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Partnering with Haitian parishes has benefits

Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has worked with Catholic Relief Services and dioceses in Haiti to find appropriate ways to offer assistance.

One program that is beginning to blossom is Catholic Relief Services “Partners in Mission,” where Catholic parishes in the archdiocese twin with those in Haiti.

St. Maria Goretti in New Orleans and Mary Queen of Peace in Mandeville are the pioneers in this effort. Each has twinned with sister parishes in Haiti – St. Maria Goretti with St. Therese of the Infant Jesus in Darbonne, and Mary Queen of Peace with St. Benoit Dessources. St. Peter Claver also has a school partnership with St. Therese School in Riviere Froide, Haiti.

The thrust behind twinning involves more than just sending funds to a parish in Haiti for one project, said Tom Costanza, director of the Office of Justice and Peace and the archdiocesan Catholic Relief Services coordinator. Establishing long-term relationships where parishes get to know and respect each other’s cultures and benefit equally from their association is the goal.

“It’s simply not a twinning about money but to deepen the spirituality of the partnership from both parishes,” Costanza said. “The focus is on mutuality and spirituality. ... When I went to Haiti (a two-week pilgrimage in July 2010), there was this yearning for solidarity with other Catholics.”

Personal contact is key

While no parishioners from either Mary Queen of Peace or St. Maria Goretti have traveled to Haiti, Father Pierre Wildor, pastor of St. Benoit Dessources of Haiti, visited Mary Queen of Peace Oct. 6-10. His stay generated excitement in the parish’s twinning efforts by putting a human face on the Haitian tragedy.

“He dresses like Father Ronnie. It made people realize that this is us,” said Kettly Prophete, Haitian Ministries’ coordinator for Catholic Charities New Orleans. “People expressed their support. His being there made the difference.”

Father Wildor talked to students about his parish having no running water or electricity. He attended a rosary and parish family dinner and helped celebrate Masses. He told parishioners that the 2010 earthquake – even though its epicenter was several hours away – destroyed the church roof and obliterated the school that once taught 500 elementary students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The school has reopened under tents.

Faith alive in Haiti

Father Wildor mentioned that his parishioners have little in terms of monetary wealth but are faith-filled Catholics who celebrate Mass with joy.

“It’s a celebration,” Father Wildor said. “The Masses are at least two hours. We sing almost all parts of the Mass, and people dance. They are in contact with God when they pray. I learn from them. They encourage me to pray.”

The Catholic faith is strong throughout Haiti. Father Wildor said the mountainous area surrounding his church is 80 percent Catholic. In his diocese of Anse-a-Veau/Miragoane, there are 27 parishes and 17 seminarians studying for the priesthood. Seven new priests will be ordained Oct. 31. One of his parishioners is studying to become a deacon.

 “That’s one thing that encouraged me to stay in the parish – the faith of the people,” Father Wildor said. “They love the church.”

But, it’s been difficult pastoring a parish that has grown from 3,000 to 5,000 poor families and four mission churches, said Father Wildor, St. Benoit’s first-ever pastor. So many people moved to Miragoane from Port-au-Prince after losing their families and homes in the earthquake.1“Since the earthquake, there is more need,” he said.

Father Wildor said people have nowhere to turn but to the church for help, and the now church is struggling from the devastation. Just recently, he received 25 letters asking for tuition assistance, money for medicine and other things.

“I’m working for the kingdom of God,” Father Wildor said. “I forget everything and I work. Anywhere there are people of God, I am with them.”

Even though his parishioners are poor, they have rallied in spirit and physical labor to rebuild the parish. Some walk two hours just to bring jugs of water or bowls of sand to rebuild the rectory, Father Wildor said. The only hindrance to repairing his parish is money to buy materials.

That’s where Father Calkins knows Mary Queen of Peace can help St. Benoit. Already, the Mandeville parish has made a $9,000 contribution for St. Benoit’s roof.

Father Wildor made a wish list of projects that Father Calkins wants to help make a reality. Items on the list include a parish vehicle that serves as transportation as well as an ambulance and rebuilding the school that has a salary budget of $750 annually for eight teachers and $20 a child a year for tuition.

“Besides a car and roof for the school, I’m hoping we can help Father Wildor with the support of the school, to help pay teacher salaries,” Father Calkins said.

Because St. Benoit’s parish has grown significantly, Father Wildor knows future needs include church and school expansions.

Idea of solidarity important

Father Calkins said mission outreach has been strong at Mary Queen of Peace for the past five years.

“Our parishioners are very generous and very much aware of God’s goodness and blessings and are willing to share,” Father Calkins said.

After the Haiti earthquake, Mary Queen of Peace formed a Haiti committee to explore helping. They initially contacted St. Benoit by e-mail over a year ago, Father Calkins recalled, and after a conference call with Father Wildor decided to pursue this relationship.

“We are partners,” Father Calkins said. “We share this faith in common.”

Muguet Bolotte, chair of the Haiti committee at Mary Queen of Peace, said the parish is using Catholic Relief Services’ concept of creating a solidarity-based relationship between parishes in the United States and Haiti.

 “Gaining from them will be just as important to us as the gifts they will be receiving from us,” Bolotte said.

More Haitian parishes in need

Eight more Catholic parishes in Haiti are in need of twinning, Prophete said, and she’s hoping the parishes that attended the introductory training session on Partners in Mission at St. Maria Goretti in September will volunteer.

 “This is the pastoral sense that Catholics have,” Costanza said. “This is the concrete way of showing it. We’re pleased with the progress that the two parishes have made, but we’re taking another look at the approach to engage more parishes here.”

“The return is so unexpected,” Prophete said. “As they get more and more involved, they feel the solidarity with their brothers and sisters.”

Already, the parishioners at St. Benoit are praying for the parishioners at Mary Queen of Peace.

Mary Queen of Peace parishioners are discussing a trip to St. Benoit in 2012 to meet Father Wildor’s parishioners. St. Maria Goretti also is contemplating a trip to Haiti.

“It is our hope, our plan that this will be a long-term relationship between the two parishes,” Father Calkins said. “As we get to know them, we’re broadening the horizons of the church. The church is universal, and to experience the church at St. Benoit will be a beautiful experience.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion

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