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 CNS Story:

HAITI-SOLEIL Feb-8-2010 (970 words) With photos. xxxi

Makeshift studio in the back of van keeps Haiti's Radio Soleil on air

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

PETIONVILLE, Haiti (CNS) -- Radio Soleil, Catholic radio in Haiti, is on the air -- broadcasting from the back of an immobilized van.

Except when staffers enter the crowded compact studio in the van, all work is conducted outdoors.

The van is parked in a courtyard of an office building in a quiet part of suburban Petionville, located in the hills above Port-au-Prince. Its tires are flattened so that no one can drive off with the van and its recycled radio equipment.

The popular Catholic radio station, knocked off the air by the Jan. 12 earthquake, resumed broadcasting Jan. 24. It beams programming from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily -- half its pre-earthquake schedule -- to greater Port-au-Prince and to about a dozen stations spread across the country.

Father Desinord Jean, station director and general manager, said getting back on the air was a priority for staffers even as they mourned the loss of two colleagues who died when the station collapsed during the quake. Nearly all 38 staff members, including Father Jean, lost their homes.

Father Jean told Catholic News Service Feb. 5 he was in his office when the earthquake hit. He and several colleagues managed to climb from the rubble with only cuts and bruises. He injured his left knee during a major aftershock, however, as he ran from his sheet tent. He uses a crutch as he hobbles around the station's makeshift outdoor operation.

Not all staff members have returned to work yet, but most continue on the job, even if sporadically, to keep the station on the air.

The radio station recovered quickly because its engineer, Adonis Mendez, was in the Dominican Republic at the time of the quake and was able to find enough basic equipment to bring to Haiti. Outside of the equipment in the van, the station has nothing, Father Jean said.

"We tried to save some equipment but the looters came and took everything," he said.

Two cables carry programming to the top of the office building, where a device transmits signals to the broadcasting tower at the top of a mountain southeast of the capital.

Father Jean said the station has continued popular programs that offer words of inspiration and consolation at a time of especially great need.

Among the most popular programs is Pa Mande'm Kont, which translates to "No fear, build your life." It consistently draws larger audiences than most secular radio programs, Father Jean said. A drama that incorporates Christian and inspirational themes, the show is written, produced and performed by staff, including Father Jean.

Radio Soleil broadcasts the daily Mass at St. Peter Church in Petionville on tape delay each morning at 7 o'clock, the Angelus at noon, the rosary and devotions at 3 p.m. It offers programs focusing on liturgy, religious education and contemporary Christian music.

"Stations like Radio Soleil are very important to the church," Father Jean said. "For example, the parish priest talks to 500 people at Sunday Mass, but through the radio station you talk with thousands of people.

"The station is getting more and more important because we try to touch people in their lives, by teaching Christian values and talking about how we can build another country based on Christian values," Father Jean explained. "We are doing our best to touch people's lives."

At 1 p.m. daily, the station broadcasts a highly popular inspirational program hosted by Margaret Rincher Milard, whom Father Jean called "a star."

Milard prays with listeners and offer words of consolation in a conversational style. She said her hour-long program, on the air since 1991, offers "comfort to the people."

"I talk to the sick people. I talk about life to comfort them," she told CNS.

Milard said ideas for her monologues evolve from "what I've seen in life and what I'm living right now."

Father Jean has overseen Radio Soleil since 2003 when Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince, who died during the earthquake, assigned him to a six-year term as its director. He said the archbishop told him in October, the end of the six-year term, he could stay on as long as he wanted.

"Now I'm here for the duration," he said.

With the country a long way from recovering from the natural disaster, Father Jean said he sees his ministry with the station continuing for years to come.

The station is primarily funded by individual listeners, who contribute up to 60 percent of the station's $115,000 operating budget.

Traditionally each February the station conducts an on-air fundraising campaign, similar to those of public and nonprofit radio stations in the United States. This year, Father Jean is not sure how Radio Soleil will raise the funds because, due to the earthquake, the drive has been canceled.

Other major funders include the U.S. bishops' Catholic Communications Campaign, the station's largest single contributor with $20,000 annually; parishioners at Christ the King Parish in Tampa, Fla., where Father Jean lived while he interned at WBVM Radio, operated by the Diocese of St. Petersburg; and an anonymous donor.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, papal nuncio to Haiti, is helping Radio Soleil raise funds. He told CNS Feb. 5 he expects to provide a major contribution from the Vatican to help build a new broadcasting center.

In a Jan. 22 letter to the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, head of the Subcommittee for Latin America of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that getting the radio station repaired and regularly back on the air was a first priority. The U.S. bishops' annual Collection for the Church in Latin America, some of the proceeds of which will be used for the rebuilding of the Haitian church, was held in dioceses Jan. 22-23.

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Editor's note: Information about Radio Soleil can be found online at www.radiosoleil.org.


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