CATHEDRAL - The remains of the Catholic cathedral of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is seen in a Jan. 15 handout photo provided by the United Nations. Officials with the Catholic aid agency Caritas in Haiti reported that most of the churches in Port -au-Prince had been destroyed in the Jan. 12 earthquake that rocked the capital. (CNS photo/Marco Dormino, United Nations)
(SNR) - As the tragic aftermath of Haiti’s devastating Jan. 13 earthquake unfolded on television and on the Internet, Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics all over the world to be generous with their prayers, donations and practical help.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake leveled many of the buildings in Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. It crippled the already marginal infrastructure, dismantled governmental systems including law enforcement, and crumbled hospitals.
Even spiritual support has been shaken. Archbishop Joseph Miot was killed when he was thrown from his balcony. As yet, nobody knows how many priests, seminarians, religious and missionaries were killed. The Cathedral and churches all over the area were destroyed or badly damaged.
In mere seconds, Haiti’s population was reeling from tremendous loss. An estimated 3 million have been left homeless. Food and water are in short supply, while gasoline, electricity and communications are scarce or non-existent. Hundreds of thousands are wounded and lacking medical care. Countless people are dead or missing.
Just hours after the quake, the Holy Father commended the people of Haiti to the prayers and practical support of the Church.
“I invite everyone to join my prayers to the Lord for the victims of this catastrophe and for those who mourn their loss,” he said.
“I appeal to the generosity of all people so that these our brothers and sisters who are experiencing a moment of need and suffering may not lack our concrete solidarity and the effective support of the international community,” Pope Benedict XVI continued. “The Catholic Church will not fail to move immediately, through her charitable institutions, to meet the most immediate needs of the population.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) soon added their own support in a letter to all parishes that encouraged special collections.
“Our faith compels us to pray for and reach out to our brothers and sisters in their time of suffering,” read the letter, which was signed by Cardinal George, USCCB president and Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who chairs the Catholic Relief Services board.
In the Diocese of Lincoln, Catholic Social Services (CSS) is coordinating the fundraising effort. Pastors can simply send all contributions they receive at Mass to CSS, where the staff will process all the donations and forward them on to Catholic Relief Services.
“One hundred percent of what we collect will go directly to Catholic Relief Services to be used in Haiti,” assured Father Christopher Kubat, CSS executive director. “We’re not going to keep anything for administrative overhead.”
This is one of many reasons why donating through the Church is an excellent way to help earthquake victims in Haiti.
Another reason to send assistance to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is because of that organization’s proven experience in disaster relief. CRS already had three locations operating in Haiti before the earthquake. None were severely damaged, and all immediately began reaching out to help the injured and homeless.
“They’re the best in the world… right up there with the Red Cross,” stated Msgr. Liam Barr, pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Lincoln.
Msgr. Barr and the others of St. Joseph Parish have a decided interest in Haiti because of their sister parish in one of the poorest areas of that Caribbean nation, Kobano Mission. The mission is some 50 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince.
As he learned of the earthquake, Msgr. Barr’s thoughts immediately went to Father Glen Meaux, S.O.L.T., director of the mission, and of the many destitute people who rely on his help. He quickly sent an e-mail and was pleased to receive a message from Father Meaux within a half hour, saying that all was well.
“Because of their distance from Port-au-Prince,” Msgr. Barr reported, “all they felt were some tremors on the ground for a brief period of time.”
The big question for the mission is the same that is being asked all over Haiti: how will supplies get through with the seaport so badly damaged and the airport barely functioning?
Msgr. Barr assured that St. Joseph Parish intends to go ahead with the dental mission planned for the end of February. He is planning his own trip next November.
For now, he and Father Kubat echo the Holy Father’s request that all Catholics be generous in their prayers and contributions. There is no deadline for financial support, as Haiti will be in great need for many months to come.
“We’re just going to send money as it comes in,” promised Father Kubat. “This relief effort is going to take years.”
He referred to Saint Paul’s description of the Church as a single body.
“When you think about how a blood clot forms when part of the body is injured… that’s only temporary. Then scar tissue forms, and that’s a more permanent, strong and stable thing,” Father Kubat said.
As Haiti bears these terrible wounds, he continued, “Other members of the body will have to come in [to help]... But that’s the Church. She’s universal. She’s everywhere in the world. That’s the whole meaning of the word Catholic.”