Haiti resurrection

Back to school

Back to school

Dressed in red and white gingham pinafore dresses and white blouses, the group of chattering schoolgirls heads towards the classroom. Many wear red or white ribbons to adorn their intricately plaited hair. Each carries a rucksack in anticipation of a new term about to begin after the Easter celebrations.  At first glance, nobody would imagine that, three months ago, these children from the Sacred Heart of Turgeau School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, were surrounded by the devastation of the earthquake on 12 January. The photographs reveal that their classroom destination is a large tent supplied by UNICEF, complete with desks, chairs and a blackboard, but the girls themselves show nothing of the horror and tragedy they faced such a short time earlier. In their chattering happiness, they do not show the bereavement that many have faced.

Fr Don Chambers, the Missio National Director for Jamaica and the Regional Director for the Caribbean was the first person to re-establish contact on behalf of Missio worldwide with his Haitian counterpart, Fr Clarck de la Cruz.  In January, Fr Don spent two weeks attempting to locate Fr Clarck amidst almost total communication and infrastructure collapse. An added complication was that Fr Clarck is the Rector of the Major Seminary in Haiti, a place that was virtually totally destroyed.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza wrote: "There is only one major seminary in Haiti, the National Major Seminary 'Notre Dame d'Haiti' in Port-au-Prince.

"However, there are two sections, two structures separated from each other... There is only one rector for both sections. The structures of both sections were destroyed by the earthquake. Four of the five buildings of the Theological School collapsed. In particular, the building that held the dining hall (ground floor), the chapel (first floor), and library (second floor) was leveled. The chapel has fallen in, so that the dining hall and library are now linked to one another. It gives me chills to think that if the whole community had been in the chapel at the time of the earthquake, it indeed would have been a loss of enormous proportions."

"Before the earthquake, the Major Seminary housed 257 seminarians. Fourteen seminarians and a professor died.  Those who were trapped under the rubble were able to come out, most of them on their own. The Rector was in his office on the ground floor of one of the buildings. The office is now underground, but the Rector emerged unharmed without being able to explain how and where he got out. He says he was guided by Our Lady."

Thanks to Fr Don’s help, Fr Clarck is now able to tell his own story: ‘I survived this dramatic experience with much emotion and anguish.  I was in the philosophy section when the earthquake struck.  I was near the refectory.  If I had been in my room as I normally am at that time, I would have been killed, since my bedroom was totally destroyed.  I was and still am overwhelmed.  How is it that I was not among the rubble?  Even now, many people are still asking that question.  The seminarians, upon seeing that my room was destroyed began shouting in a loud voice “Fr Clarck is dead!”, “Fr Clarck, our Rector, will not sing again!”  They know that at that time, I am usually in my room.  When I came out to witness what had taken place, I stumbled across seminarians who were wounded and covered in dust.  It was then that I realised that an earthquake had struck.

It was a very traumatic experience which will permeate my being for some time.  We made seven caskets to bury seven seminarians whom I knew.  I am seeking to handle this unfortunate incident on a spiritual and human level.  We recorded more than three hundred thousand dead, more than 300,000 wounded and more than one million homeless.  The schools and all institutions have been affected.  The seminary was badly hit.  Everyone is traumatised by the 12 January catastrophe, as the last earthquake which rocked the country occurred over a century ago.’

Archbishop Auza continued: ‘After hesitation and doubt, the Bishops have decided to call the seminarians back together and re-open the academic year on 6 April. With the destruction of the entire Major Seminary, we must find accommodation for the 243 surviving major seminarians. The collection on Holy Thursday during the Chrism Mass of the Holy Father was for the Seminaries in Haiti. That's really a concrete sign that we are remembered!’

Just like the Nuncio, Fr Clarck, as the National Director of Missio-Haiti, has to think beyond the needs of the seminarians. With 120 offices across the world, Missio’s international appeal for help raised money to help the Church rebuild its shattered community. In England and Wales, people contributed more than £31,000 to our own appeal.

At a recent Continental Meeting of Missio Directors in Orlando (Florida), representatives from America, Rome and the Caribbean looked to formulate a way ahead. Fr Clarck explains:

"Haitian families have been adversely impacted, directly and indirectly, by the tragic event of 12 January 2010.  The children, youth, laypeople, catechists, religious and priests are all distressed.  Missio has decided to put into place a support programme for the various groups of persons. 

"Human and psychological support.  This is a vital need, aimed at helping children, young people and priests deal with the trauma.  Moreover, it is important to emphasise the need to feed the destitute children affected by the 12 January disaster – to give them medical care and to teach them how to read and write.

"We need support for the seminarians at all levels, by organising therapy, meetings, periodical discussions; support  for the Religious brothers and sisters; to accommodate catechists for psychological, spiritual and liturgical support"

That the Church in Haiti is able to formulate, not only a ‘wish list’, but also a concrete plan of action is thanks to your generosity. 

Haiti has its own ‘resurrection story’ to tell this Easter: on the very day that a new term opened for the children of the Sacred Heart of Turgeau School in Port-au-Prince, seminarians also recommenced their studies for the priesthood.

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