Diocesan plans to adopt parish in Haiti. Father Yves of Notre Dame Catholic Mission Leads the Effort.Father Yves Geffrard, coordinator of the diocesan Haitian Ministry, center, visits with children during a trip to Haiti with a small delegation of representatives from various parishes of
the Diocese of Palm Beach. At left is a map highlighting the location of Jacmel in southeast Haiti. The target area shows the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake. Below, are photos of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Jamel following the earthquake. A hole is torn in the ceiling and the walls are cracked, making the structure unsafe.
After the 2010 earthquake that destroyed areas of Haiti and killed more than 300,000 people, the faithful here quickly responded, giving charitable contributions to a diocesewide drive that benefited the desperate survivors left homeless, hurting and injured, many of whom are linked to local parishioners. “Although suffering greatly, the Haitian people remain strong and resilient, and possess a very strong spirituality and faith in God,” said Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito in a March 15, 2011, letter to thank people here for their generous support that directly aided the immediate humanitarian work of Catholic Relief Services, a charity founded by U.S. bishops. Now, more than a year later, signs of recovery are barely visible, but hope remains
strong and the diocese is called to continue helping.
“Last fall, Father Yves Geffrard, working with a local committee, proposed to me and to the presbyteral council that we as a diocesan family could make a difference in the reconstruction of Haiti by starting with the spiritual welfare of the people,” said
Bishop Barbarito. “The presbyteral council unanimously voted and recommended to me at their Nov. 22, 2010, meeting to adopt one very needy parish and assist in rebuilding its church structure, which was demolished in the earthquake. It will be a sister parish to us.”
St. Michael the Archangel concept
Father Geffrard, coordinator of the diocesan Haitian Ministry, is heading up the project to rebuild St. Michael the Archangel Church. The seaside parish is situated in the Diocese of Jacmel under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, and serves a large community on the northwest outskirts of the historical town. With a small delegation of representatives from various parishes, Father Geffrard visited the area after the earthquake. The group was selected to tour Haiti and assess damage with the vision of adopting a parish and helping rebuild structures. The concept is designed to possibly assist as well with ministries such as nursing homes, schools and orphanages in the region.
Jacmel visit was warm and welcoming
The Jacmel visit came after tours of Bois Neuf, Lilavois and Petit-Goave. All locations are severely damaged and in need of assistance. Returning to Florida, the delegation presented detailed reports and findings to diocesan officials. The sister parish selection was made after careful consideration and much prayer. “There are more than 1,000 people
at the Masses,” Father Geffrard said about the Sunday Mass celebrations at St. Michael the Archangel. “More people are attending Masses after the earthquake.” The actual church building of St. Michael was designed to seat 250. It is completed destroyed. The church is connected to St. Michael Hospital, which is run by a community of nuns. It was severely damaged as well.
St. Michael the Archangel is the only small church in the town of 50,000, a community about the size of Palm Beach Gardens. Historic Cathedrale de St. Phillippe et St. Jacques is located in the center of town, more than a mile away from St. Michael, and sustained serious damage to its physical structure. “St. Michael used to be a mission, but now it is a parish. There are a lot of young people,” explained Father Geffrard. “The youth groups are active and need a place for their meetings.” At the present time, St. Michael Masses are celebrated simply under strips of flimsy plastic held up by thin boards and posts because the parish does not have the means to build a structure. The covering provides some protection from the sun and rain. The floor is dirt, and seating on folding chairs is limited. When the Palm Beach group was there, they met with the priest-in-charge, Father Michel DeBorgne, who was housed in a kitchen located in the backyard of the church site. Another priest, Father Jean Anel Joseph, took up residence in a small tent on the grounds, barley large enough to hold a cot. The rectory is destroyed. Recently, Father DeBorgne has become ill, and a new priest, Father Content Sauveur, has been assigned.
Call to help has several aspects
The call to help this small portion of the Church in Haiti goes beyond erecting concrete structures and constructing church buildings; it is mainly about building solid faith foundations among the young Church. Father Geffrard describes the mission as twofold: “helping rebuild the Church of Haiti” and helping “save Haiti’s youths.” “The people we met are people who love God,” said Father Geffrard. The overall mission has a third aspect already in place. The sister parish project is building bridges across the sea, linking the local Catholic community with Catholics of the Caribbean island. From the air, Haiti, which shares the western third of the island of Hispaniola, resembles a man with arms outstretched toward Cuba to the west. To some the image resembles Christ with arms stretched to help the forgotten, who still face great obstacles to recovery. Bishop Launay Saturne, leader of the Diocese of Jacmel, warmly welcomed the delegation from the Diocese of Palm Beach upon their visit to the town that was once a busy coffee port and resort area, and home of merchants’ mansions, New Orleans-style architecture and artists from all over Haiti. The population is 80 percent Catholic, according to area statistics. Appointed bishop of Jacmel in 2010 shortly after the Jan. 12 earthquake and his Jan. 14 birthday, Bishop Saturne, 47, told Accenture Public News, “his mission as bishop was to bring the love of God to a shattered country.” “He was happy that we visited and that we want to help,” said Father Geffrard. “He is very excited.” Jacmel might be considered a special holy ground, bearing fruit of Christ. There are religious of the Sisters of St. Joseph and nuns of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Blessed Mother Teresa living and ministering near St. Michael the Archangel and at the hospital. Three priests of the Diocese of Palm Beach are either from the town or nearby and have strong connections to Jacmel: Father Ducasse François of St. Sebastian Parish in Sebastian; Father Danis Ridore of St. Vincent Ferrer in Delray Beach; and Father Yves Lapierre, a retired pastor from St. Ann Parish in West Palm Beach. Father Ridore was born outside of Jacmel, but has strong ties to thetown where his brother and mother died and are buried, and where he began his priestly ministry at the Cathedrale de St. Phillippe et St. Jacques in the 1980s. He said the St. Michael faithful are hardworking. Many work on farms, some are vendors. “A lot of children are in the area,” said Father Ridore. “It is a nice idea to have a sister parish there.”
GENEROUS DONORS ARE THANKED
The special collection for Haitian relief taken up in parishes around the Diocese of Palm Beach in January 2010 totaled $728,000 and was given to Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency founded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The money went for direct relief efforts. Many individuals and groups within the diocese also gave direct aid in the form of food, medical supplies, water and clothing for victims, and many are still providing assistance. In a March 15 letter to parishioners, Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito thanked generous donors for support. “A year after this unspeakable tragedy, the situation in Haiti continues to be one of devastation. As always the people of our diocese have been most generous in responding to this disaster.” Marie Justine Poulard Jacques and William Farrand of Catholic Relief Services visited the Diocese of Palm Beach March 23 and spoke at several locations, thanking people here for support and prayers. “It is an honor for us to be here today to express our sincere gratitude to all of you who have contributed to help our people after the earthquake,” said Jacques, a native of Haiti and mother
of four, who works for the service organization in Haiti. “By your donation, your support and your prayers, we have been able to stand up, weep our tears and continue to fight. “We thank you again for your constant support,” she continued. “We are proud of the American people because you know the meaning of the word charity. You give with dignity, with respect of the person. You are always there for the nations in need. May God bless all of you.”
Contributions to help rebuild the sister parish of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Jacmel, Haiti, should be made payable the Diocese of Palm Beach, and mailed to the diocesan finance office, P. O. Box 109650, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., 33410-9650.
Please make a notation on the check that the money is to benefit the “Sister Parish Rebuilding Project” in Haiti. For information, call 561-775-9515.
Donations can also be accepted by Notre Dame.