Haiti: they are not alone

The earthquake in Haiti, following five hurricanes in ten years, has turned the lives of Haitians upside down. Yet in the midst of their suffering people have held on to their faith.

Father Donald Chambers lived in Haiti for a year. He knows how poor the people are and has seen the Catholic Church active in the country amidst limited resources. He is now the National Director of Missio Jamaica. Earlier today, he said: ‘Why these things happen is a mystery. But the faith of the people of Haiti is tremendous. You don’t see that reported in the media.

Fears for the lives of hundreds of church workers and seminarians remain, following the deaths of so many already including Catholic Archbishop Serge-Miot. Fr Chambers cannot reach Missio’s National Director in Haiti and does not know if he is alive.

Fr Chambers continues: " Prior to the disaster resources were already stressed. Some months ago I spoke with the National Director of Haiti. He didn’t have the material or financial resources to provide all the basic needs that existed then – providing food, orphanages, and schools. Now the situation is multiplied 10, 20, 30 times.

"The immediate need is to save lives."

Concern is also rising for Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, just 190km west of Haiti and on the same fault line as Port-au-Prince.

"A recent geological report in 2008 found that the last major activity on the fault line was in 1751." said Fr Chambers. "For 40 years there had been no significant activity, but the fault line was ‘fully locked’ with pent-up energy, leading to the prediction of a major earthquake in Port-au-Prince or Kingston – in our time.

"We felt the tremors in Jamaica. The earthquake in Haiti may have released the pressure enough so Kingston does not have an earthquake."

"It is estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of buildings in Kingston do not meet the building code and might collapse as those in Haiti did. This compares with estimates of 70 to 80 percent in Port-au-Prince, says Fr Chambers. Why they were not constructed properly and collapsed so easily is raising local and international concern.

"Poverty in Haiti is extreme. The Haitian government was not able to construct enough public housing for their people. I worked in Haiti for one year. The people just build. They are desperate and need housing, so they build it themselves," said Fr Chambers. "With so much political instability, the system for managing building codes is not working.

"But the earthquake was of such magnitude, and near the surface, that even buildings built with proper standards collapsed – solid structures like the palace and the cathedral."

Fr Chambers is clear on how Christians should respond. ‘We must continue the mission of Jesus and make God’s love known by helping the people of Haiti. We must be the hands and feet of Jesus. If everyone comes together, we can show the people they are not alone. We will walk with them for as long as necessary.

"In Jamaica, we don’t have an abundance of material resources, but what we do have we will share with the people of Haiti because we are all family in Christ."

Missio has 120 offices worldwide as well as in Haiti and Jamaica, and has supported projects in the Caribbean region for decades, including projects for Children, for the Church and for the Community. Last year alone Haiti received more than £286,000 in support from Missio internationally. Funding supported the work of the Church in basic and preventative healthcare, education, pastoral care and building projects, including reconstruction of the Port-au-Prince Archbishop’s offices after massive flooding in May 2009.

Mgr John E Kozar, of Missio in the United States said: "All of us in this one family in mission reach out in prayerful solidarity to our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti.’ Missio-USA has launched the Haitian Solidarity Fund, a special fund for long-term assistance for the Church in Haiti, to continue responding to the needs of the country in the wake of this natural disaster. Mgr Kozar added that ‘As the Church in Haiti assesses the massive damages and the overwhelming needs, they will need financial assistance as they rebuild the infrastructure of the Church that will, in turn, be critical to serve the poor and enable the suffering to rebuild their lives."

Mgr John Dale, for Missio in England and Wales, commented: "Missio has always supported the Church in Haiti, helping it to grow and develop in its own distinctive way. Missio is not an emergency aid organisation, but just as we have been present for the Haitians in the past, we need to remain there for their future as they try to reconstruct their homes and lives. The people of Haiti are in our thoughts and prayers. We pray for those who died and that those who survived the earthquake be given all the comfort, strength and help they need."

Missio has already sent £160,000 to the Church in Haiti for the Pope’s Representative to support the local Church in its capacity to help the worst affected.

You can donate to the Church in Haiti through Missio. For further information, please phone 020 7821 9755 or e-mail Monsignor John Dale at: director@missio.org.uk  or visit www.missio.org.uk for website donations. Your prayers and support are vital and greatly appreciated.

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