UNITING EFFORTS FOR HAITIPORT-AU-PRINCE — About 60 Canadian and Haitian religious congregations resolved to unite their strengths to counter the chaos that persists in Haiti. Their gathering at the end of May in Port-au-Prince was marked by a spirit of solidarity. 

Almost all of the Canadian superiors general of congregations that have missions in Haiti flew to the country, where they were met by the Haitian representatives of different local and international congregations, as well as of the Haitian Religious Conference. In all, more than 100 religious men and women, 20 of them Canadian, agreed to collaborate to propose structural solutions to the misery they seem unable to combat alone.

"The meeting surpassed by hopes," said Sr. Kesta Occident, general animator of the Sisters of Holy Cross. The Canadian sister of Haitian origin came up with the idea for the meeting a few months after the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. 

"I felt a lot of communion (during the meeting), and that's what can bring about change," she said.

After four days of conferences, panels, workshops, prayer, and a visit to Port-au-Prince and one of its camps for displaced persons, the religious congregations issued an official declaration.

They committed to work, from here on in, "inter-congregationally" in the areas of health, education, the promotion of women and religious formation, among others. The Haitian Religious Conference will manage the implementation of common projects. 

"I would like that none of our projects operate in isolation from now on," Fr. André-Paul Garraud, CSV, president of the Haitian Religious Conference, told participants at the closing of the four-day session.

UNITING EFFORTS FOR HAITIThe need for strategic action, which goes beyond occasional charity, was expressed strongly throughout the meetings. Nearly 18 months after the devastating earthquake, reconstruction had hardly begun and the ruinous state of the country reflects other major problems: endemic poverty, a practically inexistent social services, a phantom government, a whopping illiteracy rate, a dysfunctional health system and an abandoned infrastructure. 

"My bishop asks me often: What can we do for Haiti? But it's difficult to respond," said Sr. Diane Beaudoin, general superior of the Sisters of Charity of St-Hyacinthe, who have 50 sisters in Haiti. Her congregation operates 20 schools in Haiti, 10 medical dispensaries, two domestic training centres and three orphanages. 

"I hope that this meeting will help. Money is not enough," she continued, referring to the inability of the country to funnel the aid it receives adequately.  

"We're going in circles," said Sr. Lourdes Toussaint, a young Haitian religious of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Vallier.

With her fellow sisters, she welcomes children who were orphaned by the earthquake and responds day to day to the requests for food and medication, which have increased in the past 18 months. Funds come from the motherhouse in Canada, but so do the requests. 

"We respond, but I do not feel comfortable," she confided. "We're creating dependency."

The Catholic Church, which acts as a social service provider in Haiti, is relatively well placed to make a difference.

UNITING EFFORTS FOR HAITIMany believe a concerted effort of religious congregations in education in particular could be the deciding factor. Not only are congregation-run schools numerous in Haiti, they are generally considered to be the best, and parents make great efforts to send their children there. 

"The Church has the human and spiritual resources to contribute much to literacy," said Fritz Deshommes, vice-rector of the University of Haiti and a speaker at the meeting.

This encounter in Haiti emerged from the last general meeting of the International Union of Superiors General, which explains the exclusively female composition of the Canadian delegation.

"It's the first time that we take time to work on projects in solidarity," said Denise Lauture, a young religious of the Missionnaires du Christ-Roy, at the end of the four days. "It was a very beautiful session, new life for me."

Sophie Brouillet