Local churches reach out to HaitiApril 1, 2019
By LEANN BURKE
Parishioners at Holy Family Catholic Church in Jasper and St. Isidore Parish in Dubois and Celestine rescheduled a mission trip to Haiti they’d planned for this month after unrest wracked the small Caribbean nation.
The mission trip would have been the latest in a series of trips the two parishes have organized to their partner parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Hope in Dupity, Haiti. Holy Family connected with Our Lady of Perpetual Hope in the 1980s through the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, which matches U.S. Catholic churches with peer churches in Latin America and the islands. St. Isidore joined Holy Family in supporting Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, and in the year since, local parishioners have organized several mission trips and sent material support to their sister parish.
The connection between Holy Family, St. Isidore and Our Lady of Perpetual Hope is one of several connections Dubois County Catholic churches have made with sister parishes in Haiti. St. Joseph Parish in Jasper supports St. Joseph, LaCroix in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, and Christ the King Parish in Ferdinand and St. Anthony partners with St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis to support Haiti’s Belle-Riviere community.
“People want to help, and that’s a place where there’s an obvious need,” St. Isidore Deacon Mike Seibert said.
Seibert oversees St. Isidore’s outreach to Haiti and has made trips to the island himself, most recently in March 2018. His wife, Mary, was on a mission trip in Haiti during one of several coups that have gripped the nation of about 11 million.
The series of coups over the last three decades is a symptom of instability in Haiti that has persisted, leaving the people of the island impoverished with little infrastructure and public services. A major earthquake in 2010 exacerbated the issue. Most recently, unrest spread through the island in February, leading to protests and an outbreak of crime and violence that led the U.S. Department of State to evacuate all non-emergency personnel from its embassy in Haiti and to issue a Level 4 travel advisory for the country, which tells U.S. citizens not to travel to the area. The advisory is still in effect, with new security alerts posted on the department’s website as recently as Friday.
For Sandy Smith, one of the organizers for St. Joseph Parish’s missions to Haiti, the recent unrest reminds her of the need local parishes are helping meet.
“It reinforces how important it is,” Smith said.
St. Joseph mostly sends monetary support to St. Joseph, LaCroix, its sister parish in Haiti. The church collects a monthly offering for the efforts and conducts fundraisers during Lent to raise most of the funds. On Saturday, April 13, the parish will host the annual Haiti Bell Tower Challenge from 9 to 11:30 a.m. During the event, attendees will be able to climb the church’s historic bell tower for a donation.
All the money the parish raises goes toward a school and medical clinic the sisters at St. Joseph, LaCroix operate. Most of the funds, Smith said, go toward paying for the meal of beans and rice students are served every day. For many of the students, it’s the only meal they get.
Smith connected with one of the sisters at the school over WhatsApp, a phone application that helps people send text messages internationally. The sister shares photos of the students with Smith. One from Christmas stands out, Smith said. The children are eating their lunch, but this time there’s a chicken leg on their plates, a special addition to celebrate Christmas.
“It really tugs at your heart strings, to see the kids in their uniforms eating lunch,” Smith said.
Efforts of other local churches support schools in Haiti. Donated items from Christ the King Parish have helped sustain several educational programs in the Belle-Riviere community, and support from St. Isidore and Holy Family go toward supporting a school and a medical clinic in Dupity. In fact, Seibert said, one of the doctors at the medical clinic in Dupity completed high school thanks to support from the parishioners in Dubois County.
As for whether or not the efforts of local parishes are making a difference, Seibert’s answer is yes and no. On a micro level, Seibert knows the efforts make a difference in individual lives and communities, but on the macro level, he said, the country as a whole doesn’t seem to be improving. Still, he’s optimistic for the future and the people of Haiti.
“They don’t have much, yet they’re joyful,” Seibert said of Haitians. “I’m sure they have a lot of drudgery there, but they find joy.”
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