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Twinning plan for Northshore, Haiti parishes a success

“It was like a paradise,” said Teresian Sister Marina Aranzabal, part of a five-member team from Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Mandeville that traveled Feb. 23-28 on a mission trip to Haiti. “I knew we were going to a place without much economic means, but the place was beautiful and the people were very open and welcoming. They are people with little who live in dignity. ... They have hopes and dreams, and that’s where we come in.”

     Mary Queen of Peace has twinned with St. Benoit Dessources, a Catholic church in Haiti, and has offered moral and financial support to help the parish rebuild after the January 2010 earthquake decimated the island.

 Team members had heard much about the devastation remaining in Haiti before they left Mandeville. While they saw the tent cities and ruinous remains in Port-au-Prince, they were pleasantly surprised to find the pioneering and self-sufficient spirit of the people in the farming community of Miragoane, Haiti.
    “It was much nicer than we expected,” Muguet Bolotte, Haiti Partnership ministry leader, said, adding how remote the area was where 5,000 families of St. Benoit live.
Mountainous adventures
    Because St. Benoit is located in the mountains, unpaved roads caused the approximate 100-mile trip from the Port-au-Prince airport to take five hours, even though Msgr. Wildor Pierre, pastor at St. Benoit, arranged for transportation in two pickup trucks. One truck carried MQP parishioners, and the other the 10 pieces of luggage stuffed with socks, soccer balls, rosaries handmade by MQP students, crank flashlights and children’s Tylenol.
    Another revelation to Bolotte was witnessing children walking to school for 30 to 60 minutes, each carrying water to be used to cook lunch in an outdoor kitchen for the 500 students; women walking up to an hour just to retrieve clean water from a spring; and open-air markets where poultry is butchered when bought, bread is baked and Haitians barter for goods.
    “It was a trip in a time machine,” Sister Marina said.
How their partnership began
    Mary Queen of Peace selected St. Benoit as its twin parish in Haiti after Catholic Relief Services, in collaboration with the Office of Justice and Peace of Catholic Charities Archdiocese New Orleans, gave several suggestions. The Mandeville parish sought an alliance with a parish that had a school, just like MQP. The parish couldn’t have received a better twinning.
    “Msgr. (Pierre) is the perfect guy to work with,” Bolotte said upon seeing what he has accomplished in St. Benoit. “He had all of the receipts in order for the work that was done, and we can count on him to get the projects completed. He’s got the passion and the support.”
    Msgr. Pierre began establishing a personal relationship with Mary Queen of Peace parishioners last fall when he visited the Mandeville parish to appeal for necessities to rebuild after the earthquake. Much of his initial list of projects already has been  completed, Bolotte said, including a new roof on the church and school, $9,000 for a new car and $5,000 seed money for the school lunch program.
    “The little we do is huge for them,” Bolotte said. “They have nothing, and anything we do is huge.”
    Due to the size of the parish, Msgr. Pierre is expanding the church. That alone requires a roof extension costing $13,000.
Life is simple, yet peaceful
    The trip opened the eyes of the Louisiana residents to the simplicity of life in Haiti without running water or electricity. Forty children share benches and books in each of the school’s classrooms, and the Haitians are proud of an elementary school that only goes to sixth grade. Teachers sometimes work without pay because of their dedication and love for educating children.
    “If we continue to build the school and help them get salaries for the teachers and teaching materials, it will help them improve the quality of their instruction,” Sister Marina said.
    Bolotte said the team fell in love with the Haitian people and returned home with a new list of projects they hope to fund through the generosity of the Mary Queen of Peace mission program. The wish list includes building three more classrooms ($16,000), a bathroom and a kitchen ($3,500) on the second floor of the existing school building, adding a cistern ($4,500) and a diesel generator ($5,500).
    Looking toward the future, the team is working on grant money to rebuild a destroyed mission church in Gille, Haiti, about 45 minutes away from St. Benoit, one of six mission chapels Msgr. Pierre shepherds.
    “His dreams are possible,” Sister Marina said, adding how the people help themselves by lining up engineers, construction crews and parishioners to complete projects.
    “If we send the money, they get the work done,” Bolotte said.
    MQP’s partnership with St. Benoit is permanent, Sister Marina said. The two plan to make yearly missions to each other’s parish “to keep our commitment up by seeing the progress.”
    Mary Queen of Peace encourages other parishes to consider twinning and is willing to talk about their experience.
    “I think the richness for us is to continue the awareness of other countries and the Catholic Church in other countries, Sister Marina said. “The Mass is the same, although you may be under a tent.”
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion