| About Us
| Products |
HAITI-PARTNERSHIPS Jun-4-2012 (870 words) With photos. xxxn
US-Haitian church partnerships seek more than just getting things done
By Dennis Sadowski
Sister Diane Bardol, a member of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, shows a pledge she made during the Haiti: One Table, Many Partners Conference at The Catholic University of America in Washington June 3. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The last time Neil Walsh and Patricia Britz made the long trek from Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, Va., to St. Gabriel Parish in Lascahobas, Haiti, in March, they checked out the schools their parish helped build, saw how the new latrines recently installed were holding up and started some preliminary work on a new health clinic.
More importantly, they said, they just hung out with friends.
"All of our visits are like visiting your relatives," Walsh, Sacred Heart's director of social ministry, told Catholic News Service.
"We now say when we get up in the morning, 'Good morning, Jesus. Good morning, friends of Haiti,'" Britz said.
Walsh and Britz discussed their parish's close-knit relationship with the community on Haiti's central plateau in a workshop during the One Table, Many Partners National Solidarity Conference June 1-3 on the campus of The Catholic University of America.
Sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services, the conference brought together 375 people from the U.S., Haiti, Canada and France to explore how to solidify development, poverty-fighting and faith-building efforts in the poverty-ravaged Caribbean nation.
Among the attendees were several priests and six bishops from Haiti including Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, president of the Haitian bishops' conference.
In his keynote address, Bishop Langlois cited the dozens of parish-to-parish partnerships as a sign of solidarity and communion between the U.S. and Haitian churches. Such efforts, he said, can awaken a new evangelization in line with Pope Benedict's XVI's call for strengthening the Catholic Church.
He called the partnerships a "tool of the church in the fight against poverty, inequality and exclusion" and an "instrument of conversion" to bring about social change and closeness to God.
The Virginia parish has partnered with St. Gabriel since 2007, when parishioners decided they wanted to join the diocesan-wide twinning program. Formed in the mid-1980s by now-retired Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond, Va., the program today finds 51 churches in the Richmond Diocese matched with a like number of Haitian parishes.
Jay Brown, director of the diocese's Office of Justice and Peace, told CNS that when a parish inquires about joining the program, they learn how important it is "to be with as many people as you can, meet as many people as you can" so that family-like ties can develop.
"It's being at table with the pastor and the staff and his parish council and just having a good time that we really see and experience the one human family," he explained. "When those walls can drop we do get a glimpse of what church is all about."
The Richmond Diocese's program is one of numerous twinning efforts across the U.S. and Canada. As the partnerships have developed, the efforts have seen the construction of schools, installation of water purification systems, road improvement, the opening of community health clinics, the development of local farm economies, and the creation of microfinance efforts to fund small business initiatives.
Walsh, a retired nuclear submarine captain in the U.S. Navy who turned to parish ministry after he found military contracting unfulfilling, said he has found his ministry in Haiti as rewarding as anything he has ever done because of the friendships he has developed.
"It's a natural progression from the initial spark of interest, whatever causes that, whatever calls you. All of a sudden I said, 'Ah ha! This is what it means to live a Christian life, to give and to receive so much more than you give,'" Walsh said.
Father Bernard Desras, St. Gabriel's pastor, told CNS the partnership with Sacred Heart has become a "spiritual, friendly and human relationship."
"I think it's a grace from God to share one faith and live our Christian life together," Father Desras said. "Our friends Patricia and Neil can testify to that because our people are happy when they come."
Sacred Heart's example of ministry evolving out of friendship was one of several twinning arrangements spotlighted during the conference. As weekend discussions focused on health care, education and rebuilding churches destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, the term "partnership" was used less often; in its place, the concept of "accompaniment" emerged.
Attendees said they wanted to better ensure that their efforts welcomed the views and experiences of Haitians.
"We have a God who's all in relationship so that sets a model for us in the way we're supposed to approach these things," explained Deacon Gerry Keenan of Sacred Heart Parish in Winnetka, Ill., whose faith community is working with Haitian engineers to bring water to villages in rural Sassier, Haiti. "Our goal is not to do stuff for people. Our goal is to be in relationship with people ... that we be open to our own learning and experiencing new things."
"If you're so busy doing and you don't have any time for being, you crowd out the Holy Spirit," he said.
Kelly Prophetic, a native of Jeremie, Haiti, and coordinator of Haitian Ministries for Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said the conference opened the door to greater collaboration between Haiti and the countries of the world.
"Having that equal exchange will yield the ideal result because both parties will be more engaged," she said.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
CNS · 3211 Fourth St NE · Washington DC 20017 · 202.541.3250