonnais Chapel and School

A preschool was in operation under a galvanized shelter when the bishop entrusted this parish to the care of the Missionaries of La Salette in this remote village populated with voodoo followers and worshippers. Our parish funded a small school with four classrooms, which had 125 students until last year. This year the enrollment has drastically gone down, and part of the reason seems to be insufficient funding of their school lunch program. 

I hope that, in the future, our parish can extend its resources to provide for a lunch program for the students in Bayonnais. The school also needs new classrooms for the preschool and a kitchen for meal preparation.

A Collaborative Mission

The Maria Goretti, Immaculate Conception and Bayonnais Schools are served by the La Salette Missionaries from Madagascar. Father Thomas Vellappallil, the director of the North American La Salette Mission Office has agreed that, based on the availability of funds the La Salette Mission Office will do its best to fund the building projects for the schools and chapels at which La Salette priests are serving. 

Our parish will continue to fund the lunch programs for the students and scholarship programs in the schools. This was a breakthrough and a new collaborative effort that would allow our parish to focus on lunch programs, scholarship assistance for the five schools, projects in the schools and chapels of St. Claire Parish, including new wells and assistance to the school run by the Sisters in Dessalines.

St. Claire Pastoral Council

Another breakthrough and a beautiful sign of our growing collaborative relationship and transparency was my meeting with the St. Claire Parish Pastoral Council. It was the first time we were given this opportunity to have a conversation about our twinning relationship. Traditionally, in Haiti the pastor “does” everything and “knows” everything! But last year we had asked for more transparency and accountability. Here is a summary of the meeting:

A new committee, similar to our “Together with Haiti,” will be formed at St. Claire and will be called, “Friends of Cape Cod.”

During the next year, three or four members from St. Claire Parish plan to visit Our Lady of the Cape (most of them have lived in the United States for 15-20 years).

A request was made to support the new trade school. The first batch has 30 students studying for the electrician trade. Once they have completed this two-year course, a government-certified diploma will be issued. They hope to expand with programs for plumbers and nursing assistants in the future.

At the end of Sunday Mass, I shared a short message which was translated to Creole by Father Alexis, the pastor. In my message, I extended greetings and love from the people of Our Lady of the Cape and asked for their prayers for all the friends of Haiti in our parish. 

I reminded them that it is their strong faith and openness to receive with gratitude that inspires many to give generously to our brothers and sisters in Haiti who constantly face both economic poverty and natural calamities. I shared that our parishioners are generous with them not only because God has blessed them with more, but also because they want the people of Haiti to know that they are cared for and loved.

Indeed, there is no poor person who can say that there is nothing to give, and there is no rich person who can say there is nothing to receive. Our brothers and sisters from our twinning parishes and schools in Haiti have assured their prayers for all the friends of Haiti at Our Lady of the Cape. The needs of our people in Haiti are extensive and their response of deep gratitude has been wonderful.

Scott Hortop, a project consultant for the International Development Assistance Productive Cooperatives states that: “If Haiti is to survive, it must produce. If it is to be sustainable, it must embrace the cooperative model. If the cooperative model is to work, Haiti must learn to trust.”

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