Committing to Haiti’s future

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, February 10, 2010


[Episcopal News Service] The wider Episcopal Church can most effectively help the earthquake-ravaged Diocese of Haiti by praying, contributing to emergency relief efforts and planning how it will help the diocese achieve the rebuilding priorities that it will eventually set.

That is the assessment Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori came away with after visiting Port-au-Prince Feb. 8 to survey the damage wrought by Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin and other surviving members of the diocese need help now and they need time to discern a plan for the future, the presiding bishop told ENS during a Feb. 10 interview.

“The challenge is that they’re still very much in emergency-response mode and I think will be for some time to come,” she said. “They’re still not able to get food and water and shelter to everybody who needs it, so that’s got to be the immediate focus.”

Jefferts Schori also said she felt moved by the people who were hard at work at every site she visited. For example, she said, at the ruins of the Episcopal University of Haiti “it was just incredibly touching to see those folks at the university using mauls to break up the building pieces so that they can look for bodies — and they are clearly there, you can smell them.”

The presiding bishop said she went to Haiti after being a co-consecrator at the Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio’s consecration and ordination as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Church of Cuba because it was essential to assure Duracin of the wider church’s support. Plus, she said she wanted “to get a sense of how we might be most helpful for the long haul.”

The diocese, known locally as L’Eglise Episcopale d’Haiti, is caring for about 25,000 Haitians in roughly 20 makeshift camps around the country. The earthquake left an estimated 230,000 people dead and many towns in ruins; countless people have left the capital for the countryside.

Jefferts Schori said that the wider church must remember that Haitian Episcopalians, including Duracin, are struggling to get their basic needs met, and that long-term planning will come later.

“The bishop is going to need his own support system in order to return to highly functional leadership,” she said. “Don’t expect the bishop to have a strategy; it is far too early for that. He’s dealing with his own immense losses.”

For instance, Duracin has only seen his severely injured wife Marie-Edithe three times since she was evacuated from Port-au-Prince a few days after the earthquake. Her severely injured leg was initially treated at Zanmi Lasante in Cange and later on the USNS Comfort hospital ship. From there, she and son James were transported Feb. 9 by the by U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to Tampe General Hospital in Tampa. Diocese of Southwest Florida Bishop Dabney Smith is coordinating pastoral care for the Duracins.

Jefferts Schori said that once the emergency-response phase is behind them, Haitian Episcopalians will be able to begin stabilizing their diocese and strategizing about the future. While Episcopal Relief & Development is well-positioned to help the diocese with emergency needs and help it begin to set priorities for the future as well as develop strategies for meeting those priorities, she said, “ERD cannot do all of that. They do not, for example, rebuild church buildings.”

The presiding bishop suggested that “there’s going to be immense need for partnership for the longer term.”

“Dioceses [in the U.S. part of the Episcopal Church] can probably be most helpful by thinking about how they can mobilize people to assist in that work,” she said.

She suggested that those dioceses could “begin their own rebuilding funds with the trust that direction for how to use those funds is somewhere down the road.”

Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori said she wanted to discourage dioceses from deciding on their own that they will rebuild a specific Haitian church or diocesan ministry building.

“The priorities are going to need to come from the Diocese of Haiti — the priorities and the strategy — and it’s going to be some months before they begin to emerge,” she said.

Individual Episcopalians are called to prayer for their brothers and sisters in Haiti, she said, and to giving to Episcopal Relief & Development.

“You [also] can begin to challenge you parish and your diocese to begin to think about the longer-term rebuilding efforts,” she added. “Collecting funds for that is probably the most appropriate thing to do.”

Jefferts Schori urged Episcopalians to commit themselves to helping in what will be a multi-year process of recovery and redevelopment.

“The Diocese of Haiti has had a major impact for 150 years on the nation of Haiti,” she said. “They will be again, but it’s going to be a number of years before they are able to function at the same level they were before the earthquake.”

The presiding bishop acknowledged that such a long-term focus can be a challenge in itself.

“Maintaining an awareness of the ongoing nature of this tragedy is going to be the toughest for at least those of us who live in a society that moves on to the next issue,” she said.

Jefferts Schori visited Port-au-Prince with the Rev. Lauren Stanley, one of four Episcopal Church missionaries assigned to Haiti and the only one who was not in-country at the time of the Jan. 12 quake. Duracin has asked Stanley to help the diocese coordinate offers of relief and recovery made by others in the Episcopal Church, and to tell the diocese’s story.

“She’s a powerhouse. She’s working overtime. She’s working at 150 percent,” Jefferts Schori told ENS, noting that in Stanley’s first five months in Haiti she had established good working relationships with the Haitian clergy and learned to speak Creole.

“She understands very clearly the challenges and the systemic complications, so she is an immensely effective witness both here [in the U.S.] and in Haiti for the ongoing challenges and needs,” Jefferts Schori said.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Our time to mourn

Within a few hours of the earthquake striking Haiti on Jan. 12, I began working on relief efforts, trying first to find Bishop Duracin and our missionaries, and then to help coordinate relief efforts through Episcopal Relief & Development, The Episcopal Church, and The Diocese of Haiti.

Since that dark day, I’ve been working with Haiti partners around the world, gathering information, being in constant contact with people on the ground in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, gathering in friends and strangers alike to help. Everyone has responded magnificently, giving even the tiniest bits of information. People all across this land have received calls from total strangers, who abruptly are asked for help. Everyone we’ve reached out to has helped, and for that we are most grateful. And I’ve been trying to post as much information as possible on this web site, which began as an endeavor to help us speak about mission and has become a way to share information about Haiti.

Yesterday, I went silent on this site. In part it was because there was so much other work to do. But mainly, I needed to take time to grieve. Yesterday morning, I learned that 14 of my parishioners at St. James the Just Episcopal Church in Petion Ville, where I serve and live, had died in the quake. I do not know which of our approximately 100 parishioners died. So I can mourn only in general. Somehow, when it came time to do the updates on the web site, I could not.

I ask your prayers for my friends, my parishioners, for the people I serve in Haiti. We have lost so many, and may never know who they are, or where they are buried. I am still waiting word for about 125 other people, friends who have loved and cared for me, and whom I love and care for. I have received news now of about a dozen of my beloveds, and pray that I will continue to receive more.

Please pray for those who have died, and for their families, and for all who are mourning this day. We have a “big grief” in Haiti right now, and need our time to mourn. We need time to cry, which I did a lot yesterday, several times. We need your comfort and your prayers and your strength, so that we can go on doing the work God has given us to do, to help those in need, our brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom we cannot find.

I ask your prayers …

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter