'God, why Haiti?'

Father Donald Chambers

Father Donald Chambers

Five hurricanes in ten years plus this latest earthquake is leading many people to ask: "God, why Haiti?"

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. Now as the Catholic Mission National Director in Kingston, Jamaica,  he spoke with Catholic Mission, Australia: "Why God would let this happen is a mystery, but the faith of the people of Haiti is tremendous. You don't see that in the media."

"Their faith makes them resilient. I saw a Twitter message that said the night after the earthquake people were praying and singing. The earthquake had just hit before 5 that afternoon. It was beauty in the midst of tragedy."

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 Catholic Mission's National Director in Haiti. "Is he alive? That's the question."

"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, 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.

"I have a geological report that says the last major activity on the fault line was in 1751. That report was presented at a conference in March 2008," 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 percent 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 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."

While the question remains for some of why God would let this happen, Fr Chambers is clear on how people should respond.

"We are called to continue the mission of Jesus Christ and make the unconditional love of God known by helping the people of Haiti. We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus. If everyone comes together, we can make the lives of people more enriching and beautiful."

"In Jamaica, we don't have an abundance of material resources, but what we do have we will share with the people of Haiti. They are our neighbours in Christ."

Catholic Mission 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 AU$500,000 in support from Catholic Mission 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

For more information see: www.catholicmission.org.au

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