BALTIMORE— After the terrible earthquake that last January devastated Haiti and buried almost 300,000 people beneath the rubble, U.S. Catholics responded with remarkable generosity, reported Bishop Kevin Farrell, chairman of the USCCB Committee on National Collections, during his opening remarks on the first day of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Fall General Assembly. The bishops heard a comprehensive report on the “One-Church” response to the Haiti earthquake which highlighted the breadth of the Church’s response and the collaborative effort it demanded.
In the face of great tragedy and at a time of great economic stress at home, Catholics across the country donated, in just one weekend in January, $82.6 million. This special collection for Haiti was intended to be used for emergency relief and to rebuild the Church in Haiti. In March, the Administrative Committee endorsed a proposal from the Committee on the National Collections and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to allocate 60% of the Special Collection to CRS for humanitarian assistance and 40% to the USCCB Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America for ecclesial needs.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, member of the Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America and chairman of its Haiti Advisory Group, spoke of the difficult plight of the Church in Haiti. In addition to the terrible loss of life—including Archbishop Miot and many seminarians, religious and lay leadersâ70 parishes, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Port-au-Prince were totally destroyed, as well as dozens of schools, several convents and the three centers of priestly formation.
“The devastation was massive,” Archbishop Wenski said. “However, we heard from many of you that any rebuilding should be done in way that ensures that this terrible loss of life will never happen again.” For this reason, the Haiti Advisory Group adopted two guiding principles for its work: to disburse funds for the reconstruction of Church properties only after a reliable mechanism was in place to avoid poor construction in the future and to only move ahead with plans agreed to by the Haitians themselves.
“Over the last few months, a mechanism has been put in place that honors these two guiding principles,” Bishop Wenski said. The mechanism was developed by the Haitian Catholic Bishops Conference, many bishops’ conferences and other Catholic groups around the world, as well as representatives from “twinning” parish programs with Haiti. It includes the establishment of an Architectural and Engineering Unit, called PROCHE (which in French means “close by”), within the Haiti Bishops’ Conference that would oversee the planning and execution of Church reconstruction according to accepted standards. It also includes guidelines approved by the Haitian bishops on existing and future partnering relationships between the Church in Haiti and Church units around the world, called “Partners in Mission.”
Though some $1.3 million has already been given to the Church in Haiti through 33 individual projects, including temporary housing for seminarians and funds to continue their formation and Catholic Radio Soleil, the Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America intends to channel the bulk of the collection funds destined for Church reconstruction through the PROCHE building unit. Archbishop Wenski asked the bishops to encourage Catholic groups to use this building unit for any reconstruction that the dioceses or parishes may support.
Speaking on emergency aid and reconstruction, Archbishop Dolan of New York, president of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) provided an account of the agency’s achievements which include:
For his part, Bishop Hubbard, of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, spoke to the comprehensive U.S. policy and aid goals the committee is pursuing with the Administration, including immediate relief and long-term development assistance; debt relief and trade preferences; Church and civil society participation in both relief and long-term development; and building the capacity of the Haitian government through transparency and accountability.
Finally, Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration and Refugee Services, related to the bishops the findings of a joint mission with the Committee on International Justice and Peace to Haiti and the Caribbean in the summer. Specifically, the delegation called for more protection for vulnerable Haitians both inside and outside Haiti, including single women with children and children who have lost their parents during the earthquake, as well as for the reunification of medical evacuees to the U.S. with their families. The report can be found at http://www.usccb.org/mrs/.
The bishops also acknowledged the efforts by many parishes and colleges who have ties with Haiti going back years and of those who are planning on creating new ties and invited everyone to join efforts in a coordinated response.
“Together we can bring about the genuine change that Haiti and its people need and long for,” Bishop Farrell said, as he asked for continued support and prayer services and memorials as the first anniversary of the terrible earthquake approaches. “We have achieved a great deal in very difficult circumstances but as you know from the news there is an uphill road to climb,” he said.
Full text of presentation can be found at http://www.usccb.org/meetings/2010Fall/media/.