Editorials

Church’s Valuable Role in Haiti

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We’ve been watching the shocking developments in Haiti this last week with deep concern for the people of that troubled country and apprehension over what comes next.

Right now, we’re hoping that the investigation of the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, a probe assisted by the FBI team authorized by President Biden, will provide some answers, and that the United Nations takes up the matter with urgency to identify a path to stability.

Haiti needs many things at this moment.

Public order and safety are immediate priorities, along with assurances that its people will not go hungry during the tumult and will have access to health care, clean water and other critical needs.

Long the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been bedeviled for years by natural disasters, poverty, hunger, political instability, increasing gang violence and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is not surprising, then, that its people have scattered to various places around the world—sometimes risking their lives by piling into rickety boats in hopes of reaching a safe haven. It’s a diaspora that has led to large immigrant Haitian communities in the neighboring Dominican Republic and in Miami, Montreal, Paris and the New York metro area, said to have the largest concentration of Haitians in the United States.

In the archdiocese, one of the largest Haitian communities is Spring Valley in Rockland County, where 23 percent of the population is believed to be of Haitian heritage.

Haiti is also a very Catholic country, and Church agencies along with individual priests and religious have long been involved in service efforts in Haiti itself and in the immigrant communities.

The archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry, for instance, has for years supported College Pierre Toussaint, a secondary school in rural Sassier, Haiti. St. Joseph’s parish in Spring Valley has a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass in French/Creole for its many Haitian parishioners.

The bishops in Haiti have appealed for calm in a statement to the populace warning that “violence will only generate violence…and will never help our country get out of this political impasse.” They called for “dialogue, consensus and the spirit of commitment” to the common good as the country seeks to rebuild its institutions.

The U.S. bishops released a statement with much the same sentiment, calling as well for the U.S. government to “continue to explore ways of effectively addressing the deeply rooted issues that prevent the country from emerging from its problems.”

Pope Francis, from the Rome hospital where he was recovering from intestinal surgery, sent a telegram to the Vatican nunciature in Haiti offering condolences to all Haitians and prayers for the deceased president and for the recovery of the former first lady, who was wounded in the attack on her husband.

He condemned all forms of violence “as a means of resolving crises and conflicts” and wished “for the dear Haitian people a future of fraternal harmony, solidarity and prosperity.”

The Church has traditionally been seen as a trusted institution in Haiti, and it is our hope at this critical moment that the Catholics of that country will heed the words and prayers of Church leaders.

If they do, we have no doubt that the Church can be one of the valuable resources in helping Haiti and Haitians to move forward in a positive way when the time is right.

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