Of all the countries in our Western Hemisphere, Haiti is by far the poorest. Years of corruption permeated the governmental structure of Haiti. Being poor, there is no infrastructure, no heavy equipment, no relief crews trained to respond to a disastrous situation.
With the collapse of all those buildings my mind raced to the people trapped inside, buried under the debris, praying for someone to notice. The Christian spirit demanded solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Their suffering is our suffering.
Through modern media we are able to view firsthand the terrible calamity. But we feel helpless because we are distant and apart. To have a missionary heart is part of being a Catholic. We are called to care for our neighbor even if that neighbor is thousands of miles away and speaks a different language.
Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in his first encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is Love”): “Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man’s sufferings and his needs.”
What can I do? How can I do it? Thankfully, we have charitable organizations dedicated to the service of the poor. It is important that our efforts be organized in order to maximize the use of our resources and to ensure that the neediest are the first recipients.
Catholic Relief Services has been working in the most neglected areas of the world. They will respond on our behalf in meeting the challenges of this crisis. If we cannot be on the ground, they will. In addition, I personally was proud to discover that a number of our parishes have sister parishes in Haiti assisting those communities in addressing the issues of poverty even before the earthquake. (See related story, Pages 3 and 4.)
Of course, we all know that an occurrence of this magnitude will demand ongoing assistance. We have asked that all the parishes of the archdiocese send their donations to the World Mission Office and those donations will be distributed in the following manner – one-third will be given to Catholic Relief Services in order to directly assist the emergency situation in Haiti; one-third will be divided among our parishes who have been assisting sister parishes in Haiti; and one-third will be used by the World Mission Office to address the ongoing, long-term problems associated with the earthquake.
Many are concerned that the funds may be diverted by unscrupulous individuals who wish to take advantage of this dire situation. Our World Mission Office will oversee the collection and its distribution, assuring all of us that the proper agencies – and only those agencies – will receive the funds collected.
It is ironic that sometimes the worst situations bring out the best in us. In the midst of the horrors of war, heroism and selflessness are displayed. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was present with her sisters to serve the dying in the streets of India. Through their holiness they reminded us of Christ’s presence in the dying and neglected. Now we have an opportunity to demonstrate our love for Jesus in our care for our brothers and sisters who are facing incredible death and destruction. “When I was hungry, thirsty, naked you gave me food, drinks, clothes….”
Another aspect of this tragedy should be our own heightened awareness and gratitude for the men and women who serve the public good as police, fire, health, transportation and utilities workers. They make up the infrastructure in our own communities which support our daily tasks. It is because of their efforts that all of us can work, commute and live with ease knowing that our water, heat, electricity, roads and public transportation will be there for our use and that our police, fire and health departments will protect our safety.
We take for granted so many things which we are privileged to enjoy. The scenes of Haiti remind us to be grateful for these gifts and generously share the blessings we enjoy with those less fortunate. Let us reach out to our Haitian brothers and sisters because the generous love of God has reached out to us. See you at Mass!