It comes as no surprise that the tragic earthquake in Haiti has attracted an enormous amount of media attention. In my own interviews, I’ve been asked by reporters how I account for the incredible and generous response of the American people to this disaster.
To my mind, part of it is the proximity of Haiti to our country. Part of it is the fact that Haiti was gripped by such poverty even before the earthquake. And part of it is the extent of the damage and suffering.
But clearly a big reason for this outpouring, especially among Catholics in the United States, is that so many parishes here have longstanding relationships with parishes in Haiti. Many Catholics from this country have traveled there, and have welcomed their Haitian brothers and sisters to their own parishes and homes. As a result of these “twinning” relationships, Haitians are not strangers, but are truly neighbors and friends. It is a vivid experience of being One Human Family. That is why this disaster was such a shock. It hit close to home, and has affected us deeply.
One example is the relationship between the St. Brendan Catholic Community in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the parish of Notre Dame de Fatima in Bassin-Zim, Haiti, a rural town about 80 miles from the quake’s epicenter. St. Brendan’s is one of at least nine parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta that have established a twinning relationship. The parish has maintained this outreach since 2004 and has initiated several projects, including basic parish support, a drive to build a parish hall and a microloan program.
While the town of Bassin-Zim lies outside of the earthquake impact zone and the parish suffered no structural damage, the parishioners are still feeling the effects of the disaster. Many people in the town lost family members and friends in Port-au-Prince, including the pastor, whose sister was killed. In addition to these losses, they are seeing a significant influx of people displaced by the earthquake, which is resulting in inflated prices and shortages of food, fuel and other supplies—for a time, there was even a shortage of hosts for the celebration of the Eucharist.
St. Brendan’s parishioners have expressed their concern for their friends at Notre Dame de Fatima in many ways. Their prayer intentions have prominently included the people of Haiti, and an altar cloth embroidered by the members of their sister parish has covered the altar from the day the earthquake struck until Ash Wednesday. They have kept their fellow parishioners informed through special reports from Catholic Relief Services that have been distributed through their parish bulletins, websites, and a Facebook page for their Haiti outreach project.
And in a special Haiti supply mission, two members of St. Brendan’s Haiti outreach project traveled with an interpreter to the Dominican Republic, where they purchased a large truck and loaded it with fuel, food and other necessities. With logistical help provided by a local Caritas agency they met through CRS Dominican Republic, the parishioners delivered the supplies to their sister parish themselves.
And of course, the people of St. Brendan’s have generously donated to both the CRS emergency response as well as the local parish partnership with Notre Dame de Fatima.
Stories like these can be told dozens of times. They stand as a testament to the bond between Catholics in the United States and our brothers and sisters in Haiti. That bond will be continued and strengthened through the long-term relief and recovery effort that CRS will carry out over the coming years.
Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.
President, Catholic Relief Services