Tears for the Dead in Haiti

The leader of Catholics in Haiti has described how he is repeatedly reduced to tears when he recalls the day he had to bury seminarians who died in the quake.

Speaking of the enormous burden of leading a largely Catholic country through the aftermath of the earthquake, Archbishop Louis Kébreau, President of Haiti’s Bishops’ Conference, underlined his overriding concern for the country’s seminarians, 200 of who survived the quake and are now in severe need of help.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Archbishop Kébreau of Cap-Haitien, said, “I cannot hold back the tears when thinking about their burial. We could not even provide them with a coffin, only a pathetic plastic bag.”

Archbishop Kébreau added, “I feel completely helpless in this situation.”

It is now confirmed that in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, 16 diocesan seminarians died when they were crushed by debris. A further 10, belonging to the Monfortian order, perished when the earthquake destroyed their seminary bus.

The seminarians, most of who were less than 25 years of age, were buried in the grounds of the devastated major seminary.

In his interview, Archbishop Kébreau lamented that he was unable to bury all of the 16 diocesan seminarians because a number of the bodies have yet to be recovered. After more than two weeks since the quake, the bishops are increasingly concerned that they may never find all the bodies.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Kébreau thanked ACN for its help after the quake.

Within a week of the disaster, the charity dispatched $170,000 in emergency aid, which included support for the seminarians, who have lost their formation center.

He said, “I am deeply grateful because ACN always comes to help, like the Good Samaritan, bringing shelter and giving hope.”

In his interview earlier this week, Archbishop Kébrau went on to say that as President of the Bishops’ Conference and a diocesan bishop, he feels responsible for the seminarians’ physical health and spiritual well-being.

He said, “It shakes me to the core when I think about how I had to give the go ahead to the amputation of a leg of a seminarian and of an arm of another.”

He added, “It is necessary for the reconstruction of the whole country that these seminarians overcome their trauma and receive good theological formation.”

Archbishop Kébrau told ACN how he wants to focus on caring for the surviving seminarians so that they in turn can help other disaster victims. He said, “A lot of people have lost relatives, some are now completely alone and all of them are in complete misery.”

All around the world there has been an outpouring of aid for the people of Haiti – including the bishops from the neighboring Dominican Republic, who recently visited Port-au-Prince to show their solidarity and give $100,000 for the relief efforts.

Archbishop Kébrau traveled the 125 miles from his diocese in the north of the country to Port-au-Prince to meet them. However, the journey took 12 hours after his own vehicle broke down half way through the trip, following many years of heavy use, forcing him to borrow another car to complete his journey.

Asked by ACN if he needed any help himself, Archbishop Kébrau responded, “I do not need anything for myself, only that God grant me the necessary strength so that together with the other bishops we can rebuild the Church.”

He went on to say that the crisis in Haiti reminds him of the words of prophet Jeremiah from the Bible (Jeremiah 14:2): “Judah mourns and her gates languish; her people lament on the ground, and the cry of Jerusalem goes up.”

ACN is continuing to ask for prayer for the people of Haiti. It comes as project coordinators from the charity prepare to visit Haiti to establish medium and long-term priorities for the Church.

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