A relief shipment organized by local Catholics has reached Haiti, bringing urgent help and hope to the beleaguered Caribbean nation.
“We were delighted to receive a container of products from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” said Oblate Missionary of Mary Immaculate Father Jean-François Printemps, provincial councilor for the order in Haiti.
Father Printemps detailed the news of the arrival of the shipment in a mid-January email to fellow Oblate Father Eugène Almonor, chaplain of the Haitian Apostolate in the Archdiocese and a native of Haiti.
Following a devastating August 2021 earthquake in southern Haiti – which destroyed much of his order’s mission campus in Les Cayes – Father Almonor and members of the apostolate began collecting medical supplies, clothing, non-perishable food, toiletries and basic furniture to help disaster victims. The fundraiser took place in two Philadelphia parishes, St. William and St. Barbara, both of which are home to the approximately 3,000 members of the region’s Haitian Catholic community.
The Archdiocesan Office of Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees and Catholic Social Services (CSS) also coordinated the initiative, with the latter agency covering the estimated $7,000 in shipping costs for the container.
The Archdiocese’s Nutrition Development Services provided more than 5,000 pounds of non-perishable food such as rice, shelf-stable milk, beans, and peanut butter.
CSS also provided diapers and feminine hygiene products, while the agency’s Casa del Carmen Family Services Center, based in North Philadelphia, provided more than 100 pairs of flip flops.
Among the most valuable donations was a tabernacle from the former Bishop McDevitt High School, which closed last year.
In early November, members of the local Haitian Catholic community loaded the items into a 20-foot shipping container for shipment to Port-au-Prince, about 1,740 miles from the port of Philadelphia.
Moored on December 24, the cargo was “a Christmas present” which “despite the uncertainties of the national road” made it safely to its final destination in Les Cayes, where “the products were distributed to all the places of the (Oblate) mission,” Father Printemps said.
A total of 16 parishes, 7 schools and colleges and two dispensaries served by the Oblates benefited from the sending – and the goods were badly needed, he said.
“Many families have lost everything,” said Father Printemps. “They are starving, (with) no means of survival, no access to proper health care.”
Churches have been “destroyed”, while schools “operate under tarpaulins or sheds with very (little) furniture”, he said.
The August 2021 earthquake happened just 60 miles from where a January 2010 earthquake struck, killing an estimated 220,000 people and injuring more than 300,000.
Kidnappings, gun violence and political unrest continue to plague Haiti, which has been hit hard by COVID – and has struggled to rebuild in the decade since the 2010 disaster.
In July 2021, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was ambushed and shot dead in his home; his wife Martine, survived her injuries in the attack. The assassination is still under investigation and international officials fear renewed violence as February 7 marks the official end of Moïse’s term, potentially raising challenges to the tenure of successor Ariel Henry.
Following an October 2021 visit to that country, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, called for international aid to Haiti, writing in an editorial that his “call for help … cannot remain a dead letter, especially by Europe, which over the centuries has divided, plundered and finally abandoned this wonderful island.
Despite “the climate of insecurity and the unprecedented crisis raging in Haiti…the Oblate missionaries are doing their best in the face of a multitude of problems, each one more complex than the other”, declared Father Printemps. “They are looking to see how to embrace their new situation.”
And the Philadelphia care container helped, he said, calling the gesture a sign of “a church in solidarity, sensitized (to) the calamities of a sister church.”
“Thank you very much for opening your hearts to your brothers and sisters in Haiti, especially those in the southern part,” said Father Printemps. “Rest assured that every contribution, no matter how small, has made a difference. You know it as well as I: it is by pooling our resources that we will lighten the burden.