Sunday, October 9, 2016

One Archdiocese of New Orleans Parish has been a source of hope for a parish in Haiti; may need to be again

Hurricane Matthew hits home for visiting Haitian priest

When he left his small village high in the mountains of southwest Haiti for his annual fall trip to south Louisiana, Msgr. Wildor Pierre had no inkling that Hurricane Matthew was going to devastate his impoverished community. Pierre had come to visit Mandeville's Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church, which through a special partnership had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Pierre's remote church recover and expand after an earthquake in 2010.
The monsignor had planned to speak at Masses this weekend, thanking Mary Queen of Peace parishioners for their continuing support of St. Benoit, his Catholic parish in Dessources. With money donated over the past five years, a new roof was put on the community's church, the school was expanded to serve more than 500 students in grades pre-K to 12, a school lunch program was put in place and a modern water well was installed so that villagers could fill their 5-gallon containers at a distribution area near the church instead of walking an hour down a mountain for refreshment.
In his previous fall visits, Pierre has expressed great gratitude for the Mandeville Catholic parish's generosity. But this year, he will have a different, perhaps more urgent message.
Hurricane Matthew ripped the roof off of St. Benoit parish hall, flooded the church and school buildings, tore apart solar panels that provided electricity to the community and knocked the water well out of service. Crops were wiped out and a month's worth of food for the school lunch program was spoiled because of the lack of power. Countless work animals – donkeys and horses – were killed by the storm.
And that's just what Pierre has been able to ascertain from the spotty communications he's had with members of his community. The good news is that the monsignor has heard of no fatalities among his parishioners, although one person sustained significant injuries and has been taken to a distant hospital.
"It's a bad situation now," Pierre said Thursday (Oct. 6) during an interview at Mary Queen of Peace on West Causeway Approach in Mandeville. "I have to explain to them (Mary Queen of Peace parishioners) what happened."
Pierre said it's too early to determine that exact amount of damage his church, school and auxiliary buildings sustained. He said as of Thursday afternoon, it was still raining there and water continued to pour into the church through what was once a sound roof.
Several small chapels that dot Dessources - most made of bamboo with tarps as roofs - are also most likely gone. While much of the community remains waterlogged, drinking water is in demand because the water well is out of service and it's difficult for people to walk one hour down a mountain for water with the weather still poor.
Pierre, who is scheduled to return on Monday, said he watched the horror in his country unfold on news reports and felt helpless. "I just said 'wow."

Hurricane Matthew: 5-day tracking map

And while he anguishes for his community, the monsignor said he realizes that his special relationship with the Mandeville community could be a salve for the St. Benoit. The two community are at opposite ends of the socio economic spectrum.
Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond invited parishes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans to partner with a parish in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake in the poverty-stricken country. Through Catholic Relief Services, Mary Queen of Peace was put in touch with Pierre. The "twinning" of the two Catholic parishes with vastly different demographics has benefitted both, local church leaders said.
Tony Pastorello, co-chair of the Mary Queen of Peace Haiti Solidarity Partnership, said supporting Pierre's needy community has helped the local Catholics grow stronger in their faith. And, he expects that his fellow parishioners will respond generously to St. Benoit's latest disaster.
"I know they will," Pastorello said. "They always have. We've never had Haitian fatigue."
Pierre said when St. Benoit was in tatters after the earthquake, a bunch of people from another part of the world who had little in common with his community came to the rescue. As a result, the people of his parish enjoyed a boost that exceeded their dreams.
While he acknowledges that Matthew's wrath has brought the community to its knees, his faith tells him that something good will come from it.
"When I met Mary Queen of Peace, we didn't have anything," Pierre said in broken English. "There is a reason. My slogan is 'God is good – all the time."

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